uruguay

Flag_of_UruguayPopulation. 3.369 million

Land. 68,037 square miles

Per capita income. US$15,840

President. José “Pepe” Mujica

El Pepe

Daniel Erosa, journalism director at Uruguay’s left-leaning weekly newspaper Brecha, said that the last two presidents have opened government transparency significantly, instituting new programs and freedoms for journalists.

In 2008, during the presidency of Tabaré Vásquez, Uruguay passed its first freedom of information law, el Ley de Acceso a la Información Pública No. 18.381 or AIP. Although the law has changed the rights of journalists it has not solved all of the problems, Erosa said.

“We have come very far in legal terms and in theoretical terms, but in concrete terms the ability to access information is always very complicated,” Erosa said.

As one of Uruguay’s leading newspapers Brecha has a storied past, publishing important works of investigative journalism and the first works of Uruguay’s many literary heroes.

Among the greats who wrote for Brecha – which went under the masthead Marcha at the time – are Uruguay’s most famous poet and writer Mario Benedetti, Eduardo Galeano and Carlos Mario Gutierrez, the first reporter to interview Fidel Castro in the Sierra Maestra in Cuba.

The Asociación de la Prensa Uruguaya houses Centro de Archivo y Acceso a la Información Publica, an Uruguayan NGO devoted to press freedoms | photo by brandon c janes iv

The Asociación de la Prensa Uruguaya houses Centro de Archivo y Acceso a la Información Publica, an Uruguayan NGO devoted to press freedoms | photo by brandon c janes iv

At those times Brecha was an investigative enterprise without the benefit of freedom of information laws.

In the recent past, – since the AIP law passed – an article called, “The Casino Owners,” uncovered rampant corruption in Uruguay’s government-run Casino syndicates. As a result of the work of two Brecha journalists, five top executives – including the national director of gaming – were incarcerated.

“Los dueños del juego”

The project began in 2006, after Uruguayan investigative journalists Pablo Alfano and Fabián Werner noticed discrepancies in Uruguay’s national gaming budget.

Uruguay has both public and private gaming machines in most major cities, including the capital Montevideo and the tourist beach destination Punta del Este.

The public gaming budget reported losses one year, while private casinos recorded huge profits, said Werner. That is where the investigation began.

Werner is the guy the New York Times calls when they need a good source for a story about Uruguay. He has since left Brecha to work at the Agence France-Presse in Montevideo and Rio de Janeiro.

Uruguayan investigative journalist Werner speaks about obtaining information from the government about Casino dividends. His story put five top government executives in jail | photo by brandon c janes iv

Uruguayan investigative journalist Fabián Werner speaks about obtaining information from the government about Casino dividends. His story put five top government executives in jail | photo by brandon c janes iv

The two part investigation, spanning more than three years of research, was completed under the headline “Los dueños del juego.”

The report required information requests from six different government agencies – five of of which Werner and Alfano had to use to the AIP law in their struggle to uncover the truth.

Werner said in one case the journalists had to sue the government to get the facts for the story.

“In some cases it got a little complicated,” Werner said. “We were denied information and had to resort to a civil trial.”

Edison Lanza, director of Centro de Archivos y Acceso a la Información Pública or CAinfo, works at his desk in Montevideo, Uruguay | photo by brandon c janes iv

Edison Lanza, director of Centro de Archivos y Acceso a la Información Pública or CAinfo, works at his desk in Montevideo, Uruguay | photo by brandon c janes iv

‘Information: the oxygen of democracy’

Although journalists in some Latin American countries, such as Uruguay, are protected by freedom of information laws, the fight is not over, said Edison Lanza, director of El Centro de Archivo y Accesso a la Información Pública, a civil rights NGO based in Montevideo.

“The region has just started this in this century and right now we are in a delicate time.”” Lanza said. “In Latin America there is a great culture of secrecy and so to conquer this secrecy you have to have a great tool.”

The Uruguayan parliament has already began discussions to amend the freedom of information law, amendments that Lanza said would restrict journalistic freedom and hurt Uruguay’s democracy.

“Information is the oxygen of democracy,” Lanza said. “To have a strong Democracy you have to have free expression and access to information.”

Check out what the newstramp has covered so far in Uruguay:

Uruguayan President José "Pepe" Mujica getting out of his beloved '87 Volkswagen Beetle.

 VIDEO: Perfume of José Mujica – the world’s poorest president

Jose “Pepe” Mujica is known as the world’s poorest president. Newstramp asks Montevideanos how they feel about living in a country run by a man who doesn’t wear a tie and drives a beat up Volksagen Beetle.

A member of the protest group Gestión Humana stands outside of a municipal administration building in Montevideo in protest of low wages, poor job security and unclean working conditions for city employees.

When the municipal workers of Montevideo went on strike, Newstramp was there

Although Uruguay may be one of the most prosperous Latin American countries of late, it still has its fair share of problems. Watch raw footage of a protest march by the municipal workers of Montevideo.

Laura Lacurcia and her foster dog Uma enjoy a few moments of calm at home in Villa Muñoz neighborhood of Montevideo. Photo by brandon c janes iv

Uruguayan journalist: animal cruelty discussion yet to begin here

Uruguay passed a law forcing pet and livestock owners to take care of their animals, but Uruguayan journalist and single mother Laura Lacurcia says little has changes and animals are still mistreated across the country.

 VIDEO: In defense of squatters; Cabo Polonio – Part 1

Newstramp visits with the last remaining inhabitants of Cabo Polonio, a small libertarian community which has formed on an isolated peninsula on Uruguay’s eastern coast.

A horse grazes the winter grass on on protected land of Cabo Polonio National Park in Uruguay. Notice his front legs have been tied by his owner so that he cannot wander too far. Photo by brandon c janes iv

 Pueblo chico, infierno grande: Cabo Polonio – Part 2

In the 1990s a housing boom nearly wasted Cabo Polonio, had not the Uruguayan government stopped the rampant squatting. The government’s presence – naming the peninsula a national park – has caused mixed reactions from residents.

Year-round Cabo Polonio surfer Sebastian studies the bay for whales, which are common in the winter. Photo by brandon c janes iv

A lesson from the children – Cabo Polonio – Part 3 (of 3)

The seven student school at Cabo Polonio helps to sum up the myth behind the place. Cabo Polonio is not just an exotic tourist destination it is a fountain of youth for its residents, who don’t want to see it change.

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Featured Image: Flag_of_Uruguay via Wikimedia Commons

Featured Image: Mujica VW by Bella Naija/ CC BY-SA 2.0

Featured Image: El Pepe by Farm5/ CCBY-SA 2.0