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Uruguay - 2009 Election

In 2009, General Gregorio Alvarez was sentenced to 25 years in prison for his responsibility in the death or disappearance of 37 Uruguayans under Operation Condor. Under Alvarez, Uruguay was part of the secret alliance of South American dictatorships known as Operation Condor, in which the military leaders cooperated in persecuting and killing one another's dissidents. An estimated 180 Uruguayans were killed most of them while in the custody of the government's Argentine allies. Alvarez, the last leader of Uruguay's brutal dictatorship of the 1970s and '80s, died December 28, 2016 at age 91 while serving a sentence for human rights abuses.

On November 29, Jose Mujica of the incumbent Frente Amplio (Broad Front) Party won a five-year presidential term in a free and fair runoff election. Mujica's historic trajectory -- from a Tupamaro guerrilla who spent over a decade in prison during the military dictatorship to leadership of the country -- was unthinkable only two years ago. His victory demonstrates that the leftist Frente Amplio (FA) coalition's strength transcends current President Tabare Vazquez's own considerable personal popularity.

The runoff followed a series of party primaries in June and a free and fair first-round election among the four leading parties in October. Mujica fell just short of winning an absolute majority in the October election. Both candidates have pledged to maintain the fiscal policies of the popular Vazquez administration, which have helped Uruguay's economy expand despite the global recession.

Jose Mujica of the Frente Amplio defeated National Party candidate Luis Lacalle in a run-off round, garnering 54.8% of the vote. Mujica, 74, was once the leader of the Tupamaro guerrillas, a group that organized political kidnappings and bank robberies in the 1960s. He was held in solitary confinement for years in a Uruguay prison. Lacalle was Uruguay's president from 1990 to 1995. The 68-year-old lawyer founded the four-nation South American trade bloc known as Mercosur, but he vowed to pull Uruguay out of Mercosur if he is elected president.

Mujica's win was widely expected after he claimed 48 percent of the vote in first-round elections (to Lacalle's 29 percent) 25 October 2009. Almost all polls projected Mujica as steadily holding a 10 point margin over Lacalle in the past month. Colorado Party candidate Pedro Bordaberry threw his support to Lacalle after finishing in third place in October, but their combined efforts proved insufficient to overcome Mujica's significant lead.

As in the first round, Mujica's support was greatest in Montevideo (where he received almost 60 percent of the vote) and the neighboring vote-rich Department of Canelones (where he finished with 56 percent). Mujica also defeated Lacalle in the departments of Salto, Paysandu, and Soriano, but by slimmer margins. Lacalle won all other departments, but the FA ticket actually received more votes in the interior of the country than in the first round of elections on October 25. In parliamentary elections on October 25, the Frente Amplio won 16 of 30 seats in the Senate and 50 of 99 seats in the House of Representatives. The National Party won nine Senate and 30 House seats, the Colorado Party won five Senate and 17 House seats, and the Independent Party won two seats in the House.

President Mujica was inaugurated for a 5-year term on March 1, 2010. Jos Mujica of the center-left 'Encuentro Progresista Frente Amplio' (EP-FA) coalition was elected as President for the term between March 2010 and 1 March 2015. Despite his radical background, Mujica gravitated to the political center, consistently preaching moderation and placing practicality, continuing economic growth and consensus-seeking above ideological standpoints.

Under Mujica, Uruguay legalized marijuana and the right to an abortion. Mujica's lifestyle includes living on a modest farm and driving an aging, weathered Volkswagen Beetle. His three-legged dog is his almost-constant companion.

Uruguay's national government became the first in the world to directly sell marijuana to the general public. President Jose Mujica sent a bill to lawmakers calling for the government to sell the drug only to people who are registered on an official database.

Defense Minister Fernandez Huidobro told reporters the bill was aimed at fighting rising crime in the South American nation, by removing illegal drug profits from dealers and diverting users from harder drugs such as cocaine. Government figures show there were 133 homicides in Uruguay between January and May, an increase of 70 percent from the same period in 2011. It is not illegal in Uruguay to either use or possess marijuana.

In Uruguay's agricultural hinterlands, affection ran deep for the outgoing president Jose Mujica. His straight-talking, unpretentious style made him a popular figure although his groundbreaking legalization of the commercial production and sale of marijuana upset more conservative voters. The 79-year-old ex-guerrilla spurned a $1 million offer for his beat-up Volkswagen Beetle, which had become a symbol of his modest lifestyle. During the decade of Broad Front rule, Uruguay's $55 billion grew an average 5.7 percent annually.

In the humanitarian front, the Mujica administration started receiving Syrian refugees from that countrys civil war. It was the first Latin American country to do so, receiving 42 Syrians and also assuming all the relocation costs of about US$2.9 million, as well as guaranteeing jobs for the adults and schooling for the children arriving in the country.

The Broad Front Party has also made several important achievements particularly in the area of poverty reduction and increases in per capita income. From 2006-2013, poverty in the capital city of Montevideo has decreased by 52 percent. During that same period national per capita income grew 36 percent and last July the World Bank classified Uruguay as a high-income country.

Despite his ongoing popularity, the 79-year-old Mujica was constitutionally prohibited from running for a second consequtive term as president.

El Pepe: A Supreme Life, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival on September 03, 2018, is a documentary about Jose Pepe Mujica, a former leftist guerrilla who as Uruguay President from 2010-15 earned a reputation as a man of the people, giving away much of his salary and eschewing the luxury trappings of office.

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