El Pepe

28 August 2015

El Pepe

By Jan Marijnissen - There was a time - not so long ago – when almost every South- and Central American country was a dictatorship, in which the army played a decisive role. That time is past. From Argentina to Mexico democratic thinking now has the upper hand. Are things going well throughout Latin America? Not entirely, but for the left and progressives it’s a relief that the armies are where they should be, in the barracks. That opens up prospects for the future.

Take Uruguay. Until halfway through the 1980s a cruel dictatorship with the army, with its appalling practices, in power. The country is now a democracy with probably the world’s most personally frugal president at its head, one who gives 90% of his income to house building projects for the poor. José ‘El Pepe’ Mujica is the name, born in 1935. During the time of the dictatorship he spent thirteen years in prison and must have endured a great deal of torture.

The social transformation that the country has undergone under his leadership is remarkable. So remarkable even that The Economist declared it Country of the Year on account of ‘its recipe for human happiness.’ Unemployment has been reduced from 40% to 6.5%; even for farmworkers there’s an 8-hour day; the standard of living is rising rapidly; the power of the financial markets has been curtailed; more than half of the banks are in the hands of the state; the Banco de la República’s profits are invested in alternative, ‘non-capitalist’ development models. Abortion, cannabis use and same-sex marriage are now permitted. Uruguay was until a short time ago a land of emigration, principally because of widespread poverty; now it’s a land of immigration. It’s generally assumed that the political movement to which the president belongs, the Frente Amplio, will win the next elections.

Another, better world is possible: in South America, here, everywhere.

Jan Marijnissen was leader of the SP from 1988 until 2008.


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