Uruguayan workers strike against pension reform
During the first months of 2023, thousands of workers mobilised and held at least three strikes against the social security reform law promoted by the government of Luis Lacalle Pou. The worker's union Pit-Cnt called for the mobilisations.
Despite the popular mobilisations and the great debate around the issue, on 28th April, the Parliament approved the reform with only the ruling party's votes, since the opposition did not support the proposal. The reform raises the retirement age from 60 to 65, eliminates early retirement benefits, and reduces pensions for widows and people with disabilities.
28th March of Silence
On 20th May, the March of Silence was again held under the slogan "Where are they? Never again state terrorism". This march, organised by the movement of Mothers and Relatives of Detained and Disappeared Uruguayans, seeks to generate social pressure for the clarification of the disappearances and murders that went unpunished during the last civil-military dictatorship in Uruguay. There are 192 officially confirmed disappeared persons.
The first march took place on 20th May 1996; since then, it has been held every year on the same day. The Mothers and Relatives of Detained and Disappeared Uruguayans have been joined by other organisations, such as Youth for Memory, political groups that are now part of the leftist Frente Amplio party, and Crysol, an association of former political prisoners and activists.
La colectividad @img_delsilencio repartió miles de carteles en las horas previas de la marcha del silencio en Montevideo, marcha replicada en todo Uruguay, con la más alta participación de los últimos 27 años (se repite anualmente) https://t.co/EsJWgkGMMc pic.twitter.com/hSKJOwb8Gi— Fortín del Estrecho (@FortinEstrecho) May 30, 2023
Freedom of expression ranking
According to the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2023 global ranking, Uruguay fell from 44th to 52nd place. Although the country fell eight places, it is a less pronounced drop than in 2022, when the country moved from 18th to 44th place.
According to the RSF report, Uruguay "has a context conducive to constructive and inclusive dialogue on the role of the media in the country" and a "fairly pluralistic" media map. The report states that "the decriminalisation of press offences, the regulation of community broadcasting and access to public information create a favourable working environment for Uruguayan journalists". However, it is clear that there is still a media concentration among three large groups.
In May 2023, civil society organisation Centro de Archivos y Acceso a la Información Pública (Cainfo) presented its annual report, in which it documents 66 cases of threats to press freedom between 1st April 2022 and 31st March 2023. For the first time in three years, there was no increase in cases of threats against freedom of expression or restrictions on the work of journalists.
In its report, however, Cainfo raises concerns about the "growing trend of stigmatisation of journalism by government spokespersons". The State was mainly responsible for restrictions and aggressions in a total of 51 cases.
These data were questioned by government officials and some politicians. For example, two-time president Julio María Sanguinetti questioned the conclusions of these reports, arguing that they do not correspond to Uruguayan reality and that they are the product of disinformation. Sanguinetti stated in a press release: "I do not believe that in the world there is more freedom of the press than in Uruguay. I recognise that there may be countries like us, but none more than us. That is the truth".
Linked to this issue and in the framework of the activities related to World Press Freedom Day on 9th May, in a meeting organised by the Coalición por una Comunicación Democrática (Coalition for Democratic Communication), civil society leaders discussed the challenges to freedom of expression in the country and how to continue protecting this fundamental right. In addition to media concentration, other challenges were mentioned, such as large digital platforms that moderate content, the importance of strengthening alternative media, and the relevance of protecting the existing Media Law.
As reported by Observacom, several civil society referents highlighted the relevance of defending the Media Law to guarantee the rights of specific sectors of the population, for example, children and youth. As previously reported on the Monitor, in 2022, the government attempted to repeal the Media Law but without success.
Civil society demands government information on the use of facial recognition technologies
In 2021, concerned about the growth of automated surveillance in the hands of the Uruguayan police, an expert civil society group, Datysoc, initiated an investigation to analyse how the Ministry of Interior was using or planning to use the automated facial recognition (AFR) software acquired in 2020 and also how the new facial identification database created from the photographs of faces from the ID cards and passports of the entire population was to be treated. As a result, in March 2022, they published the Report on the Situation of the Police Use of Automated Facial Recognition (AFR) in Uruguay.
The Ministry of Interior did not cooperate with the investigation and classified as reserved (illegally) the public information requested by Datysoc; the organisation decided to sue the Ministry of Interior to force it to provide access to the information on facial recognition software and the use of biometric data of the entire population. As a result, only partial information was made available, showing that the Ministry has not complied with its obligation to designate a Delegate for the Protection of Personal Data and has not carried out an impact assessment, nor created protocols for the use of RFA. As a result, the report concluded that the Ministry spent nearly one million dollars and claims that it still does not know why it acquired this facial recognition technology. Based on this, a lawsuit has been initiated, the judgment of which is still pending.
1/5 Tuvimos que demandar al Ministerio Interior para obligarlo a entregar información pública sobre el software de reconocimiento facial y el uso de los datos biométricos de toda la población. Durante el juicio, el Ministerio entregó parte de la información ilegalmente retenida. pic.twitter.com/8T9w8UgvMR— Datysoc (@datysoc) December 29, 2022