Just a decade ago, most Latin American governments looked to the United States and Europe as examples of how to improve governance, foster sustainable economic growth and institute more just societies. But today, there are some countries in Latin America that serve as case studies worth following—one of which is Uruguay. It may be the size of Washington State and have one of the smallest populations in the region (3.3 million), but it should be truly commended for its developmental progress in recent years.
Although dwarfed by the neighboring economies of Brazil and Argentina, Uruguayans overall have a better standard of living. Uruguay’s annual per-capita income is estimated at roughly $14,000—higher than that of Brazil and Argentina. Physical security is better, too, as evidenced by known cases of families moving from Buenos Aires to Montevideo in search of a safer environment. Recent regional rankings on tourism reflect Uruguay as a desirable destination. According to the 2010 Latin Business Chronicle’s Tourism Index, Uruguay is Latin America’s tourism champion. The country receives more than 2 million tourists a year, an amount equaling roughly 60 percent of its population.
Years of economic growth and state policy promoting technology usage by citizens, government and business has made the Uruguayans some of the most tech-savvy in the region. In May 2008, former president Tabaré Vázquez (2005-10) launched a government program called La Agenda Digital Uruguay 2008-10 (Uruguay Digital Agenda 2008-10) that worked toward the consolidation of all of Uruguay’s information technology programs. Its main objective was to create a more inclusive and democratic society. It gave high priority to Plan Ceibal, known in English as One Laptop per Child, which is responsible for distributing low-cost laptops to all public primary-school students and teachers. This open-source initiative has been so successful that it was extended to secondary schools, and inspired another project to make available affordable “triple play” (Internet, phone, and television) services to low-income families. By November 2010, Uruguay’s investment agency Uruguay XXI reported that the government had distributed 380,000 laptops, trained 18,000 teachers, created 280 free Wi-Fi areas in Montevideo and gave 220,000 families their first computer.
In a clear signal of continuity of President Tabaré Vázquez' Honduras policy, President-elect José Mujica’s future minister of foreign affairs has said that
Luis Almagro made the statement at a meeting with foreign press correspondents, where he called the November 2009 election in
Mr. Mujica, like President Vázquez, is a member of the Frente Amplio coalition, and will take office on March 1.
Desde Buenos Aires estamos viviendo con mucha intensidad los procesos electorales de nuestros vecinos. Hace un tiempo, escribí sobre algo de lo que está pasando en Chile. Ahora es el turno de Uruguay, aunque debo confesar que no me produce el mismo grado de entusiasmo. A diferencia de lo que ocurre en Chile, donde los personajes de siempre se enfrentan a opciones más novedosas, en Uruguay encontramos viejos conocidos como principales candidatos.
Este domingo (25 de octubre), Uruguay tendrá sus elecciones para definir quién reemplazará al Presidente Tabaré Vázquez. La coalición de gobierno, el Frente Amplio, lleva como candidato al viejo dirigente tupamaro José Mujica, quien seguramente recibirá la mayor cantidad de votos. El candidato del Partido Nacional, el ex-Presidente Luís Lacalle, muy crítico del gobierno del Presidente Vázquez, será el que ocupe el segundo lugar. En un tercer lugar, probablemente sin chances, llegará el candidato del Partido Colorado, Pedro Bordaberry.
El Presidente Vázquez fue un gobernante exitoso que supo administrar y liderar una coalición compleja. El ha despertado entusiasmo dentro y fuera de Uruguay porque fue un presidente moderno, que aprovechó la coyuntura local e internacional con pragmatismo y prudencia. Su figura representó el cambio y su gobierno será recordado incluso por acciones innovadoras que son ejemplos para el mundo como el Plan Ceibal. ¿Pero qué pasará después?
President Tabaré Vázquez came one step closer to his goal of Uruguay becoming “one of the hemisphere’s information technology leaders” when he personally delivered a laptop to the last Uruguayan student in a state-run primary school without one. Last week, as part of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative, Uruguay joined Niue, a country in the South Pacific, in distributing laptops to every child.
In Americas Quarterly, President Vázquez wrote: “Our children must have the opportunity to compete and succeed in the IT-based economies of the new century." Miguel Brechner, director of the Technological Laboratory of Uruguay and head of Plan Ceibal (the program in charge with distributing laptops) emphasized this point: "This is not simply the handing out of laptops or an education program. It is a program which seeks to reduce the gap between the digital world and the world of knowledge."
Other countries, such as Rwanda, El Salvador and Haiti have been in contact with Uruguay about implementing the initiative. For its part, Uruguay is considering expanding the program to children in kindergarten and in secondary schools.