Uruguay Time Zone UTC-03:00
Capital City Montevideo
Currency Uruguayan peso
National Day 25 August
URUGUAY’S NEW AMBASSADOR César Rodríguez Zavalla arrived in London with his wife in early September. Their three daughters are living in Uruguay. He, like other Heads of Mission, can’t help being surprised by the capital’s empty streets: “I have been to London many times before. And this city is always very crowded, so it has really shocked me, but of course this is down to the Covid-19 pandemic.” He notes he’s looking forward to his belongings arriving, “to start riding [his] bike in this beautiful country!”
In 1990, during his last year at university studying International Public Law, he answered the Foreign Ministry’s calls to sit to apply, and fortunately got through. “We diplomats, living for so many years in so many different countries, are always going through different experiences, both at home and abroad. But even though a diplomatic career has different personal challenges, especially for the family, after 29 years of service I really love my profession.”
Like other diplomats in Uruguay’s Foreign Service, he started as a Third Secretary (in Beijing), gradually climbing the career ladder, with postings at the Consulate General in Miami, the Embassy in Washington DC and at a Consulate in southern Brazil. His first posting as an Ambassador was in South Africa with accreditation to Botswana and Namibia, before coming to London.
“These three countries are magnificent, and I really loved living in South Africa, also working in and visiting Botswana and Namibia. The people are very friendly, and their geography is extraordinary. At the same time,” he continues, “South Africa has important political, social and economic challenges, especially after the pandemic, but it is a country that has the potential to overcome them. Unfortunately, like everywhere in the world, Covid-19 has meant it has been difficult to progress bilateral issues during 2020.”
Back at the MFA, he’s held roles as Chief of Cabinet and then Director of Protocol and State Ceremonial, each held on two occasions. “Both jobs required lots of responsibilities, were very demanding and consumed almost all of my personal time.” he remarks. “But on the upside, they were remarkably interesting, providing an opportunity to work with royal families and personalities.” He memorably recalls his responsibilities to organise a presidential inauguration as one of the most demanding and memorable professional experiences of his career. “But in a country like UK,” he considers, “where royal protocol and formalities are so important, undoubtedly having such an experience makes you feel much more confident.”
When it comes to the UK, he believes he begins his new role with “a strong political foundation. Formally starting in 1833, Uruguay and the UK have bilateral relations going back 187 years. Both countries have common interests in areas such as democracy, human rights, peace-keeping operations, Antarctica and climate change. Of course, further improving bilateral trade and generating investment opportunities will also be one of our main priorities.” In terms of education, he will be nurturing the various exchange programmes between universities in the two countries, as well as promoting Uruguay’s culture and bringing together the Uruguayan community in the UK.
For now, Mr Zavalla says “Uruguay has been dealing well with the Covid-19 crisis, and it was never necessary to impose a total lockdown. People have been very responsible and accepted the challenge to keep on working while taking care of each other. Every death is tragic, but since March there have been only 44 Covid-19 related deaths so far. Here in London,” he continues, “the situation is quite different, and we must comply with the decisions adopted by the government and make sure we don’t take any risks for our own health, and for that of others.”
Aside from the pandemic, he acknowledges that another of the UK government’s priorities is “the ongoing post-Brexit negotiation. But I am confident that we can keep on working together with the British government towards deeper relations in all areas. In that sense, we are working closely with the British Embassy in Montevideo.”
What does he think is Uruguay’s greatest diplomatic challenge? “Not many people know that Uruguay is top in the main international rankings on political stability, democracy and freedom from corruption. Uruguay leads in Latin America, with strong democratic traditions, based on transparent government policy and broad economic freedom. So, for a small country like Uruguay, with a population of 3.5 million people, the challenge is to make other countries understand that such a place exists in Latin America. Along with the fact that Uruguay has an advanced and educated society, with an excellent business environment for foreign investment.”