CommunityMy FDL

The Streets Are Not Paved With Gold: Reflections in Uruguay

Originally, I wished to discuss the legalization of cannabis within Uruguay as I’m vacationing there and thought to provide an inside look for people unfamiliar with the country. However, as I traveled across Uruguay and read articles about legalization, one figure struck me as peculiar: 63% of the country oppose the measure, while only 26% support the measure.

Sunset in Montevideo

Only liberal Montevideo fully supports Uruguay’s cannabis law reform.

I didn’t understand it at all. How can this measure, a progressive act that changes the paradigm on drugs as Jon Walker rightfully points out, be opposed?

I did some more reading and found that opposition comes mostly from small towns, while Montevideo, the only big city, is the only place where this is strong support. These small towns are apparently “conservative” and, coincidentally, I happen to stay only in small towns.

Considering I did not trust myself in giving justice to such reporting and never connecting my experiences in Uruguay to the US in previous vacations (probably because I was too young), I decided to just be “aware” of such towns and think how that statistic makes logical sense in these people’s minds.

What strikes me the most is the commune setting that I often hear from the left and it is striking that it exists among small towns that are considered conservative. It is a friendly atmosphere where people know each other and say hello to each other in the streets.

Yet, I begin to see a symbol that I cannot help but notice: stray dogs.

I state a symbol, rather than an image, because it is indicative that a society that appears to be “progressive” or “right” has problems of its own that need action.

There are dogs that are so hungry that when you see them, it is like they have no stomach. They walk along the streets, as if they were citizens of the country as well going for a walk.

That is why I disagree with some groups that state Uruguay is “correct” or “bold” in making a measure. Yes, I do believe it is a wise decision, but I have reservations whether the society itself is “progressive” as we imagine it to be.

This is not an attempt to discredit such groups. Rather, I am confused when walking in these streets and seeing such political discussions as wanting to emigrate to the United States and then going online seeing Uruguay is progressive for doing something the United States isn’t.

Maybe I’m overreacting to all of this. Indeed, there are things here that are representative of what such groups say is bold for the country to do. I just can’t help but feel there is something that feels wrong here when children I’ve seen place the American flag on their wallpapers.

I see a misconception that Italian immigrants faced the hard way and that is thinking the US has opportunities that countries like this do not have. Moreover, shows like Law & Order feature the beauty of the United States, though I tend to think it shows the “beauty”of consumerism. It reminds me of what an Italian immigrant wrote to his or her family in the early 1900s while in the US:

I came to America because I heard that streets here were paved with gold. When I came I learned three things:
first: streets in America are not paved with gold;
second: streets in America are not paved at all;
third: I am expected to pave them.

I don’t say much in these instances. I tend to focus more on relaxation in this trip, than the standard political arguments that I frequently have back home. Yet, I can’t help but feel that they’ve been duped about a country that uses propaganda to cover up its troubles.

Is it that yearning of the “American Dream” that captures immigrants? If it is, then I hope these people listen to some George Carlin because it isn’t gumdrops and lollipops when being in the United States (unless you are a certain group of individuals).

I hope not to come off as cynical or depressed when in Uruguay, because I do not have those feelings at all when staying here. I feel, though, that much of what is talked about in the United States (or rather ignored by our corporate media) is it’s favor of its mobility, opportunities, jobs and other such economic chances that individual yearn to have.

I wouldn’t call myself anti-American in any regard. I call myself a human being first and foremost, then I can be labeled anything that I think fits. However, I do distrust such patriotism that is given to our country that is called a land of immigrants, but rather is a land of lies, cheaters and war criminals.

I have encounter embrace for the United States here, as if stories of drone attacks, attacking whistleblowers, spying and other problems weren´t brought up to these folks. Keep in mind, I’ve seen more teenage fascination than I had expected so it might be that consumerism plays a large role into this. However, such embrace while ignoring problems that we are trying to fix does not help our image and can play into the bourgeoisie´s hands.

I take note of the media here as well and it is adequate, in my opinion, with problems I find troubling.

For instance, I am a bit disturbed that before every news story, a short commercial plays by a corporate sponsor. Imagine if your local news anchor said right before the latest riots in Egypt that you should enjoy a refreshing Coca-Cola. Though, it is understandable since it is obvious the money is short for these stations.

However, I must say that while in these small towns, I have ignored the obvious: Montevideo.

Protests are currently happening here, as Subrayado reports, by teachers who wish to get a higher salary because of poor classroom conditions, poor pay and other problems that have led them marching in the streets.

Both stops are made in protest by the vote in the Chamber of Deputies of accountability, which began Tuesday, but on Wednesday, if everything is as planned, they will be voting on articles relating to the budget for public education. That’s why union will stop [protesting] on Wednesday and will be mobilized to the Parliament. They are demanding a living wage of $25,000, when today [their salary] rounds [to] $14,000. (Rough translation)

I am thankful that such action is taking place where the working class is rising up to take it power (with the comment section of the article rivaling Yahoo! commenters). It reminds me a bit, based on criticisms I have heard, of when teachers protested in Chicago last year.

All of this could be best summarized when Alexa O’Brien posted a quote that made me think for the past couple of days:

There are no sides. There is the past and the future.

The future is unknown to all of us (yes even fortune tellers), but it can be changed by us. It is from what I understood on this travel that the potential of action, of understanding, of knowing is valuable when learning. There is a road to learn from the past we have and the future we hold.

Rarely would I bring up a post with more rhetoric than facts, but I felt that such ideas needed to be discussed. We live in the United States a community that is divided and fought over with others who wish to control it for themselves.

Is this place conservative? I doubt so since one sign in a town read:

La Derecha Dio La Primera Golpe, El Cuidade Defendio La Democracia! 1973-2013 (The Right Gave the First Blow, The City Defended the Democracy!)

For those unaware, it references to the military dictatorship when Juan Maria Bordeberry dissolved Uruguay’s Parliament and assumed full control of the state effectively making a right-wing state banning natural rights of citizens. So much for “conservative” towns.

I feel inactive, yet refreshed. I am in a country where they decided to legalize cannabis, same-sex marriage and pass a liberal abortion law, yet I do not understand why I feel there is something more here that I missed.

Perhaps I am overreacting or everything I have come to think of this experience in the socio-political sense is wrong. Perhaps I didn’t think that this was purely a vacation, rather than part-vacation, part-analysis. Therefore, I am unqualified to make that decision since I did not relax enough one might suggest.

Tomorrow, I take a plane ride back to the United States with the knowledge and reflections I have gained on this vacation. I have come to enjoy my stay and feel rejuvenated for more actions this year in the United States. However, I cannot help but have more questions than answers because of this experience.

The only thing I know is I have not seen streets paved with gold.


On my first day in Uruguay, I saw graffiti on a wall that said “Arte Para Libertad (Art For Freedom).” I couldn’t help but smile at that.

Photo by Ana Raquel S. Hernandes released under a Creative Commons Share Alike license.

Previous post

Bradley Manning Sentenced to 35 Years

Next post

The People Deciding Thorny Legal Questions About New Technology Don't Actually Use Them

Brandon Jordan

Brandon Jordan

Brandon Jordan is a freelance journalist in Queens, NY and written for publications such as The Nation, In These Times, Truthout and more.