MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay -- A right-of-center president took office in Uruguay on Sunday, promising to crack down on crime and tighten government finances after a 15-year string of left-leaning governments.
Luis Lacalle Pou, a 46-year-old surfing enthusiast and son of a former president, narrowly won the election in November in his second try for the top office.
Lacalle Pou thanked outgoing President Tabaré Vázquez who gave him the presidential sash.
“The country has built a democracy with this ceremony," he said, celebrating the seventh presidential change since the restoration of democracy in 1985.
Lacalle Pou inherits a country of nearly 3.4 million people that had grown steadily under the outgoing Broad Front government, but rising crime in recent years dented its popularity and economists have grown concerned about a rising fiscal deficit that reached 4.9% of gross domestic product last year.
In his inaugural address, the new leader promised “to promote what was done well (and) correct what was done badly.”
Lacalle Pou, who has promised to cap government spending, said he wanted reduce the costs of production and services “to recover national competitiveness.”
He said the country faces “an emergency” of insecurity, adding that “the enormous majority of Uruguayans feel unprotected.” He campaigned on calls to bolster the country's security forces and toughening sentences.
“In the interior of the country we used to sleep with the door open.... Even vehicles were left with doors and windows open and the key in the ignition. But lately the houses are all fenced.... We hope that this government takes some measures and can change that,” said Natalia Cardozo, a 37-year-old teacher who was participating on horseback in the inaugural; day parade.
Lacalle Pou, who spent many years in Uruguay's congress, grew up in an intensely political family. He father Luis Lacalle Herrera was president from 1990 to 1995 and his mother, Julia Pou, was a senator. His great-grandfather Luis Alberto de Herrera was a major figure in the National Party.
He will have to depend on an ideologically diverse four-party coalition to get his programs through Congress.