MONTEVIDEO – Luis Lacalle Pou, of the center-right National Party (PN), was inaugurated as Uruguay’s president on Sunday on a slogan of political change, the same theme the leftist Broad Front (FA) used 15 years ago when it came to power for the first time in the tiny South American country.
The former senator took office as president 30 years after his father – Luis Alberto Lacalle Herrera (1990-1995) – did so despite the fact that the new leader at one time touted himself as a “rebellious son” and wanted to distance himself from his family surname in his election campaign and just present himself to voters as “Luis.”
In addition, he selected the green 1937 Ford V8 Cabriolet that belonged to his great-grandfather, the great politician from the late 19th century Luis Alberto de Herrera, and was the vehicle he had used to parade through the streets of Montevideo as well as being the same vehicle used by the new president’s father when he had assumed the presidency in 1990.
Political change, improvements in education and the economy and better mechanisms to combat insecurity were the main points emphasized in his inaugural address by Lacalle Pou after he was sworn in at the Legislative Palace on Sunday.
“I, Luis Lacalle Pou, promise on my honor to faithfully execute the office that has been entrusted to me and to protect and defend the Constitution of the Republic,” the new president pronounced upon taking the oath of office.
The policies of Lacalle’s center-right National Party (PN) do not deviate much from what the 46-year-old candidate said during his presidential campaign and at his public appearances after he was proclaimed the winner of the election last November, in which he defeated Daniel Martinez, the Broad Front candidate.
“This time the citizenry gave us a clear and resounding message. The people said that a change is necessary, but a change accompanied by agreements. So, it’s time to fulfill the popular will. The time for speeches is over,” said Lacalle Pou, who will govern until 2025 in a coalition with the support of four other parties.
The president said that “If the people chose change, it is to take action,” although he said he did not intend “to wipe the slate clean” in taking office.
“We don’t deny that this phase will be to exchange one half of society for the other. Unity is what we ask of Uruguayans and so we’re here to continue with what has been done well, correct what has been done badly and to do what wasn’t considered and what people didn’t want to do in recent years,” he said.
The president acknowledged that “this is the first time in history” that a coalition of so many parties will govern the country and that “just like everything new, it creates uncertainties and opens up new paths.”
The Uruguayan interior, which figures only marginally in the daily life of Montevideo and in the country’s institutions, was a huge and fruitful fishing ground for votes for Lacalle Pou in November and he wanted the region represented on Sunday for his inauguration with more than 3,000 horseback riders from different parts of the country taking part in the so-called “Voice of the Countryside” march.
Outfitted in their “gaucho” – or cowboy – gear, the riders escorted Lacalle Pou and his vice president, Beatriz Argimon, to Independence Plaza in the inaugural parade during which the many thousands of people who turned out for the event shouted “Mr. President! Mr. President!” although some others booed.
At Independence Plaza, President Tabare Vazquez awaited the new leader to present him with the presidential sash, a symbolic moment during all ceremonies in Uruguay where power is passed into new hands.
Vazquez, wearing the presidential sash for the last time, took Lacalle Pou’s arm and they walked together for several yards to the stage at the foot of the statue of historical figure Jose Artigas, where the former leader passed the sash to his successor.
Later, Vazquez left the plaza alone after receiving military honors but before the 13 ministers of the new government – seven from the PN, three from the center-right Colorado Party, two from the Cabildo Abierto and one from the Independent Party, among the members of the new government coalition – took their oaths of office.
Only the Party of the People, a rightist group and the fifth coalition party, does not have a ministerial post in the new government.
Once the ceremony was concluded the 120 international delegations present for the assorted events greeted and congratulated the new president and Foreign Minister Ernesto Talvi inside Artigas Palace, the former seat of the government.
Spain’s King Felipe VI and the presidents of Brazil (Jair Bolsonaro), Chile (Sebastian Piñera), Colombia (Ivan Duque), Paraguay (Mario Abdo Benitez) and Bangladesh (Abdul Hamid) were the six heads of state who had traveled to Uruguay to attend the inaugural events.
Other foreign officials who were present in Montevideo on Sunday were Costa Rican Vice President Epsy Campbell, Ecuadorian Vice President Otto Sonnenholzner, Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, Ibero-American Secretary General Rebeca Grynspan and several representatives from other governments around the world.
The Latin American left was not represented at the express wish of the new government. Venezuela’s incumbent Nicolas Maduro, Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega and Cuban President Miguel Diaz Canel were not invited.
The new president of Argentina, Alberto Fernandez, was also not on hand – albeit because of the opening of the ordinary session of the Congress in his country – but he sent his foreign minister, Felipe Sola, in his stead.