Montevideo, Uruguay

 

 

           We arrived in Montevideo, Uruguay on the very day of the Presidential Inauguration…a rather significant inauguration as it is the First Socialist leader in the country’s history.   And the government of President Chavez has the backing of the Communist Party, which also holds a majority position in their Congress.   Serious financial issues have plagued this country especially since Argentina encountered their own economic woes back in the year 2001.   We were told that when either Brazil or Argentina sneezes Uruguay catches a cold.

            Uruguay is located in between its two much larger neighbors and its existence is the direct result of border issues that existed between Brazil and Argentina many years ago.  Brazil saw the River Plate (Rio de la Plata) as an important port source and wanted its border with Argentina to be located there, but Argentina would not accept that situation.   After many periods of strain, these countries agreed to establish another nation between them to serve as a physical and national buffer. 

 

Old Town Montevideo Palace Preparing for Inauguration

           

            And so Uruguay came into existence in the nineteenth century and its capital, Montevideo is only a short hovercraft ride to Buenos Aires across the River Plate.   It is a small and rather poor country with almost half of its three million people living in Montevideo.   The city was named for the hill that served as the sight of fortifications many years ago to protect Montevideo from an encroaching attack via the river.

            Uruguay is truly a country that revels in its own history.  In particular, the gauchos (or the cowboys as we might call him) who settled the back country are revered as national heroes.  There are monuments and museums that celebrate the role that the gaucho played in Uruguayan history and in their social fabric.   Uruguayans are a very proud people who relate well to visitors …they are polite and the city is relatively safe for a South American country.  

            The presidential inauguration made it difficult for us to remain in the downtown section of the city, as the locals were there in great numbers carrying flags of the country and as well as flags of the winning Socialist party.   There were many signs that indicated the political leaning that the country was now headed towards and of their alliance with the local Communist Party.  Signs saying “Fidel si Yanks no” told a story as did signs imprinted with “Castro y Chavez”. 

Everything was closed…it was a national holiday….and so we stayed away from downtown.  There were many buildings downtown with architectural designs that reflected the age of the country and there were plazas and monuments located all over the city commemorating pieces of their history.   We did visit the Congress building but since that was where the oath of office was to be given, strict security was imposed. 

 

The Gaucho Helping a Wagon Train

Navy Memorial on the River Plate

 

We visited several upscale suburban neighborhoods that were adjacent to the River Plate.  Some of their most expensive homes and condominiums in these areas draw a price of $150,000 to $250,000 U.S. dollars…..a reasonable price for our economy, but for their economy it is quite expensive.  

Located nearby was a Holocaust monument …a broken wall depicting the pain suffered by the Jews.   We were also able to determine that there is a synagogue in Montevideo, but the Jewish population is quite small, making it difficult to get the necessary worshippers to conduct regular religious services.  We were told that the synagogue is used only for marriages, Bar Mitzvahs and High Holy Day services.    

We also visited the old city which is close to the port area and the old market building which today houses numerous restaurants.   These restaurants serve the traditional Uruguayan meal…the barbecue consisting of steaks, sausages, chicken and other meats.  We had lunch at the market and enjoyed some of the greatest steaks that we could remember, accompanied by special sauces, grilled vegetables and French fried potatoes.     

Uruguay is a country with an aging population as the young people leave to find work in other countries.   It’s economy is based on the raising and exporting of cattle and agricultural products, doing most of their trading with Brazil and Argentina.