2011 Global Peace Index Released: Uruguay Ranked Most Peaceful Latin American Country
Amidst widespread civil unrest, political upheaval, and natural disaster, the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), has deemed the world as a whole to be less peaceful for the third straight year. This conclusion is based upon the findings of the institute’s 2011 Global Peace Index (GPI), which measures the levels of domestic and international conflict, safety, security, and militarization in 153 countries along 23 indices, such as the number of conflicts with other countries this year to date, the level of domestic social unrest, and the amount of money spent on the military. The GPI also publishes peace-related indices that do not factor directly into a country’s GPI ranking, such as qualitative assessments of electoral process, civil liberties, and political culture, as well as rates of adult literacy, unemployment, education spending as a percentage of the GDP. Now in its fifth year, the GPI is the IEP’s most well known project, and its most visible tool for promoting awareness of the inter-relationships between business, peace, and economics.
The IEP strongly emphasizes the economic benefits of peace, stating on its website that had the world been 25% more peaceful over the past year, the global economy would have benefited by over 2 trillion USD, which would cover the Stern Review’s estimated annual global cost of avoiding the worst effects of climate change, fully fund the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, eliminate the public debt of Ireland, Greece, and Portugal, and cover the rebuilding costs from the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami. These dramatic statistics underline the IEP’s position that peace pays off. By reducing the amount of money, labor, and time spent on domestic and international conflict and militarization, individual countries as well as the global economy benefit from an increase of money, labor, and time to be spent on projects that create a more stable, prosperous, and peaceful world. A country that is not spending a large percentage of its GDP to fund military operations can use that money to stabilize its economy, fund education for its citizens, or improve its infrastructure.
According to the IEP, the decline in peacefulness in the 2011 index is primarily linked to the increased domestic conflict between citizens and their governments, instead of conflicts between nations (the GPI actually showed an increase in peacefulness along its indicator of relations between neighboring states). As evidenced by the recent upheaval in North Africa and the Middle East, civil discontent with an oppressive government can lead to simultaneous economic crisis and a dramatic decline in peacefulness; Libya had the sharpest GPI ratings drop, falling 83 places to 143 out of 153 countries. Bahrain’s rating fell 51 spots to rank 123rd, and Egypt dropped 24 places to rank 73rd. Not surprisingly, countries with freely elected officials fared best in the rankings, with 13 out of the top 25 most peaceful countries being Republics.
Among this top tier of peaceful countries, lies only one Latin American country: Uruguay. A Democratic Republic, with a freely elected President and other officials, Uruguay has by far the best GPI ranking of any Latin American country at 21st, up three places from its ranking of 24th in 2010. The second most peaceful Latin America country, Costa Rica, lies ten places below Uruguay at 31st, followed by Chile at 39th, Panama at 49th, Argentina at 55th, and Paraguay at 66th, Nicaragua at 72nd, and Brazil all the way down at 74th—one ranking below Egypt.
Uruguay’s ranking among the most peaceful countries in the world is due to both economic and political factors. Uruguay garnered a high 8.57/10 ranking in the GPI’s qualitative assessment of the functioning of Uruguay’s government, which measures whether freely elected representative determine policy, and whether there is an effective system of checks and balances with the government’s power structure. Unlike many South American countries, Uruguay has a stable 3-branch government, with a strong presidency in the Executive branch balanced by the Supreme Court in the Judicial Branch, and the General Assembly in the Legislative Branch. The President and Vice President are elected by popular vote on the same ticket for a 5-year term, while the judges on the Supreme Court are elected by the General Assembly for 10-year terms. The General Assembly has two chambers each with members elected by proportional representation for a fiver year term; the Chamber of Deputies is comprised of 99 members, while the Chamber of Senators has 30 members, plus the Vice President who presides over it. The Uruguayan Constitution provides for challenges to federal laws or proposals to changes to the constitution through use of a plebiscite, or direct vote, thus allowing citizens to participate in direct democracy at the federal level. Uruguayans are not afraid to use this right, and have successfully done so to protect pensions, stop the privatization of public utilities companies, and protect water supplies within the past 15 years. Civil liberties are so well protected in Uruguay, that the GPI ranks it 10/10 in its Civil Liberties index, which also takes into account the availability of free electronic and print media, freedom of expression and protest, and freedom to form trade unions. The GPI also gives Uruguay the best possible rating of 1 in the indices titled Level of Disrespect for Human Rights, Potential for Terrorist Acts, and Level of Organized Conflict (internal), further highlighting the country’s social and political stability, and justifying its place as the lone South American country among the GPI’s top-tier of peaceful countries.