Uruguay 21/11/10

Strike Action in Uruguay Intensifies.

After eight months in government, President Mujica’s administration’s most serious struggle is taking place in what was an improbable social sphere of opposition, the workers unions.

UPM, headed by Jose Mujica, was formed prior to the November General Elections by Frente Amplio (FA). It has thus far maintained a peaceful relationship with the opposition and its policies are well received by the private sector. The party now in office also recently resolved quarrels with Argentina over plans for construction of bridges across the border, and addressed internal protests over the opening of Botnia paper factory.

Yet UPM has started to face major discontent from unions, including those representing public service and the medical professions. These workers social movements are largely the same groups which backed the Mujica-Astori coalition in November 2009. Their lobbying for Mujica as President was motivated by confidence that the policies of social and economic change initiated under Tabare Velazquez’s government would continue.

A major factor of current unrest is the implementation of cuts in public health spending, as decided by health reforms earlier this year. The strike carried out by the Society of Anaesthetists and Surgeons continues and a variety of other collective gestures of protest are being made. The Confederation of Civil Servants (Cofe) has voiced its discontent with the government decree that civil servants should work a minimum of 6 hours daily.

Dispute between the government and AEBU, the association of bank employees of Uruguay, over bank regulations on foreign trade have led to the refusal to clear cheques in public banks.

Air traffic controllers are taking part in the strike action, and, as a result, approximately 50% of take-offs from Carrasco, Punta del Este, Colonia and Carmelo airports will be cancelled today.

Philip Morris Continues Legal Protest Over Tobacco Black Market.

In other news, the Uruguay branch of Philip Morris has issued a statement outlining its position on the anti-Tobacco laws introduced during the Tabare Velazquez administration. Tabare Velazquez, who was trained as an oncologist, enjoyed wide public support for his “crusade against the consumption of cigarettes.”

Philip Morris, which controls 23% of the tobacco market in Uruguay, has recently been engaged in a legal battle with the government over the regulation of the tobacco black market. While the new laws prohibit the terming of cigarettes as “light” and have reduced the permissible variety of tobacco products on sale, the producers of black market cigarettes, which are widely in circulation, are profiting more than ever before. Philip Morris has stressed that it has no objection to other effects of the law on tobacco consumption, such as its prohibition in public spaces.