Tabare Vazquez, who twice served as Uruguay’s president and was a champion in the fight against smoking, died Sunday at the age of 80 after a battle with lung cancer, his family announced.
Thousands of people took to the streets in Montevideo to bid farewell to the nation’s first leftist leader, who was a cancer doctor by training.
“With deep pain we communicate the death of our beloved father,” his sons Alvaro, Javier and Ignacio Vazquez said in a statement.
On Twitter, Alvaro Vazquez, who is also a cancer specialist, said that “while he was resting at home, accompanied by some family and friends, Tabare died because of his illness.”
The funeral procession left from the city center and arrived at the cemetery in the neighborhood where Tabare Vazquez was born. His children carried his coffin, draped with the national flag, and then his family gathered for a religious tribute.
In 1989, Vazquez became the first person from the left-wing Broad Front coalition to win the mayoralty of Montevideo, having previously become well-known as president of football club Progreso, which is based in the capital.
In 2005, he secured the presidency, breaking the traditional hegemony of the Colorado and National parties in the small South American nation.
He held the office until 2010 and again from 2015 until March this year, when he handed the presidential sash to Luis Lacalle Pou of the National Party, who had beaten Broad Front candidate Daniel Martinez in an election run-off.
Lacalle Pou praised his predecessor’s “spirit of personal and political dialogue.”
“He has served this country and achieved important advances. He was the president of the Uruguayans,” Lacalle Pou said, adding that there would be three days of national mourning.
Uruguay in 2006 became the first Latin American country to ban smoking in public spaces, and only the fifth worldwide.
Vazquez increased taxes on cigarettes, restricted sales so that manufacturers could no longer sell multiple varieties of a brand, and introduced a groundbreaking law mandating that graphic health warnings cover 80 percent of cigarette packages.
On Twitter, Broad Front reported “with deep pain” the death of its “honorary president, Tabare Vazquez.”
“His example of political integrity and unwavering commitment to our country and the people will drive us to continue his legacy,” it said.