Throughout the entire geopolitical context of Latin America, democracy represents more of a theoretical concept rather than a real system. The ongoing socio-economic crisis, which has plagued the region since the ’60s, has tended to favor elements such as corruption and violence instead of modernization. In this scheme, however, Uruguay is the exception that confirms the rule. The country is known as the “Switzerland of Latin America”, firstly because of its particular banking regulations, but also due to its outstanding democratic circumstances.
The democratic success of Uruguay is often explained by its size (176.2 km2). Surrounded by giant neighbors such as Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay is by far the smallest country of South America and one of the smallest countries of the entire Latin American region, where few cases present similar conditions.
But why should the small area of Uruguay be favorable for democracy? The answer is to be found in Ancient Greece, where small communities of humans known as polis emerged and formed the first prototypes of a democratic society. The reduced dimensions of the polis made sure that everyone was close to each other and thus, more participative and accountable in the political debate. Nowadays Uruguay is much bigger than an Ancient Greek polis, but the principle is the same. In the country politicians and people are an indivisible unit and polity, politics, and policy are done by the people, and for the people.
In the Uruguayan democracy, there is little room left for corruption and violence, whereas the focus is on modernization and anticipating the future needs dictated by the continuous evolution of society. Uruguay’s excellent management of the crisis provoked by Covid-19 represents a perfect example of this attitude. Immediately after the outbreak, the Uruguayan society moved unified into one precise direction and provided each inhabitant with flu vaccines, protective masks, and clear rules to follow.
The case of Uruguay should inspire extensive reflection and reactions from other Latin America’s contexts and further. In a world dominated by a desire for expansion and global domination, the democratic success of Uruguay effectively distorts this paradigm.
Uruguay Country Profile, World Bank, 14 September 2020.