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No, Uruguay Isn’t a Perfect Democracy

By: Guest Contributor - Jan 31, 2016, 5:00 pm
Uruguay's state-owned oil firm ANCAP was so badly mismanaged during Raúl Sendic's term that it needed a bailout from Congress
The state-owned oil firm ANCAP was so badly mismanaged during Raúl Sendic’s term that it needed a bailout from Congress. (El Observador)

EspañolBy Priscila Guinovart

Uruguay’s former President José Mujica and current Vice President Raúl Sendic were directly responsible for the bankruptcy at Ancap, the state-owned oil company that lost over US$600 million during Sendic’s time at the firm’s helm.

This burden is an insult to all Uruguayans, not only because it’s odd for a monopoly to lose money. What’s most troubling is that the governing coalition, which enjoys a majority in Congress, held extraordinary sessions just to bail out Ancap.

It wasn’t enough for Mujica and Sendic to get away with their admitted “mistake.” Sendic went on to accuse the opposition and the media of trying to “destroy” his political career.

Apparently, Sendic doesn’t see anything wrong with a state monopoly squandering sums that are huge for a country like Uruguay. No, he takes issue with people pointing it out, because that is obviously a “vile right-wing manipulation.”

After Ancap came the tax hikes. Inevitably, bailing out the oil monopoly meant that more taxes were on their way although the government assured that taxation wouldn’t rise. Common sense tells you that the money to save Ancap had to come from somewhere, and, for the state, that usually means its citizens’ pockets.

This is why utility bills increased by an average of 10 percent, while the state-run telecom company’s internet service went up 26 percent.

It’s curious to see progressives bailing out poorly managed state enterprises since this is exactly the type of practice for which they usually criticize conservatives. Is it not “unbridled capitalism” when they do it? It seems that, when progressives are in charge, government bailouts are gestures of the state’s generosity and infinite benevolence.

In Uruguay, however, everything can get worse when lefties are in charge.

I became filled with pride when I read Pedro García‘s article on the PanAm Post about a study that concludes that Uruguay is the most democratic country in Latin America. I have to admit that I enthusiastically shared it on social media, but I then became saddened when I thought of Uruguay’s reality.

To be fair, certain ruling coalition figures opposed the government’s outright theft. Congressmen Darío Pérez, Víctor Semproni, and Sergio Mier refused to bail out Ancap. At the very least, they publicly denounced the government’s measures.

But now the ruling coalition, the Broad Front, is persecuting these three brave congressmen by bringing them before the party’s disciplinary tribunal. Is this something appropriate for the continent’s most solid democracy? Where does this leave freedom of expression? If lefties cannot tolerate a dissenting voice within their own party, imagine how they view the opposition.

As if that weren’t enough, Sendic, who is probably going to be the ruling party’s next presidential candidate, argued during a progressive forum in Mexico that the Urugayan media are a “threat” to democracy.

[adrotate group=”7″]When a politician is afraid of journalists, it’s because he has something to hide. Let’s not forget that Uruguay’s so-called progressives spearheaded a “Media Law” in order to keep the press in check. The urge to control what journalists can say is something deeply rooted in their psyche.

Today, all Uruguayans are paying the bills for Mujica’s excesses and for Sendic’s ruinous springboard into politics. So we complain and we lament. But we will eventually forget, just as we forgot Plunagate, another scandal involving a state-run firm.

Our Argentinean neighbors have spread hope throughout the continent by banishing their populists from power. In Uruguay, however, we have left them in charge. It’s up to us not to forget the damage they cause. We cannot allow the government to frighten us. It’s our responsibility as individuals and as a society.

In Uruguay, Mujica and his gang, while claiming to be morally irreproachable, did all the wrong things they warned others would do. Except that their levels of corruption and thuggery haven’t been seen in recent history.

Priscila Guinovart is a teacher, blogger, and writer. She has lived in London and Santiago de Chile, where she wrote her book La cabeza de Dios. An ardent fighter for the cause of liberty, she has been based in her native Uruguay since 2014. Follow @PrisUY.

Translated by Daniel Duarte.