As the world’s most powerful nations squabbled in Paris over the cost of small cuts to their fossil fuel use, Uruguay grabbed international headlines by announcing that 95% of its electricity already came from renewable energy resources. It had taken less than a decade to make the shift, and prices had fallen in real terms, said the head of climate change policy – a job that doesn’t even exist in many countries.
This announcement came on top of a string of other transformations. In 2012 a landmark abortion law made it only the second country in Latin America, after Cuba, to give women access to safe abortions. The following year, gay marriage was approved, and then-president José Mujica shepherded a bill to legalise marijuana through parliament, insisting it was the only way to limit the influence of drug cartels.
What’s more, the country cracked down so strongly on cigarette advertising, in a successful bid to cut smoking rates, that it is now being sued by tobacco giant Philip Morris.
Mujica himself became internationally famous for refusing to enjoy the trappings of presidential power – staying in his tiny house rather than moving into the official mansion – and giving away 90% of his salary.
To those who have never taken much interest in South America’s second smallest country, Uruguay seems to be quietly reinventing itself as a beacon of innovation and progress. In fact, the changes fit into a long progressive tradition, stretching back over a century and a half, celebrated by Peruvian literary giant Mario Vargas Llosa in a recent tribute to Mujica’s initiatives on gay marriage and marijuana.
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To hell with Finland, I think I'll move here instead.