Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

NEW AQ: Uruguay: Latin America’s Imperfect Success Story

Uruguay has built one of the world’s strongest democracies, despite its flaws. We explore the country’s many lessons in our latest special report.
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This article is adapted from AQ’s special report on Uruguay | Leer en español Ler em português

Uruguay has enjoyed so much success in recent years that it’s tempting to dismiss it as an outlier—too small, and too unique, to possibly be replicated elsewhere. It is by many measures Latin America’s most economically prosperous country, its least corrupt, and its strongest democracy. GDP may grow 3% this year, double the regional average; it is blissfully free of the protests and political instability shaking places like Brazil and Peru.

But in fact, Uruguay’s story is far more “relatable” than outsiders might expect, writes AQ’s editor-in-chief Brian Winter, who spent a week in Montevideo for this issue’s cover story. Just 20 years ago, the country’s poverty rate was 40% (compared to 7% today), and its politics were in shambles, in the wake of a severe economic crisis. Democracy only returned in 1985 following a period of guerrilla violence and repressive military rule. Today’s achievements were not the work of any one leader, or ideology, but a concerted effort over many years.

So there is actually much that the rest of Latin America, and indeed the world, can learn from Uruguay’s relative prosperity. Chief among them: Having a robust social safety net, as Uruguay does, can actually strengthen capitalism by giving citizens a minimum level of security, making them less likely to lash out at the system or elect populist leaders. Uruguay’s strong political parties are integrated into society and have consistent ideas, instead of being mere vehicles for personalistic leaders.  

Of course, Uruguay isn’t perfect: It faces challenges including a genuinely scary crime wave, school dropout rates and a recent corruption scandal. The pace of life, and politics, can be frustrating—reforms often take years. But “what may look slow from the outside is often a democratic search for dialogue and consensus,” as Yamandú Orsi, a prominent mayor, told us. Given what’s happening elsewhere these days, being predictable, and even a little boring, seems like a good problem to have.

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Tags: The Uruguay Issue, Uruguay
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Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
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