Tabaré Vázquez, Former President of Uruguay, Dies at 80

BUENOS AIRES – Dr. Tabaré Vázquez, a former Uruguayan president who initiated leftist leadership for 15 years and continued to practice as a doctor, died on Sunday at his home in Montevideo, Uruguay. He was 80 years old.

The cause was lung cancer, said his son Dr. Álvaro Vázquez.

Dr. Vázquez, an oncologist, announced in August 2019, towards the end of his tenure, that he had the disease.

Both his parents and a sister died of cancer and motivated him to make this his medical specialty. And as president, he led an aggressive battle against tobacco companies and imposed one of the toughest anti-smoking regulations in the world.

His successor, President Luis Lacalle Pou, who took office in March, declared three days of mourning.

The election of President Lacalle Pou of the center-right National Party marked the end of a 15-year term in the presidency of the Broad Front, a coalition of left parties that formed in 2005 with Dr. Vázquez began when his alliance was formed defeating the two traditional center-right parties that had long dominated Uruguayan politics. He was one of several left-wing politicians who took power in Latin America at the time.

Dr. Vázquez took office shortly after an economic crisis and pursued market-friendly reforms. At the same time, he promoted social programs, including a plan to provide free laptops to all public school students, and to expand pensions and public health services.

He also made headlines worldwide when he made Uruguay the first Latin American country to ban smoking indoors. This was part of a tobacco control crusade that prompted Philip Morris to file a lawsuit with the World Bank’s International Center for Investment Processing against the country’s disputes in 2010. Uruguay won the lawsuit in 2016.

As a specialist in breast cancer, he continued to visit patients one day a week in the clinic where he had worked for a long time. “Practicing medicine is not only my calling, it also gives me the opportunity to continue to be in direct contact with people, to see them and to hear their needs,” President Vázquez said in a 2006 interview with the New York Times.

Dr. Vázquez also promoted efforts to investigate crimes that were committed during the military dictatorship that ruled the country from 1973 to 1985.

Known for his centrist politics, he even went against his own party when he vetoed a bill in 2008 that would have legalized abortion. The practice was legalized four years later.

The Uruguayan Constitution prohibits successive presidential terms, which is why Dr. Vázquez resigned from office in 2010 with a high approval rating. He was replaced by José Mujica, also from the Broad Front, and after Mr. Mujica’s presidency, Dr. Vázquez again as president and won a runoff election in November 2014.

His second term was more difficult than the first, and his popularity increased as the Uruguayan economy began to stagnate in the face of rising unemployment and rising crime. A corruption scandal forced his Vice President Raúl Sendic to resign in September 2017.

All of this contributed to Mr Lacalle Pou’s narrow victory after a highly competitive runoff election against Broad Front candidate Daniel Martínez in November 2019.

Tabaré Ramón Vázquez Rosas was born on January 17, 1940 in what he later described as “very modest” house in the Montevideo district of La Teja. He was one of five children of Héctor Vázquez, a union leader who worked for the state oil company Ancap, and Elena Rosas, a housewife.

Dr. Vázquez graduated from the School of Medicine at the Universidad de la Republica in Uruguay in 1969 and worked, among other things, as a carpenter and waiter to finance his studies. He chose oncology as a specialty after his parents and a sister died of cancer.

In 1964 he married the civil servant María Auxiliadora Delgado. She died in 2019. His four sons Álvaro, Javier, Ignacio and Fabián survive him. nine grandchildren; and a brother, Jorge.

Dr. Vázquez joined the Socialist Party in 1983, which he had to do in secret because the country was under military rule. Four years after the end of this military rule, he won the mayor’s office in Montevideo in 1989 as a candidate for the broad front. He then lost two presidential elections in 1994 and 1999, before winning in 2004.

In an interview that aired late last month, Mr Vázquez was asked how he would like to be remembered. “Like a president who tried to act earnestly and responsibly,” he replied, “and who did his best to fulfill his obligations.”

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