Looking from the tall hill called "El Cerro'' on the western side of Montevideo harbour, you can see the destruction which neo-liberalism has brought to Uruguay. Wealth has been orientated towards speculation rather than productive investment, and the former meat-packing plants and other factories in the distance lie idle while few ships anchor in what was once a busy harbour. Working people have paid the price for this de-industrialisation, and the residents who live in the workers' suburb at the base of El Cerro are now mostly unemployed.
El Cerro is crested by a statue of Jose Artigas, who fought the Spanish, the Brazilian monarchy and the traditional oligarchies for independence and social justice last century. This suburb is today an important base for Uruguay's highly successful progressive electoral alliance, the Frente Amplio (Broad Front - FA).
The FA is a broad left-wing alliance which grew out of the unification of the trade union movement and a wave of massive social mobilisations in the 1960s. It was formed in 1971 as an electoral alliance under the slogan, "Unity without exclusions''.
The FA has taken on a certain life of its own, and people can now join it directly. Up to half of its members identify directly with the FA in this way, while the rest are affiliated through one of the 18 member parties. These parties include National Liberationists, Communists, Trotskyists, Socialists, Syndicalists, Social Democrats of various stripes, radical Christians and left splinter groups from the two main right-wing parties.
The FA structure includes a Congress and a National Plenary (made up of equal numbers of parties and base organisations) and a joint executive which has representatives of each party as well as Frente Amplio members. Local structures and assembles are also organised at the grassroots level, but party members of these bodies are held accountable to the base, not their parties.
This formula had its first success in breaking Uruguay's traditional two party (Liberal/Conservative) system when it won Montevideo in 1989. The FA mayor of Montevideo implemented policies in public housing, decentralisation, public transport, anti-pollution and administrative efficiency which led to the FA gaining 30% more votes in the 1994 election.
National support grew by 50% in the same period to more than 526,000 votes, and the FA came within 30,000 votes, or one deputy, of beating both the Colorados (Liberals) and Blancos (Conservatives).
The FA formed a broader alliance, Progressive Encounter, which aimed to take advantage of the space which neo-liberalism had opened up on the right. Christian Democrats and dissidents from both the Colorado and Blanco parties were attracted to this alliance. While this strategy attracted only an extra 60,000 votes, it was not conditional on the expulsion of the left from the FA. (The expulsion of the left from the electoral alliance in Argentina, the Grand Front, in favour of an alliance with the centre, had proved disastrous in 1994).
The FA is structured to take advantage of the country's voting system which is similar in some ways to the preferential system in Australia. The parties decide their candidates and run independently with their own slogans and alliances, but under the general platform and slogan of the FA. For example, the main left parties even ran on different slates to each other.
The Advanced Democracy ticket ran under the sub-slogan, "United for Change''. It was made up of the Communist Party, Fidel (a trade union based group), Posadists (a variety of Trotskyists), Christians for Change and the Party for the Victory of the People (Syndicalists).
The Popular Participation Movement (MPP) was made up of the Tupamaros (former guerillas) and the Socialist Workers Party (Trotskyists) under the slogan, "For the Front''. They in turn formed a further alliance with another group called Unite, which brought together the Popular Union (ex-Blanco), and PREGON (ex-Colorado) and the 26 of March Movement (a group which had evolved out of the Tupamaros).
The centre parties, the Uruguay Assembly, the Artiguistas, Social Democrats and Socialists in turn formed their own alliances. Each party and sub-alliance tries to maximise its vote, and by ensuring that votes flow to each other, that of the whole of the FA. Seats are allocated according to the percentage of the vote which each party brings to the stronger Frente Amplio.
While the FA does not have a socialist profile, its policies are opposed to neo-liberalism. The overall slogan in 1994 was, "Now it is time for the people''. The Encounter's electoral platform called for the deepening of democracy, economic transformation to redistribute income, social policies to attack extreme poverty and achieve integral education, political and state reform to facilitate popular participation, decentralisation, environmental protection, regional integration and a foreign policy based on peace, self-determination and human rights.
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