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Tabaré Vázquez, the doctor who made history in Uruguayan politics

Montevideo, Dec 6 (EFE) .- Oncologist by profession, tireless fighter against tobacco and closely linked to the world of football, the former president of Uruguay Tabaré Vázquez, who died at dawn this Sunday, will go down in the history of the South American country as the politician who took the left to the top. The socialist was the first candidate who came to the government of Montevideo in 1990 and, 15 years later, to the Presidency of the Republic with the Broad Front (FA), a coalition created in 1971 with the union of left-wing forces that ranged from democracy Christian to the guerrillas of the MLN-Tupamaros. The paradox of his life is that cancer, which, he said at a conference in Spain, is “a bad friend but not a relentless killer”, has ended his life at 80 years of age. The same disease that he fought as a doctor after it took a good part of his family from him. Behind him he leaves a legacy of social policies and a fight against the tobacco industry that was a world example in his two terms as head of state (2005-2010 and 2015-2020), but also shadows such as his veto -for religious reasons- to the abortion law or its alleged omission in cases of human rights violations during the civic-military dictatorship (1973-1985). THE ORIGINS Born on January 17, 1940 in the humble Montevideo neighborhood of La Teja, Vázquez was the fourth child of a worker for the state oil company Ancap and a housewife. His neighborhood was the place of belonging since he was a child and he demonstrated this when, at just 18 years old, he helped found the Arbolito club that, over time, became an icon of the area. Years later, Vázquez – while he was studying medicine – had the idea of ​​creating a polyclinic in this club so that the residents of the area could be treated for free. In 1956, at only 16 years old, he met María Auxiliadora Delgado, who would become his wife in 1964 and with whom he shared 55 more years until she passed away in July last year. A university professor, with publications in hundreds of national and international medical journals and an expert in Oncology, Vázquez has been one of the symbols of Uruguayan medicine in recent years. “FESTEJEN, URUGUAYOS, FESTEJEN” On the night of October 31, 2004, shouting “Celebrate, Uruguayans, celebrate”, Vázquez encouraged a citizenry who celebrated in the streets the historic triumph of the left in a presidential election after 174 years conservative governments. That moment was the culmination of a political career that began in 1983, when he joined the Socialist Party -integrated in the FA-. Once democracy was restored in the country, in 1985, he was one of those who led the campaign to repeal the Expiry Law, which protects members of the State who committed crimes during the dictatorship. Before entering with force in the political life, his management began with soccer, since he was president of the modest club Progreso (1979-1989), which he led to be Uruguayan champion. Vázquez had his first important victory when he was elected mayor of Montevideo and managed to get the FA to reach the capital’s government for the first time in 1990. After being a candidate for president on two occasions (1994 and 1999), his third attempt was the winner and he obtained a broad victory in 2004 after defeating his persecutor, Jorge Larrañaga (today Minister of the Interior for the National Party), with 51.67% of the votes. When he left the government five years later, Vázquez had an 80% popularity. THE PRESIDENT DOCTOR Medicine has always been an axis of the president’s life and his specialty, oncology, almost an obligation, considering that his parents and two of his four brothers died of cancer. From the beginning of his presidential term, Vázquez focused on health as one of his pillars with the creation of the National Integrated Health System and approved internationally recognized anti-smoking laws, such as the prohibition of smoking in public spaces and of advertising or placement of images on cigarette packs to sensitize the population. In addition, he faced the powerful US multinational Philip Morris in a lawsuit that was resolved in favor of Uruguay in 2016, when Vázquez was already in his second term. LAS SOMBRAS Vázquez’s first term caused a conflict with Argentina over the installation of a cellulose pulp plant in the department of Río Negro (west), on the banks of the Uruguay River – bordering Argentina -, which caused roadblocks, pickets and a complaint before the International Court in The Hague. Later, he acknowledged having asked then-US President George W. Bush for help at that time, in case the conflict escalated. In addition, his personal convictions led him to exercise the presidential veto in 2008 on the decriminalization of abortion, despite a majority vote in Parliament, even with the support of opposition legislators. Finally, the law would be approved in the mandate of José Mujica (2010-2015). One of Vázquez’s darkest episodes is the possible concealment of evidence in cases of human rights violations committed during the dictatorship. The confessions of crime of the ex-military José Gavazzo, omitted by the authorities, caused a crisis in his second term and a wave of dismissals, including that of the then Minister of Defense, Jorge Menéndez. The former commander-in-chief of the Army and today senator Guido Manini Ríos recently reported that Vázquez was aware of these minutes and never released them. LAST TIMES The absence of new leaderships and the clamor of the people who supported him pushed Vázquez to return to the political arena in 2014 to help the FA win, for the third time, the Government. His second five-year period, older and with greater wear and tear, was marked by a much more absent profile and would mark the end of the cycle of the left in Uruguay. Despite the fact that in his last year in office he suffered the death of his wife and the detection of lung cancer, he never considered resigning and on March 1, 2020 he handed over the presidential sash to the current president, Luis Lacalle Pou, of the PN. The covid-19 pandemic and his delicate state of health made his public appearances very few in 2020 until at dawn this Sunday the life of the doctor who made history in Uruguayan politics was extinguished. (c) EFE Agency

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