Uruguay’s vice-president resigns; Mujica’s wife expected to assume

Sendic finally had to deny his alleged academic curriculum, and showed a penchant for overseas travelling and extravagant shopping with ANCAP's cards.

MONTEVIDEO – Uruguayan Vice president, and head of the Senate, Raul Sendic has stepped down after presenting his “indeclinable” resignation to the ruling coalition plenary and to president Tabare Vazquez, quelling what was becoming a major political and institutional situation given his long string of misconducts, some of them precisely questioned by an ethics tribunal from the coalition.

However the formality of the procedure demands that Mr. Sendic presents his resignation to the General Assembly, which is made up of 99 Deputies plus 30 Senators. Likewise sending his resignation to Vázquez is inconsistent, since it is the Legislative that makes official the communication to the Executive and Judiciary branches.

President Tabare Vazquez and Raul Sendic, the winning ticket of the presidential election in November 2014.

Early Saturday Sendic attended the ruling coalition plenary which was to consider a report on his conduct from the five-member Ethics tribunal, part of which had been leaked to the media, and unanimously condemned his conduct as “unacceptable in ethical and political terms”.

He was the first to address the almost 200 members of the plenary and after a fifteen minute speech in which he recriminated what he considered his “public lynching” through the media, by some of his “disloyal” fellow coalition members, and attacked some of the “inconsistent, disproportionate and baseless accusations in the report”, Sendic announced his resignation as vice/president to the meeting, adding he had already delivered a letter with the indeclinable decision to President Vázquez.

Following the fifteen minute address he left the meeting and tweeted: “I presented to the FA (coalition) Plenary my indeclinable resignation to the Vice-presidency. I also communicated it to President Tabare Vazquez.”

The Uruguayan vice president image was seriously damaged by his mismanagement of the country’s largest company, ANCAP between 2008/2013, which lost almost US$ 2bn out of a US$ 6bn turnover; when he lied about his alleged academic background and the disproportionate expenses with the company’s corporate cards, and his penchant for overseas travelling, fancy clothes and fast cars and boats.

The situation has been brewing for over a year, and Sendic had anticipated that with the ”necessary serenity“ he would decide what to do following the verdict of criminal justice and the Ethics tribunal of the Broad Front coalition.

But it all precipitated when leaks from the ethics tribunal indicated it was ”extremely critical“ of Sendic conduct, including terms such as ”illicit enrichment“, and there were growing demands for his resignation from the ruling coalition. Further nails to the political coffin of Sendic were added when President Vazquez in an interview said that if he was questioned by the Ethics Tribunal, ”I would have long gone“.

Sendic and his political mentor, Mujica, are considered responsible for the “technical bankruptcy” of Uruguay’s fuels refining and pricing company ANCAP.

Finally only a few days ago the last bastions of support and defense, the Communist party and the Popular Participation Movement from ex president Jose Mujica anticipated they would not question the conclusions of the Ethics’ report.

Sendic, 55, is the son of the founder of the Tupamaros urban guerrilla movement and the “prodigal son” of ex president Mujica who was grooming him as a strong presidential candidate in 2019, and future leader of his political movement. He was first elected to parliament in 1999 and in 2005 was named vice president of ANCAP’s board. Three years later company’s president until 2013, when he stepped down to run for presidential office, finally making the winning ticket with Tabare Vazquez in 2015.

During his time in ANCAP, which is a government company that has the monopoly of fuel refining and distribution, and is linked to the cement industry, Sendic allegedly was involved in some shady oil purchase contracts, ordered the construction of a tug and barges that never made it to the sea, purchased equipment for cement clinkers that remain in their containers, set up a bio-fuel plant in the north of the country which can only produce at double the international price, promoted a de-sulfurating plant allegedly with Argentine technology and invited then president Cristina Fernandez for the inauguration, in a party which was billed at a million dollars. And the list of failed investments goes on…

To this must be added his over a hundred trips overseas, and princely expenses with ANCAP’s corporate cards and never presenting a balance of the three figures spent.

However it must be said that Sendic’s mismanagement of the company had the strong support of his political mentor, ex president Jose Mujica, who insisted that ANCAP had to make great investments since it had the means.

At the end of the day, Sendic with the backing of Mujica had managed to drive ANCAP to a ”technical bankruptcy“ which forced the incoming government of president Vazquez to recapitalize the company with US$ 830 million. It is estimated the company which has the fuels monopoly and pricing in Uruguay lost some US$ 2bn during the Sendic/Mujica years, and given this condition recovery has meant Uruguayan consumers must pay some of the highest fuel prices in the world.

In a last defense of his “prodigal son”, Mujica argued in his cheeky style that the corporate cards from Uruguayan government companies have never been under control and ”all this fuss because a visiting delegation of business people were invited for a swim in the beach and since they had no swimming trunks, the card was used to purchase them the shorts!!”

Under Uruguay constitutional procedure, Senator Lucia Topolansky, the wife of ex president Jose Mujica, is entitled to become vice/president.

It’s hard to forecast Sendic’s next steps, but given his arrogance and awful advising he has received, it would not be surprising if besides the end of his political life and presidential ambitions he ends convicted and even in jail because he has pending criminal court cases and the Ethics tribunal report could be most damaging, since its five members are considered above all suspicion.

But for his political mentor Mujica, it’s not that bad, once the resignation of Sendic is confirmed by the Uruguayan Senate, his wife Senator Lucia Topolansky, as head of the group with most votes, in the winning ruling coalition (November 2014), will become majority leader of the Upper House and vice president of Uruguay, replacing the “prodigal son”.

It should also be mentioned that Senator Topolansky, when Sendic was accused of having faked his academic background, was the only person who dared to insist that she had in effect seen the university degree’s certificate. Sendic in his official Senate biography and official documents would stamp the Licenciado (Bachelor) title, which apparently referred to a degree he obtained while in Cuba.

Uruguayan reporters contacted the Habana University which denied point blank that Sendic ever studied at the house and much less “Human Genetics”, a subject and degree nonexistent in the university’s curricula. Sendic later admitted the issue and the Habana university reported he in effect had registered but for a couple of years in medicine, with no final degree.