Tabaré Vázquez, Former President of Uruguay, Dies at 80

BUENOS AIRES — Dr. Tabaré Vázquez, a former Uruguayan president who ushered in 15 years of leftist leadership and continued to practice as a physician while in office, died on Sunday at his home in Montevideo, Uruguay. He was 80.

His son Dr. Álvaro Vázquez said the cause was lung cancer. The elder Dr. Vázquez, an oncologist, announced in August 2019, toward the end of his term, that he had the disease.

Both his parents and a sister died of cancer, motivating him to make that his medical specialty. And as president, he battled tobacco companies and imposed one of the strictest antismoking regulations in the world.

His successor, President , who took over in March, declared three days of mourning.

The election of President Lacalle Pou, of the center-right National Party, marked the end of a 15-year streak in the presidency for the Broad Front, a coalition of leftist parties. Dr. Vázquez himself had started that run in 2005, when his alliance defeated the two traditional center-right parties that had long dominated Uruguayan politics. He was one of several left-leaning politicians who took power in Latin America at the time.

Entering office on the heels of an economic crisis, Dr. Vázquez pursued market-friendly reforms while promoting social welfare programs, including a plan to give all public-school students free laptops and the expansion of pensions and public health care.

He made headlines around the world when he turned Uruguay into the first Latin American country to prohibit smoking indoors, part of an anti-tobacco crusade that led the cigarette maker Philip Morris to file a lawsuit against the country at the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes in 2010. Uruguay won the suit in 2016.

A specialist in breast cancer, he continued to see patients one day a week at the clinic where he had long worked. “Practicing medicine is not only my vocation, it gives me an opportunity to continue to be in direct contact with people, to see them and hear their needs,” President Vázquez said in an interview with The New York Times in 2006.

He also promoted an effort to investigate crimes committed during the military dictatorship that ruled the country from 1973 through 1985.

He was known for his centrist policies; he even went against his own party when he vetoed a bill in 2008 that would have legalized abortion. The practice was legalized four years later.

The Uruguayan constitution bars consecutive presidential terms, so Dr. Vázquez left office in 2010, with a high approval rating. He was succeeded by José Mujica, also of the Broad Front, and after Mr. Mujica’s presidency, Dr. Vázquez again ran for president and won in a runoff in November 2014.

His second term was more difficult than the first. His popularity particularly suffered when the economy began to stagnate amid increasing unemployment and rising crime. A corruption scandal forced his vice president, Raúl Sendic, to resign in September 2017.

All of that contributed to Mr. Lacalle Pou’s winning a narrow victory in November 2019 after a closely contested runoff against the Broad Front candidate, Daniel Martínez.

Tabaré Ramón Vázquez Rosas was born on Jan. 17, 1940, in what he later described as a “very humble” home in the La Teja neighborhood of Montevideo, the capital. He was one of five children of Héctor Vázquez, a union leader who worked at the state-owned oil company Ancap, and Elena Rosas, a homemaker.

Dr. Vázquez graduated from the School of Medicine at Uruguay’s Universidad de la Republica in 1969, working as a carpenter and a waiter to finance his studies. He chose oncology as his specialty after his parents and a sister had died of cancer.

He married María Auxiliadora Delgado, a civil servant, in 1964. She died in 2019. He is survived by their four sons, Álvaro, Javier, Ignacio and Fabián; nine grandchildren; and a brother, Jorge.

Dr. Vázquez joined the Socialist Party in 1983, which he had to do in secret because the country was under military rule. In 1989, four years after that military rule ended, he won the mayoralty of Montevideo as a Broad Front candidate. He then lost two presidential elections, in 1994 and 1999, before winning in 2004.

In a television interview broadcast late last month, Mr. Vázquez was asked how he would like to be remembered. “Like a president who tried to be serious and responsible in his actions,” he answered, “and who tried his best to fulfill his commitments.”

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