Uruguay’s president Jose Mujica admitted his frustration in ruling the South American democracy because between the power of the unions and the huge state bureaucracy it virtually “impedes you from getting anything done”.
“Any thing which your intend to accomplish is like a child birth”, said Mujica who took office last March as leader of the ruling left wing coalition Broad Front, a catch all party whose arch extends from radicals and communists to Christian democrats.
He himself is the former leader of an urban guerrilla group from the sixties who spent almost 14 years in jail.
Mujica backed his statement with a recent example, his attempt to sell the presidential summer residence in the posh seaside resort of Punta del Este. The money from the sale was intended to build “social housing”.
“It took eight months, and I’m the president, to get the residence on the sales list”, complained Mujica in an interview with a special edition from a Montevideo weekly celebrating the 25th anniversary of the return to democracy in Uruguay.
“In Uruguay it’s easy to send a bill to parliament, but who knows when it will be approved and who knows when it will be implemented”, added the frustrated leader.
Reforming the State’s organization, which employs a third of Uruguay’s labour force “has triggered another monumental fuss”, said Mujica.
“I signed a decree so that government employees had to work a minimum of six hours, ‘six hours’! and hell broke loose”, in spite of the fact that in many offices and government departments and for a long time now “they haven’t been working six hours”, complained the former guerrilla leader.
Regarding the first general strike his administration had to face last month in spite of the fact that Uruguayan unions respond to the Broad Front coalition, Mujica said that it was basically union leaders who were doing most of the obstruction work.
However Mujica admitted Uruguay was on the right track “if we look at tax revenue figures, which is almost like in Scandinavian countries and certainly not like in Paraguay or Central America where people simply refuse to pay taxes”.
But “in Norway and Sweden things work because the state, the bureaucracy is efficient, which does not happen in Uruguay, where it doesn’t work properly”.
It’s a like a curse “Scandinavian taxes but Central American services”.
Asked about the recent government sponsored bill to make secret bank accounts more flexible, Mujica said he’s not an economist, but “it makes sense” because the “world is changing”.
“Fiscal havens are no longer of interest for the rich countries. The game now has changed, they want to have everything under control, so I guess we have to adapt”, said Mujica.
Uruguay has a long tradition of a sound, secretive banking and financial system which has for decades attracted overseas funds, mainly from the region. There are fears that “flexibility” could impinge on the system.
Finally he called on the unions and the opposition (and even inside his own coalition) to give him “a break” so he can go ahead with several important projects to update Uruguay and which belong to the electoral agenda.
“I’m not thinking in my re-election, I’m 75, I don’t even know if I’ll make it to the end (of my five year mandate)”, emphasized Mujica who has chronic health problems which prevent him from travelling overseas as often as his job demands.