I met H.E. Alvaro Moerzinger, ambassador for the Oriental Republic of Uruguay, at his workplace on the Mauritskade in The Hague. We had a good, relaxed talk in his breezy office - a talk that taught me a great deal about Uruguay.
Before our conversation I didn't know much about it at all. I knew about the Uruguayan football players currently supporting Ajax and FC Groningen, the Uruguayan tourists I see in Brazil, Candome music and tender beef. That's all, and I am assuming that there are others with a similar lack of knowledge about the country. This interview is a very modest contribution to change that, as well as a snapshot of The Hague - the city of peace and justice - through the eyes of a diplomat.
Dr. Alvaro Moerzinger, a trained lawyer, made diplomacy his career after his studies. He told me that it was during his time at university that his love for international law took hold. One day he saw an advertisement in a newspaper inviting young people to take up a career as a diplomat.
"I reacted, took an exam and I was admitted," he remembered fondly.
As a career diplomat, he was posted in Canada and Asia before being assigned to the Netherlands. He is very proud to serve his country in the capacity of Ambassador, and has greatly enjoyed his time in this country, while making the most of all The Hague has to offer. He loves the relatively small size of the city, and sometimes jumps on his bike to get to the office. Compared to a previous posting where it sometimes took two hours to cover the five kilometers between his residence and the chancellery, the accessibility of everything is still one of the pleasures of living and working in The Hague. Everything is nearby.
"Having said that," he added, "it's not easy to understand why The Hague is so deserted on Sundays and even the weekdays. While other international cities are booming with activities after 6pm, The Hague is dormant! "Where are all the people?" he asked with a smile.
Putting aside the quiet evenings, Ambassador Moerzinger expressed his fondness for The Hague and what it stands for.
"When it comes to The Hague, the international city of peace and justice, from a professional standpoint, the city offers a perfect balance between the so-called bilateral and multilateral diplomacy. The great commercial and technological potentials which the Kingdom has to offer are complemented by an intense activity of international organisations such as the OPCW and ICC. All of this is complemented by large facilities offered from a place as sophisticated as this one."
Entertainment within the diplomatic community in The Hague is self-contained, he assured. Even his 21 year old daughter - one of his four children - has plenty of friends. The only thing he misses is a daily English newspaper. It feels awkward when walking the streets, coming across a crowd and not knowing what is going on. He lamented the fact that the online newspapers provide summaries, rather than detailed news.
Uruguay and the Netherlands
One surprising point that was made clear to me during our talk was the relationship and many similarities between Uruguay and the Netherlands.
Uruguay, one of South America's most developed and prosperous countries, is economically and politically stable, with a rich climate that provides their main export: agricultural products. Remarkably, the country had a GDP growth of over 7% in 2010, and has been able to avoid the recession currently sweeping the global economy. It is also Latin America's largest exporter of dairy products, which started with the importation of cattle from Holland some two centuries ago. Along with having planted the seed for that industry all those years ago, Holland is still the gateway through which Uruguayan products enter the EU today, and Uruguayans are still proud of their European heritage.
Because of its security, stability, wealth and good climate, retired Dutch diplomats and scores of pensioners make Uruguay their new home every year. In fact, Uruguay has long had a close relationship with the Netherlands, as the two countries' histories intertwined early on, starting in the seventeenth century. This was when Dutch merchants sailed to Uruguay to break the Spanish commercial monopoly. Furthermore, the Netherlands was the first country to recognise Uruguay as a sovereign state and the first embassy was inaugurated in 1856. Prince Bernard paid a visit to Uruguay in 1951, and the country afterwards offered Princes Beatrix a horse as a rather unique gift. Last year Ambassador Moerzinger himself presented his credentials to - now Queen - Beatrix.
Two small giants, Uruguay and Holland are small countries geographically speaking, yet giants in other ways. Both their strong economies far belie their actual size, which is an impressive feat in today's times.
Flags flying across the Atlantic
Moerzinger's great passion, like many of his Dutch contemporaries, is football, although he modestly admits he is not a good player himself. In Uruguay, the people go just as mad for the sport as the orange-wearing fans in Holland. This all stems from a single match in Amsterdam in the twenties, which snowballed into a national obsession.
At the 1928 Amsterdam Olympic Games, Uruguay won the Football Gold Medal. This victory prompted FIFA to grant Uruguay the privilege of hosting the first World Football Championship in 1930. Uruguay then went on to win the first world Football Golden Cup and won the World Cup a second time when they beat Brazil in Rio de Janeiro. As a token of gratitude for hosting the first World Football Championship, FIFA declared El Estadio Centenario a historical monument of World Football. The most popular stand in the Centenario stadium is named Amsterdam, in remembrance of that 1928 Olympic victory.
Enthusiastically, Ambassador Moerzinger recounted how he managed to organise and play a game in a prelude to an important match between Uruguay and Brazil at that very stadium, a number of years ago. Unfortunately it was a failure and his team of young diplomats was booed. Despite this, he assured me, being able to play in the prestigious arena was an unforgettable time.
He concluded by applauding the Netherlands for its pragmatism, generosity and its frankness towards the international agenda, which makes it such an essential entity in global affairs, as well as a wonderful place to live.