Big Brother Gets Bigger in (Liberal?) Uruguay

by Priscila Guinovart Uruguay was once considered one of the […]

Image by © Dreamstime

Image by © Dreamstime

by Priscila Guinovart

Uruguay was once considered one of the most liberal countries in Latin America. For many (too many) it still is. Its recent marijuana decriminalization (sort of), its openness to same-sex marriage and its legal abortion policies might well make you think my home country is indeed a paradigm for individual liberties. Sadly, not all that glitters is gold.

Doesn’t it break your (libertarian) heart to realize something was too good to be true? Well, in Uruguay, heartbreak has become a bit of a habit – and it only gets worse.

Given my pathological optimism, I would like to start by taking a glimpse at the bright side. Yes, you can marry your same-sex partner here. Yes, ladies, you own your body and you are not forced to keep anything inside your uterus in Uruguay. Yes, potheads, you are free to have as many plants as you wish in your backyard. Well, about this last one… it’s so – not – true that it physically hurts.

Cannabis decriminalization in Uruguay could actually be called “over-regulated, statist alternative to black market marijuana that hasn’t been fully put into practice yet, so I’m sticking with the black market.” I understand that for many this is a positive step, but state monopolies in Uruguay are wearing us out, and it won’t be any different – at least not in the short-term – with cannabis.

In this obscure and confusing scenario, our re-elected socialist president Tabaré Vázquez stated, while he was still a candidate, that he was willing to consider cocaine as the next drug to be legalized. Then again, too much of a good thing in a quite leftist country where the concept of free-market is demonized, despised and, of course, not very well understood by the government.

The reality is that this so-called drug decriminalization is just as much a trend to monitoring and regulating to the extreme its users. But this your-business-is-my-business attitude doesn’t break our exposed hearts anymore. No! Not in the land of “El Guardián.”

El Guardián (The Guardian, just in case) is a massive surveillance programme to spy and monitor private communication of individuals, designed by… you guess it, come on, give it a try… Yes! Our super “progressive” government. El Guardián will start working in early April, according to our Minister of Internal Affairs, Eduardo Bonomi. It’s currently described by the press as “a kind of Big Brother” that has the unique ability to listen to every single phone conversation and to read e-mails and social network activities.

But wait, it gets worse: El Guardián was a Secret of State until the press revealed it back in July, 2013. Bonomi might now defend it publicly, but El Guardián was intended to be confidential.

Liberal paradise, huh? At least we get to eat whatever we want, and well, we will always have booze! I did warn you about my pathological optimism, didn’t I?

Last year, the Director of Health of our City Hall, Pablo Anzalone, proposed to remove salt, ketchup and mayonnaise from restaurants’ tables because they might harm us. It is the consumer, according to Anzalone, who has to kindly ask for such spices to waiters, but they shouldn’t be in plain sight (the children! Doesn’t anybody think of the children anymore?!). The word “prohibition” is, obviously, discarded, and they want us to see this initiative as “education” or “health awareness.”

In the same line of action, and on his first day as a president (he didn’t even wait!), Vázquez announced a measure to take care of us, sick, uneducated individuals: super taxes on alcohol. Limited advertising for alcoholic drinks. Compulsory special licences for those stores which intend to sell liquors.

Wait! Wasn’t that the guy who claimed to be considering to legalize cocaine… in the middle of a presidential race? Oh. Right.

Uruguay was, indeed, one of the most liberal countries in Latin America. We were pioneers in world-changing areas such as women’s suffrage (1917) and it has also been a secular country since 1918.

If everything goes well, I might be able to get some pot in a drug store (although, then again, nothing is certain yet). I won’t be missed in the black market, though: I’ll go there for beer and ketchup.

Source: Voices of Liberty


The views expressed on austriancenter.com are not necessarily those of the Austrian Economics Center.

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