Lula Watch: Vol.5 – No.10

Uruguay of the Broad Front: Youth Exodus, Insecurity and Disenchantment

Warning signs as symptoms abound of psychological and social disintegration of the country, in contrast with optimistic images presented by the ‘Front’ government

Twenty-eight months after the heterogeneous leftist coalition known as the Broad Front won a narrow victory in Uruguay, some warning signs of trouble can be seen. The country lives a curious dichotomy. While every day the government issues good news on the economy riding on the wave of favorable international conditions, emigration increases in numbers and quality.

The emigration problem came into the forefront last June, when figures by the National Institute of Statistics were published in a new book titled Population Policies in Uruguay by demographers Juan José Calvo and Pablo Mieres. More data later came out in a complete study on migration written by demographers Wanda Cabella and Adela Pellegrino. In 2004, the last year the centrist Colorado Party was in power, net loss in the overall negative balance of people entering and leaving the country was 7,292. In 2005, the first year of the Broad Front government, that figure rose to 9,593. In 2006, it jumped to 17,000.

Former minister Alejandro Atchugarry noted that the low unemployment rates cited by the government as an economic success story are owed in part to constant emigration. Some 81.4% of the Uruguayans that emigrate are less than 44 years old, and now even the better educated are leaving. Uruguay is bleeding away its human and intellectual resources.

One journalist ironically commented that while official Uruguay trumpets its progress, many Uruguayans are not staying around long enough to see it. At a recent graduation ceremony, Jorge Grunberg, rector of ORT University, asked that if the economy is doing so well and the government claims such high popularity rates, why do so many Uruguayan youths continue to emigrate or dream of emigrating. Youths who are unable to leave gradually fall into a kind of a psychological depression and into a muted hopelessness.

Despite the appearances of normality, other warning signals of this process of psychological and social disintegration are increases in crime, a lack of the sense of security and doubts about police effectiveness.

At the end of June, the results of a survey ordered by the Montevideo city government and local governments in three other provinces were published. The survey recorded the opinions of more than 1,200,000 people – a figure that corresponds to 52% of all Uruguayans older than 18. One in every four persons interviewed feels “hardly safe or not safe at all” at home. Some 30% say they feel unsafe in the street in daytime. That percentage rises to 65% at night. Another 23% say they stopped shopping in certain places because of insecurity. Finally, 56% of those polled do not trust their local police.

Sociologist Gustavo Leal, the technical coordinator of the survey, commented that people have restricted their use of public space out of fear. He found that “many people are avoiding walking in the streets” and “have stopped going out for recreational activities.” In the suburbs, more than 60% of the population openly distrusts their neighbors.

These developments are clear signs of the population’s disenchantment, distrust and fear, according to the Montevideo weekly Búsqueda. Facing this overall picture, with honorable exceptions, the leaders of the center and the right are moving only sluggishly in relation to problems that should be the object of national debates and direct questions to Uruguay’s president, Dr. Tabaré Vázquez, and his ruling Broad Front coalition as it enters the third year of its mandate.

It is now up to Uruguayans to speak up with their proverbial intelligence, sense of observation and common sense.

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