Uruguay, the small country wedged between South American giants Brazil and Argentina, has become something of a leftist icon in Latin America, albeit a calmer, more restrained one. While other countries caught up in the now-receding “pink tide”—both Brazil and Argentina, plus Venezuela, Ecuador and elsewhere—fell under the spell of charismatic populists, Uruguay engaged in politics and policies that have been decidedly short on leftist agitation. Instead, it was guided by a conciliatory and pragmatic progressivism, blazing trails without polarizing the nation. It is an approach that worked well for the governing coalition, the Broad Front, or FA, keeping it in power for 15 years.
With national elections now less than 100 days away, however, the FA is looking more wobbly as it seeks a fourth consecutive term. In keeping with Uruguayan voters’ considered approach to politics, the next government is all but assured to drift toward the center rather than to either extreme.
Remarkably, Uruguay ranks as the strongest democracy in Latin America, second only to Canada in the entire hemisphere—and outperforming the United States—according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index, which grades countries on a scale from “authoritarian regime” to “full democracy.” A country that normally draws little outside attention became a favorite of the global left during the presidential term of Jose Mujica, a modest former Marxist guerrilla who governed from 2010 to 2015. He famously drove himself around in an old car, foregoing the presidential palace for his own humble home, and later declined a pension despite leaving office at the age of 80.