Tabaré Vazquez, Uruguay’s first leftist president, is dead

Former Uruguayan President Tabaré Vazquez, in Montevideo, November 27, 2014.

Twice President of Uruguay, Tabaré Vazquez died on Sunday, December 6, at the age of 80, from lung cancer. The current Uruguayan head of state, Luis Lacalle Pou, hailed the memory of his predecessor: “He faced his last battle with courage and serenity. He served his country and, thanks to his efforts, achieved significant progress. The whole country is in mourning. “

Born January 17, 1940 in a working-class district of the Uruguayan capital, Montevideo, fourth child of a family of five, Tabaré Vazquez went on to various jobs – carpenter, newspaper seller – from the end of high school to provide for his family. “Historically, I belong to the working class”, he said in February 2020, during a ceremony in his homage at the headquarters of the Uruguayan trade union confederation.

At 21, Tabaré Vazquez began studying medicine. He specialized in oncology and radiotherapy and obtained a scholarship to study at the Institut Gustave-Roussy in Villejuif (Val-de-Marne). In parallel with his work, this football lover held the presidency of the Atlético Progreso de Montevideo club for ten years (1979-1989).

Son of a trade unionist, Tabaré Vazquez joined the Uruguayan Socialist Party (PS) at the beginning of the 1980s, which operated clandestinely in the midst of a military dictatorship (1973-1985). In 1986, he joined the central committee of the party and became involved in the fight against the impunity of soldiers accused of crimes against humanity. Appointed candidate of the PS in the municipal elections of Montevideo, in 1990, he became the first mayor of the left.

After two unsuccessful attempts, Tabaré Vázquez was elected president at the end of 2004. The first left-wing head of state in the country’s history comes to power in a difficult context: Uruguay has suffered, since the early 2000s, a serious crisis financial, economic and social, like its neighbor Argentina. “We will work tirelessly to ensure that our people obtain the best quality of life and the dignity they deserve”, he said in 2005, during his inauguration speech.

Ambitious social policies

Promise kept: under Tabaré Vazquez’s first term, the poverty rate fell from 36.6% to 19%, the unemployment rate fell from 12.2% to 7.2%. Taking advantage of the surge in the price of raw materials, the government is implementing a series of ambitious social policies, including in particular the distribution of computers to all students in the country (the Ceibal plan).

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