Uruguay's 1st socialist president, Tabaré Vázquez, dies

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FILE - In this March 1, 2005 Uruguay's President Tabare Vazquez opens his arms to supporters from the balcony of the Government Palace in Montevideo, Uruguay. The former president died in Montevideo early Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020. He was 80-years-old. (AP Photo/Marcelo Hernandez, File)

SANTIAGO – Uruguay's first socialist president, Tabaré Vázquez, who rose from poverty to win two terms as leader, died Sunday of cancer, a disease the physician dedicated much of his life to fighting.

The 80-year-old oncologist announced last year that he had lung cancer. His family confirmed that he died on Sunday.

HIs son Álvaro, also a cancer specialist, sent a tweet thanking Uruguayans “for the kindness he received throughout so many years.”

Center-right President Luis Lacalle Pou, a former political opponent, wrote the Vázquez “faced his final battle with courage and serenity. ... He served his country and obtained important achievements based on his efforts...

“The country is in mourning,” he added, declaring three days of honors.

Vazquez shook up Uruguayan politics when he became president for the first time in 2005, peacefully ending 170 years of two-party dominance at the head of a Broad Front coalition of socialists, Christian Democrats, Communists and former guerrillas.

He promised changes that would “shake the roots of the trees.” But he governed as a relatively cautious moderate, avoiding the constitutional changes and polarization that have caused upheaval in other South American nations.

As president, he overhauled the healthcare system and expanded aid for families, children and the elderly.