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  HOME | Uruguay

Uruguay Elects Frustrated Marine Biologist, Surfer, Scion of Political Family

MONTEVIDEO – A surfing enthusiast, frustrated marine biologist, rebellious scion of a traditional political family, married father of three and Twitter user who shuns cellphone use at home. That in a nutshell describes Uruguay’s president-elect, Luis Lacalle Pou.

Born on Aug. 11, 1973, in Montevideo, as the second son of former President Luis Alberto Lacalle de Herrera, who governed from 1990 to 1995, and ex-Sen. Julia Pou, he said recently on television that he experienced various ups and downs in his childhood.

During the “De cerca” program, which up through last month aired interviews with all of the candidates in the Oct. 27 first round of Uruguay’s general election, Lacalle Pou said that as a boy his parents were worried about his short stature and that after he was diagnosed with growth deficiency his grandfather gave him an intramuscular injection every night for a year.

He also said that growing up in a traditional National Party (PN) family – his great-grandfather Luis Alberto de Herrera was a leading figure in the party for more than 50 years and founded an intra-party faction known as “Herrerism” – meant that politics was a pervasive feature of his home life.

As a young boy he would frequent the house of his maternal grandfather and spend hours in the library reading about the oceans and marine life in National Geographic magazines, a passion that led him to become a surfer and also a “frustrated marine biologist.”

Lacalle Pou, who attended the British Schools of Montevideo before studying at that capital’s Catholic University of Uruguay and currently lives in a gated community in the southeastern province of Canelones, just outside Montevideo, underwent a rebellious phase as a youth.

Although he says he was never addicted to drugs, he confessed on the “De cerca” program that he smoked marijuana for the first time at age 17 and then used cocaine until quitting cold turkey after a conversation with a friend.

He had vowed during that rebellious stage never to become a politician or a lawyer, but he later earned a law degree and embarked on a career in politics in 1999 when he was elected to a seat in the lower house.

He served in Uruguay’s Chamber of Representatives from 2000 until 2015 and also became the center-right PN’s presidential candidate in 2014 by beating out that year’s front-runner, Jorge Larrañaga, although he eventually was defeated in the general election by Tabare Vazquez.

Lacalle Pou is married to Lorena Ponce de Leon, who gave birth to twins Luis Alberto and Violeta after undergoing in vitro fertilization and later bore a third child, Manuel.

The candidate said that partly because of his wife’s “liberal” parenting style his children are much better behaved than he was as a youngster. He says his parents both played a part in his upbringing but assumed different roles and that his mother was the main breadwinner.

In terms of personal preferences, Lacalle Pou said he does not like to shave and only does so to present a neat appearance.

The politician, who says he dislikes posing for photos (and prefers to be photographed when he’s not looking), is very active on Twitter and other social media but insists that no one in his home use cellphones during family time.

The scion of one of Uruguay’s traditional political families, Lacalle Pou opted during the campaign to put forth a fresh image and not rely on his last name, appearing on billboards only as “Luis.”

In the Nov. 24 runoff, he edged out the candidate of the long-dominant, center-left Broad Front ruling coalition, Daniel Martinez, but due to his slight advantage in the vote count a winner has not yet been officially declared.

The Electoral Court will take some days to make an official announcement, but that body’s vice president told Efe on Thursday that any outcome other than a Lacalle Pou victory is mathematically impossible.


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