Former President of Uruguay Luis Alberto Lacalle de Herrera lauded his country’s ties to Greece. “Greece is everywhere in Uruguay,” Lacalle said recently speaking on the sidelines of the Concordia Americas Summit held in Florida.
The veteran politician is a philhellene and served as President of Uruguay from 1990 to 1995. His son Luis Alberto Aparicio Alejandro Lacalle Pou has been serving as President of Uruguay since 1 March 2020.
“Greece and Uruguay share the same culture. For a start, we belong to the Greek-Roman and Christian civilizations,” Lacalle notes.
“In our education system, the history of Greece is very important.”
Uruguay, after all, is a country of philhellenes. Ancient Greece features prominently in the South American country.
Greek history holds an important place in Uruguay’s educational system, and visitors will come across numerous streets with Greek names in Montevideo, as well as statues of Greek philosophers, a central square called Greece and another named Athens.
Ex-President: Shipping and immigration bolstered Greece-Uruguay ties
There is a general sympathy towards Greece in Uruguay, Lacalle tells Greek Reporter. “From the beginning of the Greek Republic which began more or less at the same time as ours, we have had an intense relationship.”
Uruguay became independent of Spain in 1811 and was annexed by Brazil until 1825. Following a three-year federation with Argentina, Uruguay became an independent nation in 1828, one year before the Greek Republic was born.
Relations between the two nations became stronger later through shipping…… “because we have the best port in South America and the South Atlantic Greek ships docked there. We are not such a seafaring country as Greece is, but we are very much connected through the shipping trade,” Lacalle notes.
Greek immigrants also played a significant role in bringing the two nations closer together. The Hellenic Society of Uruguay (Colectividad Hellenica) notes that the largest initial inflow of Greek immigrants to Uruguay dates back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, mainly as a result of European emigration that occurred after local wars and World War I.
The first major wave of Greek immigrants arrived in the country in the late 1920s, and the second in the 1950s and 1960s, after the Greek Civil War.
Today, there are more than 3,500 second or third-generation Greek immigrants, as well as a large number of natives who speak the Greek language.
“Greeks in Uruguay are very important, they do well in business, and they are in the teaching system so they have really meshed with the country because we are very similar.
“Lots of people are interested in learning the Greek language, which is not very easy but there have been people interested,” the former President says.
Maria Tsakos Foundation strengthens ties between Uruguay and Greece
He added that the two nations have been brought closer together thanks to the Maria Tsakos Foundation.
“Captain Panagiotis N. Tsakos fell in love with our country. He owns a farm and a dry dock and he is the main founder of the Foundation, which is named after his deceased daughter,” Lacalle told Greek Reporter.
The Maria Τsakos Foundation in Montevideo has been teaching the Greek language and promoting Greek culture to Uruguayans since 1978.
It works as a private non-profit institution, its expenses covered by Captain Panagiotis Tsakos, and enjoys great respect from Uruguayan society.
According to its website, the Foundation has been officially recognized by Uruguay’s Ministry of Education and Culture. Since 1992, following the signing of an agreement, Modern Greek language courses are taught in the Faculty of Humanities at Uruguay’s public University, with the collaboration of the Foundation’s teachers.
In 1999, the Maria Tsakos Foundation was acknowledged by the Greek Education Ministry as the official Examination Centre for Greek Language Certification for students from Uruguay and other South American countries.
First official visit by a Greek minister to Uruguay
In February 2023, Nikos Dendias became the first Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs to visit Uruguay – at least in an official capacity. One of his public engagements was to visit the Foundation.
🇬🇷 🇺🇾| At the start of the first-ever visit by a Greek FM to #Uruguay, FM @NikosDendias visited the premises of the Foundation “María Tsakos” in #Montevideo in the presence of 🇺🇾 professors of 🇬🇷 language pic.twitter.com/hvefgDjjmd
— Υπουργείο Εξωτερικών (@GreeceMFA) February 7, 2023
Dendias also met with Uruguay’s Foreign Affairs Minister Francisco Bustillo Bonasso on Tuesday, to discuss the strengthening of the two countries’ political relations and bilateral cooperation in the fields of economy, environment, investment, shipping, tourism and culture.
They also discussed cooperation within the context of international organizations, including ones advocating women’s rights, the “Our Ocean Conference 2024” that Greece is hosting, and EU-Uruguay relations.
Two memoranda of cooperation were also signed by the two ministers, one on the training of diplomats and another on a mechanism of political consultations.