Saturday, May 28, 2011

Uruguay Update

Today’s entry is a potpourri of items related to Uruguay, about which I haven’t written much lately, but excursions along the country’s scenic coastline figure prominently in the new fourth edition of Moon Handbooks Buenos Aires. The book came out in February; in August and September, I’ll be doing a series of digital slide presentations at various branches of the San Mateo County Library (more details to come in a future post).

Uruguay Means Peace

One thing that makes Uruguay attractive, other than its scenic shoreline along the Río de la Plata, is its placidity. To be sure, like any capital city, Montevideo has its borderline neighborhoods, but this is a country where most people feel safe and secure. In fact, according to the 2011 Global Peace Index, which judges 153 countries according to standards of levels of domestic social conflict, military expenditures, and conflicts with other countries, Uruguay is the most peaceful country in Latin America, and 21st in the world.

Among the other Southern Cone countries, Chile ranks 39th and Argentina 55th. Iceland ranks first, while Iraq and Somalia bring up the rear at 152nd and 153rd. At No. 82, the United States ranks in the lower middle, just below Gabon and just above Bangladesh, because of its elevated military expenditures and overseas conflicts. Of course, such broad ratings oversimplify a complex topic - just as per capita GDP oversimplifies a country’s economic success - but they do provide interesting information for reflection.

Smoke-Free Uruguay under Attack
Uruguay has its international commercial enemies, though, particularly tobacco giant Philip Morris. That’s because, thanks largely to former president Tabaré Vásquez (an oncologist by training), Uruguay has some of the world’s most progressive anti-tobacco legislation. Not only does Uruguayan law prohibit smoking in public buildings, as well as restaurants and bars, but it also bans tobacco advertising and requires large health warnings on cigarette packages. Moreover, it prohibits the sale of any tobacco products bearing the misleading description of “light.”

Philip Morris International, though, has decided that Uruguay should be a test case of the limits to public health legislation. According to Mercopress Noticias, Philip Morris - whose worldwide income of US$27.2 billion approaches Uruguay’s GDP of US$40.7 billion - has brought a claim against the country in the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes, a branch of the World Bank. On the face of it, the tobacco monster appears to want to establish a precedent against a relatively small country that would make it difficult for other, larger countries to enact similar rules.

Uruguayans to Occupy Chilean Airspace?
Despite its political and social pacifism, Uruguay has made some international commercial incursions of its own. For several years, its flagship airline Pluna has connected Montevideo with Santiago, but now it intends to begin flying to destinations within Chile; there are no specifics, but apparently Pluna would serve some lesser destinations with relatively small planes with a capacity of roughly 90 passengers.

LAN Airlines dominates the Chilean market, with Sky Airlines a distance second and Principal Airlines third. Pluna, which offers low fares but also charges for checked baggage as well as on-board food and beverage service, could find a niche here.

Tannat & Lamb - on Saturday

For those of you fortunate enough to be in Uruguay next Saturday, several wineries from Montevideo to Punta del Este will celebrate the third annual Festival del Tannat y Cordero, celebrating the country's signature wine and the roast lamb with which it goes so well. If you can make it, don't miss it.

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1 comment:

Vago Damitio said...

Wayne, as always your site inspires me. More and more I dream about South America even though I haven't yet been there...thanks for always keeping the fires of travel desire stoked.

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