Tabare Vazquez, Uruguay Leader Who Slew Big Tobacco, Dies at 80

6 December 2020

Ken Parks, Bloomberg:

Uruguay’s first left-wing president Tabare Vazquez, who beat tobacco maker Philip Morris in a landmark international court ruling and greatly expanded his country’s welfare state, has died in Montevideo. He was 80.

His death was confirmed by his Broad Front party on its webpage on Sunday. Vazquez passed away following a battle with cancer after undergoing treatment for a tumor in his right lung last year.

“He faced his last battle with courage and serenity,” Uruguay President Luis Lacalle Pou said in a tweet. “We had instances of personal and political dialogue that I value and will remember. He served his country and based on the effort he obtained important achievements. He was the President of the Uruguayans. The country is in mourning.”

Vazquez’s victory in the 2004 elections ended more than a century of rule by Uruguay’s two conservative parties. Part of a wave of leftist leaders in Latin America that rode a commodities boom in the first decade of the millennium, Vazquez leveraged economic growth averaging almost 6% during his first five-year term to expand pension and health-care provisions.

His second term that started in 2015 was marked by meager growth, rising unemployment and big deficits. It ended with a center-right coalition sweeping to power in the 2019 elections.

Critics said “that if the left came to power, Uruguayans would suffer because investments would leave and companies would close,” Vazquez told Canal 10 just weeks before his death. “We destroyed that myth.”

He negotiated the largest single investment in Uruguay’s history — a $3 billion pulp mill that has cushioned the economic impact of the pandemic.

Perhaps his biggest achievement came in 2016 though, when the World Bank ruled against financial compensation claims brought by Philip Morris for Vazquez’s efforts to reduce tobacco consumption through strict regulations on packaging and advertising.

Vazquez, whose wife passed away in July 2019, is survived by his four children.


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