Written by Jon Ettinger, a current M.A. candidate at the Center for Latin American Studies.
Dr. Gianelli is an interesting person, to say the least. With his extensive career in law and Uruguay’s foreign service, he has keen insight into the position of Uruguay in the region and its relationships with other nations and international corporations. I appreciated his attention to detail and his extreme practicality. Speaking “off the record,” he stated the obvious and common-sense conclusion that building walls will not solve our problems. He emphasized the importance of global supply chains and Uruguay’s small-scale but expanding efforts to diversify their role in those chains beyond a simple supplier of agricultural raw exports. One of his greatest concerns was what he saw as a dangerous trend in the breakdown of multilateral trade agreements and the rise of bilateral arrangements. For a country like Uruguay, dwarfed in economic scale by its neighbors and providing a few key products to the global market, a world dominated by bilateral agreements leaves it in a difficult position.
One of the points I liked the most about Dr. Gianelli’s talk was his succinct explanation of modern Uruguayan history. Some of the points were familiar to me, but he did a good job in a very short amount of time explaining how Uruguayans see themselves and what their political beliefs generally are. As a point of criticism, he intentionally skirted around the military dictatorship of 1967-1973, describing it as a “parenthesis” in an otherwise liberal democratic history. While not as brutal in scale as the contemporary junta in Argentina or the military authoritarian regime in Brazil, Uruguay’s military leaders oversaw a harshly repressive period that certainly merits more than a parenthesis and left a lasting legacy in Uruguayan society.
Nonetheless, the Ambassador did effectively communicate the Uruguayan democracy’s priority on personal liberties combined with a strong social safety net. I asked him whether he thought that the current policy of legal consumption of marijuana in his country would be a sticking point in relations with a new U.S. administration that has emphasized a return to harsh punishment for drug offenses. His response meandered a bit, but he got around to saying that trade relations were a more important issue. This is especially because, according to him, the marijuana legalization and regulation program is still very much in a pilot phase, so it’s unclear what the long-term effects might be or whether Uruguay would consider exporting the model to other countries.
Overall, I’m glad that CLAS brought Dr. Gianelli to campus and appreciated his perspective. I suspect that a measured, classic diplomat like him will have his work cut out for him in negotiating with a belligerent and disorganized U.S. administration.