Uruguayan former president Tabare Vazquez confirmed on Wednesday he will run for the presidency next year, following a meeting with representatives from the groups which constitute the voting majority of the ruling Broad Front catch-all coalition.
“We have cleared some points which prepares us for the Broad Front’s plenum that will decide on the groups’ candidacies” said Senator and First Lady Lucia Topolansky (MPP) on leaving the residence of Vazquez and acting as the spokesperson.
In plain language this means that Vazquez is a pre-candidate for the October plenum and later the November congress, and most certainly will be the coalition’s 2014 presidential candidate, since he has a wide ranging comfortable support confirmed by public opinion polls and the different groups’ awareness that he is an undisputed winning card, probably the only one.
Asked about who will be Vazquez running companion in the presidential ticket Senator Topolansky with a smile said that “is still too distant”, although Broad Front sources have said that most probably the non written agreement is that it should be a woman and “Lucía is top of the list”.
Although Vazquez did not meet the press waiting outside his house, the participants of the meeting did convey his message “these are not electoral times and we must support the national government and work in promoting national and municipal policies”. He added that the fact he has confirmed his intention to bid for the presidency “does not mean Tabaré will be off campaigning tomorrow”.
Ms Topolansky also confirmed that there will be more than one candidate in the Broad Front’s primary “as has been the case in other instances”.
Senator Rafael Michelini, with a sigh of relief said he was very pleased “Tabare has accepted” and “we are certainly leaving with more than we came for”.
In the late evening news President Jose Mujica said that Tabare Vazquez candidate is “good news for the country and for the Broad Front”. He added he wasn’t surprised because “I was expecting the good news”.
Mujica underlined that “it’s pure logic in politics; I never doubted Tabare would not accept, that is how politics work and it is only logic that he will sacrifice some of his current peace because his party companions and followers have asked him to be candidate and represent them”.
But, insisted the president, it’s also good news for Uruguay because “Vazquez is a cautious, prudent leader and his presence is evidence of continuity, certainty and seriousness, and this is very encouraging for Uruguay’s international standing”.
In effect Vazquez has a clear 50% plus support in opinion polls, much higher than the coalition, and with an evident capacity to attract independent voters. During his mandate 2005/2010 he kept to orthodox economics and displayed a strong opposition to the Kirchner couple in Argentina.
Asked about a possible partner for the presidential ticket, Mujica said that it must be discussed by the political force, “but probably someone who is complementary, time will say”. Mujica did not reject the idea of running for the Senate when he steps down from the presidency, “growing old does not mean staying at home”.
However as in politics things are not always as transparent as they look. In effect the Communist party, a member of the ruling coalition did not participate of the meeting at Vazquez residence and although their electoral support is limited they do have a far greater representation in the coalition’s structure such as the plenum and the congress, and in the group responsible for drafting the government program. Plus the fact they have full control over organized labour in Uruguay.
Vazquez had anticipated that if he was to be the candidate he would not be submitted to the program which is anticipated to express the most radical anti market economy and anti US positions plus other proposals that scare voters and investors.
Inside the coalition the only group with the strength and influence to reach an understanding with the Communist party is precisely the Popular Participation Movement (MPP) of former guerrillas President Mujica and First Lady Lucia.
Mujica won the 2008/09 presidential primary process (defeating Vice-president Danilo Astori) with the support of the Communist party which was rewarded with the government of the city of Montevideo.
This scenario makes the MPP the arbitrator of the situation and thus it should not come as a surprise if Lucia Topolansky ends up in the presidential ticket next to Vazquez.
Further in support of this speculation are the latest news regarding the bill with half legislative sanction, to have the Uruguayan government grow, control and distribute cannabis as a strategy to combat drug dealers and have consumers avoid harder drugs.
Vazquez an oncologist by training had repeatedly rejected the bill on ‘medical and ethical’ grounds even if it was one of the ruling coalition’s great reform innovations with great global impact.
Mujica despite criticism and previous pledges saying the bill would not go forward unless there was a clear public opinion support, had stated only last week that there was no going back and he even was prepared to defend the initiative at the UN General Assembly next month.
However he later dismissed the UN speech and said that the legalization of marihuana was “an experiment” to combat the drug dealers and “if it does not work there is always time to retreat; let’s go ahead with the experiment and see the results”.
“What we are attempting is a contribution to humanity, but if the experiment fails, we will not continue. As all experiments it involves risks. We must have the sufficient intelligence to understand that if it overcomes us, we must be prepared to walk back”
“This is a test lab for several disciplines that should help us face a problem adding tools and ideas to combat drug addition”.
And not surprisingly after his also radical stance, Dr. Vazquez publicly on Tuesday stated that he agrees with the bill under discussion in parliament which regulates the sale of marihuana and has been approved by the Lower House.
“The drugs problem must be addressed from the point of view of healthcare, with a multidiscipline and multi-institutional approach” said Vazquez, adding this is not a problem of Uruguay but of the whole world.
“We need an ample debate, public discussion with all the adequate and available information on the issue and with participation of all the Uruguayan society, and we must all contribute to overcome it and participate in trying to abate this pathology affecting humanity”.
Finally the essential tools to address the effects of the consumption of drugs are “education, prevention, clear rules, rehabilitation and combating drug dealers and traffic”
In other words a converging scientific approach and if necessary the bill can be repealed. A sigh of relief…the wonders of marihuana...