Report to the Midyear Meeting 2019
March 29 to 31
Cartagena, Colombia

At a time when the democratic governments of the Americas and Europe condem the dictatorship of Nicolás Mauro, president Tabaré Vázquez's government has adopted a passive attitude facing the institutional crisis in Venezuela.

Without support in the region, president Vázquez seeked the backing of the European Union and organized a meeting in Montevideo between non-Lima Group countries and european representantives. Uruguay accepted the generic: "free, credible and transparent elections," but rejected (and blocked due to lack of consensus) the clauses regarding "freedom for political prisoners," "independent international observation" regarding the elections, and "the elimination of all hurdles for free and egalitarian participation of all parties."

Section 95 of the Media Law - passed with the vote of the ruling majority (Frente Amplio), empowers the Executive to impose up to 15 minutes of free daily broadcast on all audiovisual media "to carry out public good campaigns on topics such as health, education, childhood and adolescence, gender equality, coexistence, road safety, human rights and combating domestic violence and discrimination, by public institutions and non-state public persons."

Radio and television stations are now called, at the initiative of President Vázquez: "official broadcasts of simultaneous transmission". The first problem is that the definition of what is a public good campaign is determined by the Executive itself - which chooses the 15 minutes of highest audience and value. Furthermore, these campaigns have an increasingly political profile - with the risk that 2019 is a year of national elections.

On November 13 the Antel Arena - a sports and cultural complex built by the traditional telephone monopoly and competitor in the mobile telephony market, was inaugurated. The top brass of the government - headed by President Vázquez, attended the ceremony. Faced with questions by journalists, the president - with a marked ironic tone, avoided answering questions about the financing of the project and questions about unconstitutionality raised by the opposition.

On February 6, the editor of El País attended a court hearing for defamation and slander filed by Gonzalo Casaravilla, president of Usinas y Transmisiones Eléctricas (UTE), the monopolistic state electricity company. The reason: publishing incorrect information about a possible restructuring. As soon as the error was realized, El País rectified and clarified the facts in its web publication and on the front page of the newspaper the next day. The country's print media do not escape the difficult situation brought about by technological advances and changes in the advertising market and in reading habits. The main newspapers and weeklies in Montevideo - which concentrates 50% of the country's population, have called on the authorities to alert them about the situation and consider the democratic and cultural importance of newspapers in regard to fiscal policy. There was no progress in this effort.