Is Uruguay a libertarian country?
LATIN AMERICA / 2364: José Mujica takes office as President in Uruguay (SB)
Social policy agenda in the capitalist framework
A few days ago, José "Pepe" Mujica was sworn in as the new president in Uruguay, whose candidacy, election victory and assumption of office was overloaded by opponents and supporters with the meaningful hint that he co-founded the armed urban guerrilla Tupamaros in the 1960s and among its ranks was active. While some instrumentalized the 74-year-old's past as a warning that the Uruguayan state had put the louse of the rebellion in a prominent place in its fur, others secretly hoped that with him as head of state the left in Latin America would continue its unstoppable triumphal march .
It is obvious that reactionary forces are entitled to any means of distortion and accusation in order to prevent a politician of this origin from advancing into political leadership circles and to preventively discredit his work in an influential position. On the other hand, the satisfaction of having another presidency in the hands of a man who has never openly renounced the concerns of his youth, which were shaped by the resistance against exploitation and oppression, should not lead to the hasty judgment that this is the door to progressive forces in the small South American country Gate open. As vigorously as Mujica needs to be defended in the conflict with his opponents in circles of the traditional power elite, one should not refrain from solidarity criticism of the undoubtedly existing limits of his commitment to change society.
At the beginning of the sixties, Mujica belonged to the founding circle of the Tupamaros and took part in numerous battles against state power. In the course of these clashes, he was shot once and arrested four times, including twice escaping from a maximum security prison. He was imprisoned for fourteen years and was detained during the military dictatorship from 1973 to 1985, where he was harassed with solitary confinement and torture. Mujica still stands by his past as a guerrilla fighter, although according to his own statements he most regrets that the Tupamaros did not manage to end the dictatorship with a kick.
Only after the end of the dictatorship was Mujica released. He embarked on a political career, initially a member of parliament, later a senator, and finally was appointed Minister of Agriculture in 2005. In the same year he married Lucía Topolansky, who had also belonged to the Tupamaros and had served in prison. Today she is the senator of the largest left-wing faction within the ruling Broad Front and, as President of the Senate, was able to swear in her husband and long-time comrade in arms before parliament.
José Mujica had entered the race for the left-wing government alliance Frente Amplio (Broad Front) and had missed the required majority in the first ballot. In the runoff election he received around 51 percent of the vote, while ex-president Luis Lacalle was well behind with only 44 percent. In the center of the capital, Montevideo, Mujica warned in his victory speech in front of thousands of cheering supporters against polarization: "Today is a day of joy. But we also know that there are compatriots today who are unhappy and nobody should make the mistake of accepting them offend." Mujica succeeds the popular socialist president Tabare Vázquez, who brought Uruguay out of the economic downturn.
Mujica has long ceased to be a leftist in the classical sense, as he adheres to the view that capitalism should work as well as possible. He describes himself as a "libertarian socialist" and sees it as his greatest responsibility in the presidency to narrow the gap between rich and poor. Uruguay was once the country with the most evenly distributed wealth in all of Latin America, but the decades of dictatorship and subsequent neoliberal governments deepened inequality, resulting in considerable social upheaval. With the former economics minister Danilo Astori, he has made a right-wing social democrat as his deputy, which raises concerns about a conservative economic policy that is intended to lure foreign investors into the country. Much more resolutely than his predecessor Vázquez, Mujica campaigns for the integration of Latin America, which he believes will remain subject to neo-colonial plundering if the closer union fails.
After the official ceremony in Congress, the President went to Independence Square at the gates of old town Montevideo, where tens of thousands of supporters awaited him. As the first head of state in the history of the country to receive the sash of his predecessor in the open air, it was an intended signal of closeness to the population, whose social situation Mujica is committed to improving. Although the Vázquez government was able to bring about improvements in this regard, around 20 percent of the 3.4 million Uruguayans still live below the poverty line. In addition to the ambitious goal of reducing poverty by 50 percent, the president intends to place job creation and improving access to education at the center of his political plans over the next five years. As further priorities, Mujica named the areas of energy, the environment and security, whereby he benefits from the fact that the center-left alliance Frente Amplio has a majority in both chambers of the congress and can thus significantly support the government's projects. 
Once again, José Mujica emerged as an advocate of regional integration when he renewed his commitment to Mercosur with a view to his future foreign policy. Numerous Latin American heads of state came to Montevideo for the inauguration, including Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner from the neighboring countries of Brazil and Argentina, Fernando Lugo for Paraguay, a member of Mercosur, and Hugo Chávez from Venezuela, Evo Morales from Bolivia and Rafael Correa from Ecuador and Álvaro Uribe from Colombia.
Also present was US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who had made Uruguay the first stop on her tour of six Latin American countries. In view of his past, popularity and social agenda, José Mujica is certainly not a preferred candidate for Washington, but from this perspective it is also not a clear political setback, provided he continues the line of his predecessor Tabare Vázquez as announced without drastic changes. Although he had taken office as the first head of state on the left in the country's history, he had laid out a course entirely within the framework of capitalist exploitation with accompanying socio-political buffers. However, the US government could be concerned about the foreign policy orientation of the new president: The vision of the unity of Latin America implies a departure from the hegemonic power of the USA and could bring Mujica closer to allies, who are known to be a red rag in the light of US interests are.
 "Pepe" Mujica sworn in as the new President of Uruguay (03.03.10)
 The visions of "El Pepe". José Mujica sworn into office as the new President of Uruguay (03.03.10)
March 5, 2010
Copyright 2010 by MA-Verlag
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