URUGUAY'S ELECTIONS A Prolonged Transition to Democracy

September 25, 2007

"We want to point out that the country's problems will not automati- cally cease with the reinstatement of democratic institutions," Uruguay's Episcopal Conference warned in May. "The peace and harmony that we de- sire demands a respectful and free dialogue, access to information, the participation of all without threats and without terror and the reconciliation of individual interests with the com- mon good." The bishops issued their statement in anticipation of Uruguay's first elec- tion since 1971. The November 25 contest is a vital step in a prolonged transition to democracy that has pitted the people and democratic political culture against a brutal and stubborn ll-year-old military dictatorship. These elections will be far from perfect. One major political leader is in jail, another is free but banned from accepting his party's nomination and hundreds of political prisoners are still in jail. Nonetheless, even these lead- ers are deeply engaged in an electoral process which is regarded as a crucial stage in the return to civilian rule--a return that was aided by the break- down of the political and economic game plan of the military. The economic model the generals applied in 1973 was a watered down version of free market theory. Inter- nally, production was to be ration- alized by the lowering of tariffs, so that efficient, competitive industries would survive while the weak and in- efficient died. The deliberate suppres- sion of wages would attract foreign in- vestment capital, while generous in- terest rates and unregulated banking would convert Uruguay into an im- portant off-shore banking center. The model did stimulate a boom in non-traditional exports-finished leather and wool products-whose ex- port was supported by sophisticated rebate and exchange mechanisms. Such exports became a significant portion of Uruguay's trade in the late 1970s. But ultimately the gener- als' model had little success. The worldwide recession and concomitant rise in protectionism hit exports hard. The collapse of the Argentinian eco- nomy dried up the only real source of foreign investment--construction dol- lars for the real estate boom in Punta del Este, a traditional summer water- ing hole for the Argentinian elite, and the Montevideo suburb of Pocitos. The 1980s have proved an econom- ic disaster for Uruguay. Between 1981 and 1983 Gross Domestic Pro- duct fell by some 20%, while unem- ployment rose to an official 17%. Uruguay's foreign debt grew expo- nentially during the last eight years and currently stands at close to $5 billion. This sum may not sound like much in comparison to the debts of Argentina and Brazil, but it is crush- ing in a society of only 3 million peo- pie, with annual export earnings of $1 billion. In July economists represent- ing the country's three main parties is- sued a joint call for renegotiation. The 1980s have also proved to be a political disaster for the armed forces. In November 1980, in an attempt to institutionalize their rule, they submit- ted their constitutional project to a plebiscite. The plan called for the cre- ation of a National Security Council with virtual veto power over the pol- icy of any future civilian government, along with Draconian legislation on security and "subversion." Unlike Chile-where voters approved mili- tary rule by a large margin in a 1978 plebiscite-Uruguay's voters rejected the constitution by a 58% to 42% mar- gin. "When the people rejected the plebiscite four and a half years ago," an observer of Uruguayan affairs said recently, "that was the beginning of the end for the military. Fifty-eight percent of the population knew they weren't alone anymore." The military had fought hard to sell the constitution, and clearly did not expect to lose. When confronted with the vote, the generals claimed it was the constitution that had been reject- ed, not military rule. After the initial shock of their de- feat wore off, the military high com- mand came forward with a new time- General Liber Seregni of the Frente Amplio was released in May. Martin Weinstein is Professor of Political Science at The William Paterson College of New Jersey and author of Uruguay: The Politics of Failure. REPORT ON THE AMERICAS o 2 C 12table-Cronograma-for a return to civilian rule. This called for internal party elections in November 1982; negotiations between party leaders and the military on consitutional re- form; and presidential and congres- sional elections in November 1984. The formal transfer of power would take place in March 1985. The 1982 internal party elections-- in which party leaders were chosen-- were an overwhelming defeat for the dictatorship and its supporters. Eighty- two percent of the vote went to can- didates who opposed any formal or informal continuation of military rule. The armed forces' electoral defeat has been called "the second nail in their coffin." Exiled Blanco Senator Wilson Fer- reira Aldunate emerged as the undis- puted leader of his party and a clear favorite to win a free election. In 1971, Ferreira Aldunate ran on a plat- form calling for land reform and nationalization of the banks. While the Blancos (National Party) were traditionally identified with conserva- tive rural interests, Wilson has moved the party toward the center and cost it some support. The Colorados were traditionally dominated by urban lib- erals, but have shifted to the right in the last 10 years. Wilson's stance on the banks has led financial sectors to favor the Colorados in the 1984 elec- tions. Wilson Returns-to Jail The deteriorating economic situa- tion and the overwhelming negative sentiment toward military rule finally led to a resurgence of mass political activity. Urguayans seemed to be hit by the ripple effect of the Argentinian debacle in the Malvinas and of Argen- tina's October election, its first in ia decade. In 1983, on the last Sunday in November, traditionally election day in Uruguay, some 300,000 people marched demanding a return to de- mocracy and the release of some 800 remaining political prisoners. New student and trade union leaders emerged and began to coordinate ac- tivity with the centrist Blanco and Colorado party leaders and the still il- legal leftist coalition known as the Frente Amplio, or Broad Front. Faced with increased isolation, the military entered into serious transition negotiations with the traditional par- ties last March. By May, General Liber Seregni, the Frente's presiden- tial candidate in 1971, was released from jail. Although prohibited to run for office, Seregni was permitted to lead his coalition in negotiations with his former peers and jailers in the armed forces. Wilson Ferreira Aldunate returned from an 11-year exile on June 16, and as expected, was promptly arrested by the military. Fifty thousand people. turned out to greet him, and 300 were later jailed in protests demanding his release. A charismatic populist, Wil- son is feared by the military more for his personal popularity than his poli- cies. He is charged with insulting the armed forces and collaborating with subversives. On June 27, the eleventh anniver- sary of the coup, Montevideo was turned into a ghost town by a general strike. The Army, in a futile attempt to convey a sense of normalcy, or- dered the buses to continue running. The empty buses did so with signs which said, "Obligatory emergency service." During July, with Wilson, as Sena- tor Ferreira is commonly known, still in a military jail and his party there- fore abstaining from negotiations, the Colorado Party and the Frente finally wrested an agreement on elections from the military. The politicians were strengthened by what had be- come a "national fervor" demanding elections. The dictatorship gave up its long-sought demand for a National Security Council (CONSENA), ac- cepting instead an advisory body dominated by the president and his cabinet. Parties within the Frente Amplio were legalized for the elec- tion, except for the Communist Party, which nonetheless will run stand-in candidates under its list (democracia avanzada) within the leftist coalition. The military also agreed to an im- mediate review of the cases of all pris- oners who have served at least half their sentences, some 300 to 400 of the remaining 700 political prisoners. But as of mid-October, less than 200 prisoners had been released. The armed forces did not concede everything, however. Wilson re- mained jailed and banned from run- ning for office. General Seregni was free to campaign for the Frente but still prohibited from being a candi- date. A series of provisional measures guaranteed the armed forces the right to choose future commanders, and to monitor and react to "terrorist" ac- tivities. Even .these measures can be abolished or modified by parliament after the new administration takes of- Blanco Senator Wilson Ferrelra Aldunate-"a charismatic nonulist." NOVEMBER/DECEMBER i984 Ifice in March. In comparison with its counterparts in Chile and Argentina, the Uruguay- an military retains a relatively strong and calm bargaining position. In Ar- gentina the military was left demor- alized by its humiliation in the Mal- vinas/Falklands war. And now offi- cers are falling over themselves to avoid being held responsible for the 9,000 desaparecidos. In Chile, the Pinochet regime seems to have back- tracked on what little opening it had granted. Hundreds were arrested in late October in demonstrations calling for a swift return to democratic rule, as over 200 were sent into internal exile. In the mid-1970s, Uruguay had more political prisoners per capita than any other nation, and the repres- sion touched off a worldwide cam- paign by Amnesty International. In reaction to human rights abuses, the U.S. Congress cut off military aid in 1977. Yet no political party has raised accountability as an issue in this cam- paign. In an interview shortly after his release from jail, Liber Seregni said his call for a general amnesty did not include the military, an indication that the Frente Amplio may raise the ques- tion in months to come. Even the military seems divided on the subject. A high-ranking general announced at an official ceremony that the armed forces would not accept any trials. But the navy commander publicly disagreed: "If mistakes were made, those who made them must an- swer to the judiciary." While some think a victorious Blanco Party might push for accountability, military cor- ruption is more likely to become an issue once civilians take over. A mili- tary career is not considered prestigi- ous in Uruguay, and salaries are low. Government power gave the armed forces ample access to the till. No Agreement, No Election Reaction to the early August elec- toral agreement was predictable. The Colorado Party and Frente Amplio negotiators saw it as the best deal that could be made with an undefeated and united military. Colorado's principal presidential candidate, Dr. Julio Ma- ria Sanguinetti-minister of industry and commerce in the late 1960s and Colorado Party Candidate A: 40 Candidate B: 30 Candidate C: 30 Total 100 Blanco Party Candidate D: 45 Candidate E:30 Candidate F:20 Total 95 Under this example, the Colorado Party wins the presidency by 100 votes to 95 and Candidate A, the Col- orado candidate with the most votes, minister of education from 1972-1973 -staunchly defended the agreement. "If there isn't an agreement, there are no elections. And if there aren't elections, what is there?" Dr. Alberto Saenz de Zumarin, the Blancos' principal candidate and stand- in for Wilson, was less generous. "These elections are not the elec- tions we want." He promised that if the Blancos won they would ask Con- gress to call new elections within one year so that candidates like Wilson could run. Zumarin, a journalist and human rights activist, was named des- pite the party's earlier threats to boycott the contest. The Commander of the Army, General Hugo Medina, commented that the military could ac- cept a Blanco victory as long as the party lived up to the agreement. "If not, we will see at the moment." Uruguay's electoral laws, which have been preserved by the military, provide for a Senate and Chamber of Deputies elected by strict proportion- al representation. The president is elected by means of the "double simultaneous vote," which results in a simultaneous primary and election. Basically, the election is conducted via a list system which allows several presidential candidates to run under the banner of the same party with the ballot counting for the candidate and his party at the same time. The candi- date who receives the most votes from the party that receives the most votes gains the presidency, as seen in the following example: 14 REPORT ON THE AMERICAS becomes president even though Can- didate D of the Blanco Party received more votes (45) than Candidate A (40). This electoral system has always made it desirable, if not necessary, for each of the traditional parties to offer at least two presidential candidates in order to appeal to a wider spectrum of voters. The November elections are no exception. In addition to San- guinetti, who is clearly identified with the centrist and liberal wing of the Colorado Party, ex-President Jorge Pacheco Areco (1967-1971), a tough law and order candidate, is the stan- dard bearer for the party's conserva- tive wing. For those Blancos not comfortable with the liberal and stridently anti- military position of Wilson's surro- gate, Dr. Zumardin, there are more traditional Blancos-Dardo Ortiz, or the more reactionary Juan Payss6. The five factions that comprise the Frente Amplio have agreed, as in 1971, to field only one presidential candidate. He is Dr. Juan Crottognini, a gynecologist who was the Frente's vice-presidential candidate in the last election. New Voters are the Wild Card The last elections in Uruguay took place in November 1971, and resulted in a Colorado victory over the Blancos by 41% to 40% with the Left garner- ing 19% of the vote. Of the more than 2 million electors expected to partici- pate in the 1984 elections, some 600,000 will be first time voters. The young will determine the electoral outcome. Thus far it appears they have split their loyalty between the Left and Wilson, yet predictions are difficult. The Blancos have argued that a vote for the Frente Amplio is wasted since the Left cannot win the presidency. Such votes would guaran- tee a victory for Sanguinetti and the Colorados, they say. Sanguinetti ap- pears to be favored by the military and Washington. However, the Frente stands an ex- cellent chance of winning in the De- partment of Montevideo, thereby con- trolling the government of the capi- tal which contains more than 40% of REPORT ON THE AMERICAS 14the country's total population.* These young voters therefore have to make a big decision: support Wilson, thereby assuring a new election, or help the Left demonstrate its renewed vigor. There is a burst of social and politi- cal energy in the new political space Uruguayans are enjoying for the first time in eleven years. A reinvigorated student movement, an innovative fed- eration of housing cooperatives, a flourishing union movement and a Medical Society which voted to estab- lish a commission to investigate medi- cal collaboration with torture are but some of the signs of democratic re- newal. Factions of all parties are attempt- ing to achieve a concertacitn social, an agreement on policies concerning such critical issues as wages, debt re- negotiation, educational reform and budgetary priorities. Such an under- standing would allow tlhe new presi- dent to carry out policy despite the fact that no party is expected to com- mand a parliamentary majority. A mid-October poll of 625 residents of Montevideo gave the Colorados 31.5% of the vote; the Blancos, 21.3%; and the Frente Amplio, 27.5%. No one wants the military to stop the process of redemocratization, yet conditions for a successful and stable democratic government are far from certain. "The task of our country's democratic recuperation can neither be the work of an enlightened man nor any one party, but a combination of all political parties and all social forces," General Seregni said on his release. "This first stage up to the elections and the new government is difficult, but without a doubt the most difficult period will be the exercise of real power, the excercise of democ- racy. Resolving the deep crisis in which our country is emersed can't be done in a short time." *A department, or state, is governed by an intendente, or governor, who heads a legislative body known as a junta de gobierno. The Department of Montevideo consists of the capital city, and the intendente is thus the city's mayor. Voters will also choose these local governments on November 25. Q-. Continued from page 2 thousands of factory and field workers dependent on the industry, there is no alternative, at least in the short run. While such problems are pressing, even threatening, Jamail has perhaps paid insufficient attention to some of the more positive aspects of Belize and the achievements of its govern- ment. After all, despite the absence of growth in many sectors of the economy, Belize has weathered the recession more successfully than many other countries in the region. Unemployment and consequent hard- ship have increased but most Belize- ans are better off than their parents were, and there is little of the extreme poverty, or inequality, that is charac- teristic of other Caribbean and Central American countries. Financially, Be- lize appears to be in better shape than most of these countries and has not yet been forced to renegotiate its debts or deal with the IMF. Consequently, Be- lizeans have not experienced the kind of belt-tightening and resultant social unrest that is evident, for example, in Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. Another achievement is that Beli- zeans just celebrated the third anniver- sary of their independence. Each year of Belizean sovereignty makes the Guatemalan territorial claim more ob- viously unjust and unrealistic. Be- lize's government took a chance in 1981 when it opted for independence without prior settlement of the Guatemalan dispute, but, with each new agreement with Mexico or Costa Rica; and with the recent improve- ment of relations with Honduras, Be- lize is isolating Guatemala diplomati- cally. Of coure, the problem of pro- viding for Belize's defense persists, but that should not obscure the fact that Belize is consolidating her posi- tion and thereby making it harder for Guatemala to gain any support. Belize remains the most peaceful and stable democratic nation in Cen- tral America. The absence of com- munal violence is an important feature of Belize's social history, and sug- gests, perhaps, that the obsession with racial divisions and ethnic heterogen- eity that characterizes most accounts of Belize is misplaced. Belizean pol- itics are not racially defined and there is a 30-year tradition that may be envied elsewhere. When, along with these facts, we consider the high lit- eracy rate and the expanding health services, it is apparent that there are clear achievements, as well as prob- lems, in Belize. The future of Belize, Jamail would probably agree, is exceptionally hard to predict because its situation, in terms of internal factors and external contingencies, is so fluid. The People's United Party, which has dominated Belizean politics since its formation in 1950, is in danger of fis- sion. Prime Minister George Price's cabinet shuffle last January only pa- pered over the growing cracks, just long enough for the next general elec- tion which will probably be held at the end of this year. The new indepen- dence constitution requires that each district have between two and three thousand voters and, as' a result, the membership of the House of Repre- sentatives, currently 18, will in- crease--but no one yet knows by how many. These facts, along with specu- lation about the extent of the U.S. role in the first national election since in- dependence, make the result espe- cially unpredictable. What every friend of Belize hopes for, however, is that Belizeans should remain free to make their own choices and to deter- mine their own future. About that, I am sure, Professor Jamail and I are in agreement. O. Nigel Bolland Professor of Sociology, Colgate University Hamilton, NY Nigel Bolland is the author of The Formation of Colonial Society-Be- lize, from Conquest to Crown Colony and of Belize: The New Nation in Central America, forthcoming on Westview Press.

Tags: Uruguay, Elections, democratic transition

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