Montevideo Mayor Carolina Cosse, a 61-year-old engineer, is a rarity in the political landscape of Uruguay, a country of 3.4 million that is not used to having women in key public positions. Before being elected to office by the progressive coalition Frente Amplio in 2020, she was president of the public telecoms company (2010-2015), minister for industry (2015-2019) and senator. In this interview with EL PAÍS, he avoids commenting on his political future in the face of the 2024 presidential elections, preferring to focus on local government: the “environmental revolution” that the city is experiencing to clean up its streets and pay tribute to the Periphery or plans to create housing. At the end of February, Cosse will travel to Barcelona as President of the organization United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), founded in 2004. The network brings together local and regional governments from around the world to make their voices heard on the world stage and promotes local democracy and decentralization. Currently, UCLG represents 240,000 cities and 70% of the world’s population. For the mayor, this international responsibility is also an opportunity to promote female leadership and cites her town hall as an example, where gender equality prevails for the first time.
Questions. What can we citizens expect from the Mayors’ Meeting in Barcelona?
Answer. At this in-person meeting of the UCLG Board of Directors, we will lock ourselves in to see how we can put into action our Compact for the Future, which has three main axes: caring for people, caring for the planet, and caring for democracy.
Q Are cities a containment space against ideological extremism?
R Naturally. I think that in many ways we need to look at the cities of the world as continents of hope because they are the most densely populated. When it comes to promoting cultural change, we have to start with the cities.
Q UCLG emphasizes the need to work towards gender equality, noting that only 5% of mayors worldwide are women. How do you read this data?
R I have a great responsibility within the UCLG collective to make visible and open the doors for women’s leadership around the world. I try every day in Montevideo, which has the city’s first parity government. Every time I’ve had public responsibility, since I’m not prejudiced, I try by all means to promote opportunities and break down barriers of fear.
Q The UN has scrutinized Uruguay for the “low representation of women in public and politics”. What is behind this reality?
R There is power for power’s sake. Missing political decision.
Q He recently presented the President of Brazil, Lula da Silva, with recognition for his commitment to the environment. His management is now focused on what he calls an “environmental revolution.” Why is?
“We achieve a culture change” together with the citizens to clean up Montevideo, whose Achilles heel was the garbage disposal
Caroline Cosse, Mayor
R Montevideo Más Verde is a process that I understand together with the citizens. It started as a new strategy for city cleaning and public spaces, for waste collection. Today we published the daily waste collection map in Montevideo. There is a correlation with the citizens through a WhatsApp number, through which they send us a photo and the location when there is garbage around a container and receive the photo of the clean place within about two hours.
Q Historically, trash and dumpsters have been Montevideo’s Achilles heel. Is it really changing?
R We have a very ambitious plan to eliminate landfills. There are watercourses in Montevideo and practically every one has a landfill. A team of more than 100 people is working on a strategy to cleanse, heal and heal. It is a very intense and participatory experience. All this is part of Montevideo Más Verde: urban cleaning, communication, inspection.
Q How was the public response?
R We’re achieving a culture shift that won’t happen overnight. In one year we received 280,000 inquiries via WhatsApp. Montevideo is a city of 1.4 million people. It’s important to get that number of requests because there are also 280,000 responses.
Q 120,000 people live in about 340 settlements in Montevideo. The city has been ruled for three decades by progressive forces who have also ruled the country for 15 years, what went wrong?
R I answer with what I want to do. The governments of Montevideo have so far had close cooperation with the Ministry of Housing in the resettlement of the residents of the settlements. The ministry generated the loan and the mayor’s office provided the land and managed the works. Two years ago, all projects that were being worked on were discontinued. Just a few months ago they relaunched and added a few more. It seems to me that for the future it would be necessary to work on a completely different regulatory system in relation to housing, to examine new forms of financing, to create jobs, to make public and private investments and to promote educational change.
Q He took office in November 2020 amid a pandemic. What role did local government play during the health emergency?
R Absolutely relevant, here and worldwide. During the pandemic, I have attended numerous virtual meetings where many local governments have shared experiences. In Montevideo we proposed the ABC plan, an emergency device to mitigate the effects of the pandemic and a safe haven; a retreat still ongoing and far from returning to territory. The ABC has five axes: Health, Nutrition, Work, Equality, and Territory. In particular, we take care of the most delicate and peripheral strip of Montevideo, carrying out works and trying a certain urbanization and dignity of places that required human relocation. But national politics has not been very active in creating housing.
Mayor Cosse with Brazilian President Lula da Silva showing a t-shirt of the organization Mothers and Families of those who disappeared during the Uruguayan dictatorship (1973-1985) in Montevideo January 25 Julio For Eizmendi
Q You say the state is withdrawing from the territory, how do you assess its relationship with the national government, a centre-right coalition?
R Relations were institutional and serious. The collaboration was objective. Politics for me is a serious matter that goes well beyond nepotism, I am very respectful, public and private. I’m honest and open when I disagree.
Q Are you planning to become President of Uruguay?
R I will not comment on candidatures yet. I believe that for the next government, which must come from the broad front, housing must be one of the main issues on the agenda, with a comprehensive approach that includes other issues, and at an unprecedented pace.
P. You receive a lot of criticism indicating the toughness of your character. Have you felt more judgmental about your status as a woman than about your ideas or actions?
R I have the feeling that strength is being confused with hardness. I am a person who builds strength through tremendous involvement and when I have public responsibility I build great teams. All projects I have faced have had an impact on reality and I always worry that the public will understand, participate and make mistakes for me. I am an engineer with a scientific background, which means that mistakes are not failures for me, but rather learning as part of a process.
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