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Uruguay, Colegiado

Uruguay, Colegiado

Colegiado, a term for the two forms of plural executive system with which Uruguay experimented in the twentieth century. The first colegiado (collegial executive) was established with the 1919 Constitution and lasted until the 1933 coup by President Gabriel Terra. The colegiado was proposed by President José Batlle y Ordóñez during his second term as president (1911–1915). He thought that the instability and abuse of power so rampant in Latin American politics could be ameliorated by doing away with a presidential system. His proposal produced an uproar even within his own party, where some of his political rivals saw the project as merely a way for him to perpetuate his dominance of national politics. Batlle's original plan called for a junta de gobierno, which would consist of nine members, one to be elected each year after an initial election of all nine.

The split within his own party (the Colorados) and opposition from the Blancos (National Party) led to the election in 1916 of a constitutional convention dominated by Batlle's opponents. After over a year of maneuvering, they reached a compromise: The presidency was not eliminated, but the functions of the office were limited to the conduct of foreign affairs and the preservation of international order and external security. A National Council of Administration was created to deal with all other activities of the state. This council consisted of nine members, with six chosen from the majority party and three from the minority party. The expectation was, therefore, that it would include six Colorados and three Blancos. The president and the council would both be elected by popular vote, with the president serving a four-year term and the council members serving for six years, with two members being elected every two years. The 1919 Constitution thus set a bold experiment into motion.

Elections were very close during the 1920s, but the Colorados controlled the presidency. The inefficiencies of the collegial system were masked by the economic well-being Uruguay enjoyed through its trade with Britain. But the depression of the 1930s brought changes. President Terra found the sharing of power with the council totally inadequate for him to deal effectively with the economic and social emergency brought on by the collapsing world economy. Thus, in 1933, with the support of the Blanco leader Luis Alberto de Herrera, Terra closed Congress and abolished the National Council of Administration. The 1934 Constitution, written by Terra and Herrera, restored a presidential system and divided the Senate between the political factions of the two coup leaders. Although a fully constitutional presidential system was restored by the 1942 Constitution, it was not until 1952 that Uruguay would again experiment with a collegial executive.

The second colegiado was a purely collegial executive system under which Uruguay was governed from 1952 until 1966. It is called the Colegiado Integral because, unlike its predecessor under the 1919 Constitution, there was no office of the president to share executive power with the collegial body.

The second colegiado fulfilled Batlle y Ordóñez's old dream of a plural executive for Uruguay. The impetus for its adoption came from his conservative sons, César and Lorenzo, who were increasingly overshadowed within the Colorado Party by their dynamic cousin, Luis Batlle Berres, who served as president from 1947 to 1951. Batlle Berres was an urban populist whose faction had won an overwhelming victory in the 1950 presidential elections. Devastated by the results, Blanco leader Luis Alberto de Herrera reversed his long-standing opposition to a collegial executive and joined with pro-colegiado Colorados in the call for constitutional reform. Unable to head off a plebiscite, Luis Batlle Berres supported the reform, which was approved with the adoption of the 1952 Constitution.

Under the new charter the executive, now called the National Council of Government, consisted of nine members, with six seats going to the majority party and three to the party receiving the next highest number of votes. Economic decline and stagnation led to a historic first when the Blancos gained control of the colegiado in the 1958 elections, their first control of the executive in the twentieth century. Many changes were expected, but given the almost total coparticipation (power sharing) imposed by the 1952 Constitution and the need to sign an International Monetary Fund agreement, policy shifted very little. With continued economic drift, the Blancos retained control of the executive in the very close 1962 elections. During their second term, pressure built for a more efficient state and executive. Once again, constitutional reform was the mechanism. In the midst of a declining economy, growing inflation, and increased social unrest, Uruguay returned to a presidential system with the adoption of the 1966 Constitution.

The second experiment with a collegial executive succumbed, as did the first, to economic dec-line and the inadequacy of the government's response. On both occasions the colegiado was blamed for the problem, but as the mild dictatorship in the 1930s and the increased authoritarianism and descent into military government in the 1970s demonstrated, the problem rested in political leadership, not the colegiado.

See alsoBatlle Berres, Luis Conrado; Batlle y Ordóñez, José; Terra, Gabriel; Uruguay, Political Parties: Colorado Party.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Milton Vanger, "Uruguay Introduces Government by Committee," in American Political Science Review 48, no. 2 (June 1954): 500-513.

Philip Taylor, Jr., Government and Politics of Uruguay (1960).

Göran Lindahl, Uruguay's New Path: A Study in Politics During the First Colegiado (1962).

Martin Weinstein, Uruguay: The Politics of Failure (1975).

Additional Bibliography

Costa Bonino, Luis. La crisis del sistema político uruguayo: Partidos políticos y democracia hasta 1973. Montevideo, Uruguay: Fundación de Cultura Universitaria, 1995.

                                          Martin Weinstein

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