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Uruguay: Peaceful Revolution

2 minute read

For 15 years, tiny Uruguay has been ruled by a Swiss-style National Council that has caused it no end of trouble. The only answer, Uruguayans finally realized, was to toss it out and get a new form of government. Last week they did that, and did it peacefully. In a quiet, orderly referendum, the country’s 1,200,000 voters decided to return to a single, one-man .presidency. The new President is Oscar Gestido, 65, a scrupulously honest, mild-mannered ex-Air Force general whose liberal Colorado Party swept into power for the first time in eight years.

The urgently needed change was supported by 62% of the voters. Under Uruguay’s old constitution, the country was ruled by bipartisan, nine-man councils and the nominal presidency was rotated. The councils spent more time bickering than governing; the few decisions that did finally emerge only expanded an already unwieldy and extremely generous welfare program. To pay its bills, the government simply printed more money, while the economy went to pieces. The cost of living rocketed 90% last year, the peso has been fluctuating erratically, and foreign debt has jumped to more than $500 million.

To whip the country into shape, Gestido will have the power to designate certain legislation as “emergency” and therefore automatic law unless Congress acts within a given period. If Congress rejects the new legislation, Gestido can simply dissolve it and rule by decree until new congressional elections are held. As a rein on him, major presidential decisions must be ratified by his eleven-man Council of Ministers. Whatever those decisions may be, they will entail plenty of belt tightening. “I will simply say that we are poor,” said Gestido, “and that the poor should live as such. If in some future days, through our work and faith, we are rich, then we will live as rich people.”

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