Around 3.4 million people live in Uruguay, which is around four times the size of Switzerland. 50,000 of them have Swiss roots. Many of their ancestors emigrated to Uruguay in the 19th century – partly to escape poverty in Switzerland, and partly to seek new opportunities in the New World. Those original Swiss settlers brought with them their knowledge of the dairy industry, especially in the production of cheese. They were also the first to make use of modern agricultural machinery. Both of these developments gave a radical uplift to Uruguay's agricultural sector. Thanks to this, and multifarious cultural initiatives, the Swiss community and Switzerland itself are highly regarded in Uruguay today.
The traces of this chapter of Switzerland's history are just as alive as they ever were in Uruguay. In Montevideo there is the Swiss club and the Società Patriottica Liberale Ticinese. Various palaces in Montevideo and the Basilica of San José de Mayo are decorated with paintings by Ticino artist Martino Perlasca. Today Mr Cassis visited the small town of Nueva Helvecia, which clearly derives its name from its Swiss origins and was in fact still prairie when the first settlers arrived in 1862.
A project to examine in closer detail the paintings of Martino Perlasca in Montevideo is currently under way, with the participation of students from the University of Lugano. While visiting the Basilica of San José de Mayo, Mr Cassis and Mr Brivio presented a cheque on behalf of the Swiss Confederation and the Commune of Morcote to support the restoration of the paintings. Afterwards, Mr Cassis travelled to Nueva Helvecia, where he talked with members of the local Swiss community about the cultural heritage of their ancestors and their life in Uruguay.
On Tuesday, Mr Cassis will hold political talks in Montevideo with Deputy Foreign Minister Ariel Bergamino and with the President of the Chamber of Representatives, Cecilia Bottino. He will also have a meeting with members of the Swiss-Uruguayan Chamber of Commerce, where vocational education and training and job creation – particularly for young people – will be among the topics on the agenda.
The Chamber of Commerce was founded in 1940 and helps promote trade between Switzerland and Uruguay. The volume of trade between the two countries amounted to some CHF 220 million in 2018. At the multilateral level, Switzerland and Uruguay work closely together, primarily within the framework of the UN, where both countries are active proponents of protection for civilians and efforts to reform the UN Security Council. Regular discussions on human rights issues also take place in New York and Geneva.
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