“We cannot blindly defend the past, nor blindly advance towards the future,” says Carolina Cosse, 59, of recent changes in the architecture of Montevideo, which while preserving its historic heritage, has also overturned d ‘old buildings to build new ones.
“We have everything to be a capital of the 21st century,” explains, proud of the place where it was born, the engineer who now runs the city.
One of the prominent names of the Frente Ampla, a center-left party that was in power for 15 years with Tabaré Vázquez and José “Pepe” Mujica, Cosse was a pre-candidate for the presidency by the acronym in the last elections, but the post remained with Daniel Martínez. The Frente Amplio ended up losing this election and giving way to the return of the traditional national party (blanco), center-right.
The mayor, who took over in November last year – already in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic – however today occupies the most important position among the leaders of her party.
She maintains that after a dictatorship (1973-1985) which “was terrible for Uruguay”, it is necessary not to consider democracy as a “consolidated fact”.
“When we think so, we will make room for democracy to step back.”
Cosse, who was Minister of Industry and Senator, spoke to Folha by video conference from the seat of the city of Montevideo.
Do you know that many Brazilians say they intend to move to Montevideo? What do you think about this? Do we romanticize the city a lot? I am wary of speaking. I am from Montevideo and it is a very beautiful city. As mayor, my challenge is to build here the beauty of the cities of the 21st century.
And how would that be? We have the obligation to protect the buildings which are the architectural and cultural heritage of the city, but also to build the future, we cannot stand still in the past. And we also need to integrate the rural region of Montevideo into the city.
The city is sad without tourists, without foreigners. Everyone who visits us always refers to the kindness and hospitality of the people of Montevideo. What we are trying to do is stimulate domestic tourism and encourage young people in the countryside to stay cheaper in hotels in the capital, to help both parties who are suffering from the economic crisis generated by the coronavirus.
Still in this concept of the city for the 21st century, I’m not just talking about the city physically. Montevideo is also all of us who live it. How the city is seen by us and by those who visit us, how is the smell of the air which is breathed here, what one hears in its streets.
You are not the first woman mayor of Montevideo. Despite this, Uruguay’s public service is still dominated by men. How do you see it? In matters of patriarchy, modernity is ignored. Look, it even rhymes [ri].
I believe that democracy is the result of the struggle for equality. I did not assume this responsibility only on my own. The fact that I am here is the result of the efforts of many women who fight for equality in Uruguay. I rest on the shoulder of giants.
I made it a point of honor to have a joint cabinet and also to choose other positions. If you do that, if you invest in egalitarian social infrastructure, it starts to be natural for women to be in the decision-making wheels. Parity is the way and the bridge to achieve an egalitarian democracy.
Are there any plans for Women’s Day this year? We are going through a difficult period of the pandemic. There are many restrictions in the city so that there are no built-up areas. But one of the things we’re going to be launching on 8 is a pillar implementation system with QR code only in squares and monuments dedicated to women. Anyone who walks past them and wants to learn more about these characters, scan the code and will stop on a link on this female character.
We’ll do this with other places and monuments later, but we’ll start with those with a female name. It is part of building the city of the future, for people to walk its streets knowing what has happened there before and who has walked these streets before.
Uruguay has been an example of institutionality in the region, for example during the orderly transition of presidential power last year from the Frente Amplio to the Nacional party. How do you explain that? Our democracy is a construction, so far successful, but it is not something that should be taken as a consolidated and static fact. We live in a dictatorship [1973-1985] of a fascist court that lasted 12 years and was terrible for Uruguay.
Even so, the people continued to prefer democracy and fought for it. It’s just that we can’t just take what we have and believe that it is enough, that we have already achieved our goal.
When we think so, we will open up space for democracy to withdraw. And for the enrichment and survival of democracy, it is necessary to fight for equality in various fields.
We’re talking about women here, but there have been other times. For example, the fight for equality in the universal vote. Each step is a realization of this democracy. But we can’t rest in a minute.
And do you think this has happened recently? Yes, when the president [Luis] Lacalle Pou took over, then presented to Congress a package of 500 articles belonging to the category “emergency law”, a figure which only exists in our Constitution for emergency matters, and which should not be used always, let alone with so many items.
The Constitution guarantees that “emergency laws”, because they have this emergency characteristic, are adopted in any way after a certain period of time. And the new government has put its entire government plan into it. Without the possibility for the Legislative Assembly to debate points in depth.
For me, this undermines the Uruguayan institutional system, it was a wound in our democracy. And we must ensure that its use does not become widespread.
Democracy is like health. When you are healthy believe that all is well and that nothing will happen to you. Until something happens to you. That is why we need to take care of ourselves and take our exams regularly. Democracy also works like this.
In answering your question, I think so, Uruguay is an example of democracy, but Uruguayans and Uruguayans should keep an eye on it constantly.
Despite your disagreements, is the relationship with Lacalle Pou good? Part of the democratic essence is not to conceive of politics as a club of friends, but as a tool to change things. In this sense, the relationship is institutional and therefore fruitful. Now in the pandemic, we are working hand in hand with national health authorities, following the rules set by them.
We started the coronavirus vaccination last Monday [1º], and this was done jointly between the city and the nation.
The relationship is good and with very frank exchanges. But that doesn’t mean I can’t express political disagreement when I do.
There is a general feeling that the Frente Ampla has not been renewed, due to the aging of its most famous faces, such as José “Pepe” Mujica, and the death of others, such as Tabaré Vázquez. What must the party do to renew itself? The Front Large is naturally renewing itself through its activism. Its biggest challenge is to keep the different currents together. Tabaré said that what unites us is a “fine gold thread” [na agrupação há comunistas, socialistas, ex-guerrilheiros e social-democratas].
We acquire a conceptual force, a set of values, which is its greatest strength. And it is from there that the renewal must take place.
Uruguay did very well at the start of the pandemic, then things got a little more complicated, but now they are vaccinating with some speed. What would you like to highlight about the fight against the coronavirus? The decision of the national government was good, to have science as a benchmark. But I believe that there has been a minimization of the other effects of the pandemic on the issue of poverty, loneliness, monitoring of the social situation.
If we want to listen to the science to fight the virus, we must also listen to the science on these other topics. For example, there were already studies from the University of the Republic, the main one in Uruguay and where the doctors who assist the government come from, which show that if we do not change our system of maintaining a balanced budget at any cost, we will still have 100,000 poor in the country.
The government must look at employment, offer advantages so that companies do not lay off workers, take a more open look at the economy and society.
At the city level, in addition to helping with vaccination, what have you worked on? We are closely monitoring mobility, which is important to contain the virus. In addition, he created options so that people do not move, but do not lose their connection with their friends, with their neighborhood. We promote panoramic street actions, with few audiences, since the theaters are closed.
And a big concern is how to replace the presence in the places where we had to offer workshops and activities to the elderly, which were very popular places and we know that the elderly miss them.
Carolina Cosse, 59
An engineer, she is mayor of Montevideo, she was Minister of Industry and Senator and is a member of Frente Amplio, a center-left party for which she was a pre-candidate for the presidency of Uruguay in the last elections.