Monday, January 20, 2014

Viva Uruguay

article from August 22, 2011
By Jamie Douglas

I have sung the praises of Uruguay before. I have also criticized “the Switzerland of South America” for putting the iron mining industry into overdrive. But one thing is for certain, and that is the fact that the country’s economy is doing better for its citizens than even Brazil’s.

Of course, part of it has to do with long-standing educational policies, which have rendered a highly educated populace. Unemployment is sitting at a hemispherical low, and the future investment picture looks to create so many jobs that I foresee a shortage of skilled and unskilled labor.

The National Bank’s intervention in the currency against the US dollar has unfortunate consequences for shoppers who suffer from an annualized inflation rate of 8.25% (August 2010 to July 2011) while the economy grew by a very respectable 8.5%. Many parts of the country are still extremely rural and suffer from poverty, with a lack of jobs, leaving room for a rise in the standard of living. It is for this reason that so many campesinos are eagerly awaiting the new mining project and pulp mill. They will probably not be highly paid positions; nevertheless, they will bring jobs to areas that have none.

The cattle industry, for which Uruguay and neighboring Argentina have been famous, has slowed down substantially, with several of the abattoirs owned by a giant Brazilian corporation having to close due to a lack of cattle. Because of the astronomical rise in the prices of grains, Argentinean, Uruguayan and Brazilian farmers have switched to soy and, in places, corn as much cheaper, less labor-intensive and more export-ready crops.

The past and current administrations of the Frente Amplio coalition, an openly socialist regime, have brought great advances to the nation of less than 3.5 million inhabitants. The new Montevideo Carrasco International Airport is an architectural marvel and is currently in the final four selection for being one of the most efficient and modern airports in the world. The highways in the country are well maintained, the electrical grid is first world, and the ports are becoming inadequate for the amount of commerce entering and leaving the small country, which also serves as a major port of entry for Paraguay and Bolivia via the Paraguay River.

The current president, José Mujica, or Pepe, as he is lovingly referred to, saves the nation a bundle by not partaking in the excesses of high office. He lives on his flower farm outside of Montevideo, drives his own vintage VW Beatle, and donates the majority of his salary to charity. The Volks Presidente drives a Volkswagen. How appropriate! Despite his “un-presidential” demeanor, he has gained the grudging respect of world leaders while struggling in the personal relations with neighboring Argentina, where unemployment and underemployment is a staggering (and denied) +20% and inflation is close to 25% (again, officially denied – this is an election year, after all).

In previous years, tiny Uruguay has depended heavily on its enormous neighbors for export and tourism. And when Argentina’s economy collapsed 10 years ago, the impact on Uruguay was catastrophic. So the Little Nation that Can has since distanced itself economically from its neighbors and diversified its import-export portfolio. The two largest cities, Montevideo, the capital, and Punta del Este, one of South America’s most revered summer resorts, are vibrant and lovely, while the beaches along the Atlantic Coast that are mostly sand dunes interspersed with small towns that are largely abandoned during the off season, are nevertheless charming in a uniquely Uruguayan way.

It is my fervent hope that Uruguay’s cheerful frugality will spare the country from the coming financial meltdown and provide shelter for those who have chosen to expatriate to this nation so lacking in official corruption.

Jamie Douglas
San Rafael, Mendoza
Where springtime is in the Malbec!

[Image of Uruguayan President José Mujica via Wikipedia]

I encourage you to write me at cruzansailor [at] gmail [dot] com with any questions or suggestions you may have. Disclaimer: I am not in any travel-related business. My advice is based on my own experiences and is free of charge (Donations welcome). It is always my pleasure to act as a beneficial counselor to those who are seekers of the next adventure.