The Consolidation of Political Democracy

The Consolidation of Political Democracy

The 1920s witnessed electoral struggles in which the various parties sought to consolidate the political peace achieved in 1904. The National Party participated actively in political life, and although the Colorado Party was dominant, its electoral advantage was slight. Relative electoral parity and the still recent memory of the last armed uprising compelled participants to preserve electoral purity and to improve the corresponding legislation. In 1924 the Electoral Court was created to prepare and control national elections. The 1917 constitution eliminated restrictions on male suffrage and required elections almost every year to renew the various governmental bodies.

Each political party was internally divided because of ideological, economic, and social differences. To the existing Colorado factions--Riverism and Vierism--were added the Colorado Party for Tradition (also known as Sosism), founded by Julio María Sosa in 1925, and the Advance Grouping (Agrupación Avanzar), founded by Julio César Grauert in 1929. Splinter groups of the National Party included the Radical Blanco Party, founded by Lorenzo Carnelli in 1924, and Social Democracy, founded by Carlos Quijano in 1928. The small PSU also split in 1920, and one of its factions formed the Communist Party of Uruguay (Partido Comunista del Uruguay--PCU). The parties were divided into "traditional" (Colorado Party and National Party) and "minor," or "ideological," parties (UCU, PSU, and PCU). The former, by means of a 1910 law that allowed a double simultaneous vote for a party and a faction of the party (sub-lema), became "federations" of parties with different agendas and were thus able to attract followers from all sectors of society.

These contradictions forced Batlle y Ordóñez to make electoral arrangements with his opponents within the Colorado Party to prevent the victory of the National Party. The resultant "politics of compromise" diluted his reformist agenda. Baltasar Brum (1919-23), one of Batlle y Ordóñez's followers and a former foreign minister, was succeeded as president by a "neutral" Colorado, José Serrato (1923-27), who turned over the office to a Riverist, Juan Campisteguy (1927-31).

It was difficult for adherents of Batllism to implement their agenda despite having the occasional support of other political sectors. Nevertheless, additional social reforms were enacted. In 1920 compensation for accidents in the workplace and a six-day work week were made law. In 1923 a minimum rural wage was passed, although it was never enforced. A social security system was created in 1919 for public sector employees, and the program was extended to the private sector in 1928. Despite the reforms, a union movement, weak in numbers, was organized in several umbrella organizations: the Uruguayan Syndicalist Union, encompassing anarcho-syndicalists and communists, in 1923; and the communist General Confederation of Uruguayan Workers, in 1929.

The only state enterprise created during these years reflected the difficulties in expanding state control over industry because of opposition from the conservatives. Ranchers complained that foreign refrigeration plants, which had established quotas for shipments and for access of meat to the London market, did not pay a fair price for cattle. In 1928 the government created National Refrigerating (Frigorífico Nacional-- Frigonal) as a ranchers' cooperative supported by the state and governed by a board made up of representatives from the government, the Rural Association, and the Rural Federation.

Although the country had suffered the immediate consequences of the post-World War I crisis, a period of recovery had quickly followed. It was characterized by growing prosperity sustained mainly by United States loans. A continued increase in population accompanied economic prosperity. The 1920s saw the arrival of the last great wave of immigrants, consisting mainly of Syrians, Lebanese, and eastern Europeans. Between 1908 and 1930, Montevideo's population doubled.

In 1930 Uruguay celebrated the centennial of the promulgation of its first constitution and won its first World Cup in soccer. Elections were held that year, the results of which were to presage difficulties, however. Batlle y Ordóñez died in 1929, leaving no successor for his political group. The Blanco leader, Herrera, was defeated by a wide margin of votes for the first time. The electoral balance between the parties had been broken. By a few votes, the conservative Colorado Manini, a Riverist leader and newspaper publisher, failed to become president.

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