Wind turbines outside the village of Curtina, in north-central Uruguay, January 2015 (photo courtesy of Grant Burrier).

In terms of progressive ideas, Uruguay has always punched above its weight. It introduced a free, universal public education system in 1878, 40 years before the United States. Eventually, Uruguay blossomed into one of the most robust social welfare states in Latin America, with the region’s lowest income inequality. It was the first country in the world to legalize recreational marijuana and the second in the region to legalize gay marriage, after Argentina. This small country of 3.5 million people has also burnished its environmental credentials, conserving native forests, protecting biodiverse areas and striving to be carbon neutral by 2030. […]