[For the past 10 years, Uruguayans have been conducting a left-leaning experiment in economic and social democracy, turning themselves into a Latin American version of Switzerland in the process. Under the leadership of the left-leaning Broad Front party, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reports that Uruguay has enjoyed annual economic growth of 5.6 percent since 2004, compared to 1.2 percent annual growth over the last five years in Switzerland. The Swiss have decriminalized marijuana and gay marriage. Uruguay has legalized both. Prostitution is legal in both countries, and each provides universal health care. According to the Happy Planet Index, Uruguay has the same low per capita environmental footprint as Switzerland, with a similarly widespread sense of well-being among its people in spite of significantly lower per capita GDP.
Yet unlike Switzerland, with its highly developed financial services sector and, until recently, safe haven tax policies for global capital, Uruguay has become a prime target for the wrath of multinational corporations and the London bankers who fund them.
In November 2014, Uruguayan voters voiced approval for their government’s policies of social tolerance and public spending on early childhood education, affordable universal health care and social safety net programs by re-electing former president Tabaré Vasquez from the ruling Broad Front party. With support from allied green and radical left parties, Vasquez won a landslide victory against a neoliberal opponent who ran on a platform of slashing public sector spending and opening the nation’s economy to foreign investors. Instead, Vasquez’s return to the presidency in 2015 will extend the Uruguayan social democratic experiment another five years to 2020. London’s neoliberal, supply-side bankers are not amused.
Less than a week after Uruguayan election results were certified, Capital Economics, a London-based financial think tank aligned with British Prime Minister David Cameron’s brand of aggressive neoliberalism, issued an economic report sternly warning that Uruguay is going to face tough economic times after electing another leftist president unless they change their ways.
The leftist economic experiment taking place at the opposite end of the globe in tiny Uruguay is more than the bankers in London can tolerate, never mind that Uruguay, with minimal military expenses, has annual deficits nearly 600 percent lower than the UK as a percent of GDP. From the bankers’ perspective, Uruguay is setting a bad example by taking care of their people instead of catering to global financial speculators.
In this moment, we are all Uruguayans. Their little heralded stand against the emerging model of transnational governance by multinational corporations and global banks is everyone’s battle. A Uruguayan victory at the ICSID tribunal has the potential to set a welcome precedent in favor of local governance versus the kind of transnational order envisioned in agreements such as the TTIP and TPP, yet it is a battle that is being fought on enemy territory. The fact that a sovereign nation trying to protect the health of its people is being forced to defend itself in expensive litigation against the profiteering of a multinational corporation in front of a supranational World Bank tribunal is already far down the wrong path.
For anyone interested in voicing support for Uruguay’s position, contact information for ICSID can be found online. To register support for Uruguay and opposition to the TTIP and TPP within the United States, contact information for the White House and individual senators is available online, while Public Citizen has a portal for registering opposition with House members.]
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