The referendum in Uruguay

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By GUSTAVO VAZQUEZ QUARTINO*

Referendum to be voted on the 27th of this month puts the rights of Uruguayans at risk

On March 27, Uruguayans will vote in favor of Yes or No in the Referendum to 135 articles of the Law of Urgent Consideration, voted by the Uruguayan Parliament in 2020, in its first months of government and by the slim majority it holds.

On the one hand, it is good to note that our Constitution guarantees citizens the possibility of annulling laws (except budgetary ones), through various mechanisms, which end in all cases with a universal vote of annulment or ratification. The mechanism used this time by the popular movement and by the Frente Ampla was the signature of 25% of voters in the year the Law was approved, which was more than fulfilled in July of last year (a little more than 700.000 were needed and 800.000 were obtained ).

At the end of last year, the Electoral Justice stopped controlling the signatures, stating that the necessary minimum had been reached and then set (within the minimum legal deadlines) for March 27 of this year the vote. With a first trap, instead of the ballots to vote of the same color and one with a yes and the other with a no (large), the ballot that will cancel the disputed items will be pink and the one that will ratify them with a no will be celestial, the color with which the Uruguayan football team identifies, with the importance that this sport and even more the national team has in our country.

We enter the last week of the campaign and the dispute becomes intense. So much so that the President and the Frente Ampla claim to be making efforts to tone it down. But part of the escalation involves a press conference by the president to defend the NO (no time limit) and, after that, the YES Command can broadcast a message of up to 7 minutes on radio and TV. On the other hand, there will be a fundamental match of the national team to qualify for the World Cup in the middle, where the celestial will flood the streets. We will try to transform the Uruguayan triumph into a double triumph on Sunday, making the YES triumph pink.

 

What is LUC?

The Urgent Consideration Law, known as LUC today in our country, comes from the distortion of the executive's right to present Urgent Laws with 45 days for processing and, if it has not been concluded, they are considered approved. The spirit of this rule is to include some urgent aspect for governments where parliamentary procedures may be hindering.

But this liberal/neoliberal/ultra-right coalition government decided to make a law of 476 articles, with 11 sections and their respective chapters referring to a varied number of topics, such as Security, Education, Economic Aspects, Public Companies, Regulatory Units, Functioning of the State, Trade Union Regulations and Social Policies. An entire government program in a single law. A law introduced in the midst of the pandemic health emergency, which generated real emergencies, which were not considered central.

Immediately known, the main social organizations in Uruguay – the trade union center PIT-CNT, the Federation of Students (FEUU), the Federation of Housing Cooperatives (FUCVAN) and the Intersocial of Women – got in touch with the Frente Ampla to form a commission to call a referendum. Perhaps it took too long to discuss how many articles to contest (as the FA amended and/or approved 341 in parliament) and the mechanism to use; but in the end a strained agreement was reached that they should be the 135 articles to be considered next Sunday.

The campaign is not just a crusade for public debate between supporters of one option or another or the concrete effects that law enforcement has already had: greater repression of youth on the streets and "people who look like criminals", the elimination from the representation of workers in the governing bodies of education and, therefore, modification of plans and development of classrooms, compulsory secondary education is eliminated; partial privatization of parts of the state is allowed (although the oil company is saved for later if they succeed); encouraging employers to bargain collectively and threatening to restrict the right to strike; minimize days of home evictions; security has not improved despite the government's propaganda efforts in this regard, but the rich have been penalized with a few months of house arrest, and the poor, jail for a few grams of marijuana; the number of prisoners increased but nothing related to money laundering; Controls over the electronic payment of wages disappeared and with it increased labor informality.

The immediate effects were many, but we have to consider what they will be in the medium and long term and the legitimacy that this will give to similar movements and other laws that are in the “hand of the cat”, such as the pension reform and the direct privatization or indirectly from ANCAP (oil company). The weakening of ANTEL, the state-owned telephone company, which was a leading company in Latin America, is already seen slowly with the measures they have taken under the protection of the LUC, it will lose millions of dollars this year.

The other frame is the social and economic situation that the government is trying to transfer to the pandemic, and to the regional and international situation and even dealing with promises of bilateral agreements, it has already been with China, which was left behind, now it would be the United Arab Emirates, where the president was a few days ago.

But the country's reality is one of high inflation, a 5,5% wage reduction in these two years (in the 15 years of the Frente Ampla government there has never been a reduction in wage adjustments), which has repercussions on pensions readjusted according to wages, everything in the context of the growth of business, exports and prices of products such as meat, which, when going up abroad, slaughterhouses increase more, inflation is even higher in basic needs, especially food and fuel, now with the excuse of war . Whether the population takes this situation into account when voting will depend on many things. Whether the campaign suggests them or not and how the government defends itself.

So far, the polls are balanced, but with a high blank vote and as if to overturn the articles YES needs 50% + 1 of the valid votes (and blank votes are), the number of undecided we get withdrawing from this blank vote will be fundamental, otherwise, the blank votes will overturn the balance so that we do not arrive. In other words, we have to win the NO added to the blank votes.

Nothing is resolved, the YES campaign spreads across the country with street events, with music and oratory from all sectors that promote it; door-to-door visits are held every weekend and at fairs, and a huge qualitative and quantitative “wall painting”. But the NO mobilizes and has the media and institutions on its side.

 

And after this?

After March 27, sociopolitical Uruguay will not be the same. Whatever the outcome. If the NO wins, even just a little, it will continue with its policy and accelerate the remaining liberal reforms, but in an open electoral campaign and with a recovered popular movement. If you lose, it will be similar, although some reforms will be withdrawn or reduced.

The left must accelerate the campaign, to build a government plan that surpasses the last one of the Frente Ampla that led to the defeat and waiting for the improvement of its presence in the regional governments. If the defeat is big, it will be time to recompose for the battle of 2024, which will then be more difficult than expected, because individualism and economic liberalism will have penetrated deeper than it seems at first sight. The media has helped a lot since the elections to blame the excess of the State for economic problems, the dominant classes follow this logic and managed to convince the intermediate sectors. That is why it is very important that YES put the brakes on President Lacalle Pou's explicit plan.

*Gustavo Vazquez Quartino He is a member of the Frente Ampla and the Socialist Workers Party..

Originally published on the magazine's website Socialist Democracy.

 

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