Tuesday, September 1, 2015


"The Hand" at Punta del Este, by Chilean sculptor Mario Irrazába; though why human morons have to come along and spoil it with graffiti is beyond me; much the same has been done to an even better piece by the same artist, in the Atacama Desert, in Chile.

The little bit of land that separates Argentina from Brazil, Uruguay shares with Sweden the title of "The Only Countries In The World To Get Unequivocally Positive Marks In This Encyclopaedia". Not that it was always that way, but there is surely some connection between its advanced social system and the fact that Europeans colonists did not establish themselves there until a very long time after the rest of South America, and then departed again very quickly. Uruguay was independent by the 1820s, with a constitution; women had the vote by the first decade of the 20th century, which also saw the establishment of a welfare state, the disestablishment of the church, and the abolition of the death penalty – the man who made this possible was President Jose Batlle y Ordonez.

The middle years of the 20th century were a bad time for all of South America, and Uruguay was no exception. Coups and fleeing Nazis, coups by fleeing Nazis, Nazis fleeing coups, the worst were the Tupamaros guerrillas, who fought for a decade until 1973, when the army seized power and turned Uruguay into the "torture chamber of South America". In 1985 the army agreed to give the country back its constitution and institutions, in exchange for an amnesty, since when there has been a slow return to the liberalities of Batlle y Ordonez's day, fuelled by the discovery of oil, which is run as a state monopoly and does not, as endorsed by a referendum in 2003, allow foreign investment in the national oil industry.

High marks to Uruguay's Supreme Court for ruling unconstitutional the amnesty of 1985, and then putting the military chief in jail for twenty-five years and former President Bordaberry for thirty years for their parts in the 1973 coup.

High marks also for becoming the first Latin American country (Cuba doesn't count) to legalise abortion (during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy only), and same-sex marriage. I am less than evangelistic about the cultivation of marijuana, though I understand the argument about its potential medicinal value, recognise the absurdity of allowing those killer drugs tobacco and alcohol while banning marijuana, support the argument (the same applies to prostitution) that it becomes safer if regulated, and can appreciate the desire to obtain tax income; anyway Uruguay legalised it in 2013. Highest marks of all though go to its education system and its continuing welfare stare; minused somewhat by the tendency to provide offshore banking facilities, and hooliganism at its soccer stadia.

Marks for: 12

Marks against: 3

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