The other day I received a message from a friend clearly appalled by my poor Facebook presence since moving to Uruguay. 'Why so quiet, what no internet in Venezuela?', it read. Marvellous.
Most people struggle to a) locate Uruguay b) spell Uruguay and c) form some sort of opinion about Uruguay. And I don't really blame them. For one thing Uruguay is a teeny-tiny country of 3.3 million people. Sandwiched between the two giants that are Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay tends to be somewhat overlooked by backpackers hankering after glaciers and samba or journalists digging up the dirt on these two monster economies. Indeed, if Uruguay does have a global reputation it is one for tranquility, affability and marijuana. Uruguay, it would seem, is not one for stirring things up in the political arena...or is it?
With its staunch commitment to global peace-keeping and level-headed approach to diplomacy, stirring up global politics is precisely what Uruguay is doing. Rather than reclining on a bean bag, joint in hand, cookie crumbs all round its mouth, Uruguay is slowly but surely becoming a poster child for Latin America and proving itself to be a leader in global as well as regional affairs.
Uruguay has historically been one of the key contributor of troops to UN-led peacekeeping operations around the world, approximately 20% of the country's forces being dedicated to this effort. Moreover, the country has strong ties to the UN's Counter Terrorism Committee and has been involved in the UN Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) since its very beginnings in 2004. Since 2009, Uruguay has held the role of coordinator of the Group of Friends of Haiti in New York, a mechanism that contributes to the work of the MINUSTAH. As if this weren't proof enough of Uruguay's global peacekeeping credentials, back in February the country was unanimously backed as Latin America and the Caribbean's candidate to be a non permanent member on the UN Security Council. In theory, Uruguay should be able to secure the position in October's elections at the UN General Assembly since decisions from regions, particularly if they have consensus, tend to be respected by other regions and permanent members.
I recently attended a debate on what the shape of Uruguay's role as a non-permanent member would be should it get over the final hurdle and assume duties in 2016. The panel included representatives from the UN and Amnesty International's offices in Uruguay as well as from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Whilst speakers commented that a potential challenge for Uruguay would be keeping its cool in this hot-headed environment, Ambassador Martín Vidal, Director of Political Affairs in Uruguay's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stressed that a real added value of having Uruguay on the UN Security Council would be the country's tremendous capacity for prompting meaningful dialogue and its inherent ability to provoke respectful responses rather than fear and aggression. So watch this space and dust off your 'u's, this is a country you're going to want to know how to spell.