Alcohol Prohibition Looms for Uruguay

Español It might seem hard to believe that the same country that decriminalized marijuana [1] is now facing a law that aims to declare a war on alcoholic drinks, although Uruguayan officials have thus far insisted that it is far from what prohibition once was in the United States.

Nevertheless, on his first day as president (March 1), Tabaré Vázquez announced he would take strong measures against the excessive intake of alcohol, and 25 days later he convened a first meeting with the opposition, the Beverage Union, Alcoholics Anonymous, and the director of the National Board of Drugs, Milton Romani. The purpose was clear and allegedly “positive”: to limit the alcohol consumption of Uruguayans.

Today's meeting over how to curtail Uruguay's purported problem of alcohol consumption. (Maldonado Noticias)
Today’s meeting over how to curtail Uruguay’s purported problem of alcohol consumption. (Maldonado Noticias)

This is not Vázquez’s first war against personal liberties. During his first administration (2005-2010), Vázquez not only fought with tobacco — which was, at the time, enjoying a global euphoria — he made it quite clear that he would not support any abortion liberalization, and he publicly admitted that he was willing to veto an eventual bill, if approved in Parliament, which he did. [2]

The will of Vázquez (a Catholic oncologist) to take care of Uruguayan people can go too far: this is not even his first attempt to regulate alcohol. A draft bill, identical in intentions, was sent to the parliament during his first presidential period and was rejected despite his Party’s (Frente Amplio) majority in both legislative houses. His obsession did not fade with time, as we all witness today.

According to official numbers, 8 percent of Uruguay’s alcohol consumption is problematic, and it is estimated that 5 percent of it is related to minors.

While some of his senators (including former President José Mujica) and, surprisingly, his Vice-President Raúl Sendic march in support of Maduro’s government, Vázquez plans to implement limits on alcohol’s advertising, as well as create more demands for retailers and new sanctions for those who ignore the yet unborn law.

The upcoming meeting will be held on April 29, and in the meantime, Vázquez suggested that we have an “open mind” about this new resolution — whatever it may be — since he is convinced that alcohol is a gateway drug to harder substances.

“Consumers won’t be persecuted,” Vázquez said, “but alcohol will not be sold in every store.” 
The sole fact that the president clarified that there wouldn’t be persecutions, makes me to think the opposite: it is exactly what happened with the smoking ban nine years ago. Smokers were suddenly demonized and vilified.

All these nanny-state measures (so typical of our president) are not coherent with the statements of that candidate who once said that he would consider decriminalizing cocaine. That was Vázquez last year, just in case.

I seem to forget that, for some, liberties are worth defending only during election times, and that they are easily forgotten once the throne — office, I meant office — is conquered.

[1] The implementation of the law has been suspended until further notice.
[2] Abortion was decriminalized on request, in December 2011, under José Mujica’s administration.

Edited by Fergus Hodgson.

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