December 5, 2009
In the small but relatively prosperous country of Uruguay, former guerrilla leader Jose Mujica was elected president over the weekend. He defeated conservative Luis Alberto Lacalle, who had served as president from 1990 until 1995. Mujica is a member of the left-wing Broad Front, as is the current president, Tabare Vazquez. Not surprisingly, Mujica has tried to avoid discussion of his involvement with the Tupamaro rebel movement during the early 1970s. Like Argentina and to a lesser extent Chile, Uruguay was then in the midst of a virtual civil war, with frequent kidnappings and battles in the streets. Mujica says he will continue the policies of Vazquez, which have carefully balanced radical impulses with market realities, much like "Lula" da Silva has been doing in Brazil. See CNN.com.
The big question now is whether Mujica's left-wing populist sympathies will lead to greater cooperation with Venezuela. Hugo Chavez has targetted economically vulnerable countries such as Uruguay, in effect "buying" their support with his petro-dollars. See August 2007. A decline in Venzuela's oil exports has undercut this "crude" form of diplomacy, for the time being.