Oriental Republic of Uruguay
República Oriental del Uruguay
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: Libertad o muerte  (Spanish)
"Liberty or Death"
Anthem: National Anthem of Uruguay
"Himno Nacional de Uruguay"
(and largest city)
34°53′S 56°10′W / 34.883°S 56.167°W / -34.883; -56.167
Official language(s) Spanish
Ethnic groups  88% White, 8% Mestizo, 4% Black, Amerindian (Practically nonexistent)[1]
Demonym Uruguayan
Government Unitary presidential republic
 -  President Jose Mujica
 -  Vice President Danilo Astori
Independence from Empire of Brazil 
 -  Declaration 25 August 1825 
 -  Recognition 28 August 1828 
 -  Constitution 18 July 1830 
 -  Total 176,215 km2 (91th)
68,037 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 1.5%
 -  2009 estimate 3,494,382[1] (133st)
 -  2004 census 3,241,003 
 -  Density 19.8/km2 (195th)
51.4/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2011 estimate
 -  Total $52.111 billion[2] (88th)
 -  Per capita $15,469[2] (61st)
GDP (nominal) 2011 estimate
 -  Total $49.423 billion[2] (79th)
 -  Per capita $14,671[2] (49th)
Gini (2009) 42.4[3] (medium
HDI (2011) increase 0.783[4] (high) (48th)
Currency Uruguayan peso ($, UYU) (UYU)
Time zone UYT (UTC−3)
 -  Summer (DST) UYST (UTC−2)
Drives on the right
ISO 3166 code UY
Internet TLD .uy
Calling code +598

Uruguay Listeni/ˈjʊərəɡw/,[5] officially the Oriental Republic of Uruguay,[1][6] sometimes the Eastern Republic of Uruguay;[7] Spanish: República Oriental del Uruguay pronounced: [reˈpuβlika oɾjenˈtal del uɾuˈɣwai]) is a country in the southeastern part of South America. It is home to some 3.5 million people,[1] of whom 1.8 million live in the capital Montevideo and its metropolitan area. An estimated 88% of the population are of European descent.[1]

Uruguay's only land border is with Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, to the north. To the west lies the Uruguay River and the estuary of the Río de la Plata to the southwest. To the southeast lies the southern part of the Atlantic Ocean. With an area of approximately 176,000 square kilometres (68,000 sq mi), Uruguay is the second-smallest nation in South America by area, after Suriname.

Colonia del Sacramento, one of the oldest European settlements in the country, was founded by the Portuguese in 1680. Montevideo was founded by the Spanish in the early 18th century as a military stronghold.[8] Uruguay won its independence in 1811–28 following a three-way struggle between the claims of Spain, Argentina and Brazil. It is a constitutional democracy, with a president who is both the head of state and the head of government.

Uruguay is one of the most economically developed countries in South America, with a high GDP per capita and the 48th highest Human Development Index in the world as of 2011, and the first by human development in Latin America, when inequality is factored in.[4][9] Uruguay is also noted for its low levels of corruption, being ranked by Transparency International as the second least corrupt country in Latin America (behind Chile).[10] Its political and labor conditions are among the freest on the continent.[1] It was the highest rated country in Latin America on Legatum's 2010 Prosperity Index.[11] Reader's Digest ranked Uruguay as the ninth "most livable and greenest" country in the world, and first in all the Americas.[12] Uruguay is ranked highest in Latin America on the Global Peace Index.[13]

Uruguay was the first South American country to legalize same-sex and different-sex civil unions at a national level,[14] and to allow gay adoption.[15] Uruguay and Bolivia were the only countries in the Americas which did not go into recession (2 consecutive quarters of retraction) as a result of the Late-2000s financial crisis.[16] In 2009, Uruguay became the first nation in the world to provide every school child with a free laptop and internet. It was the first nation in the Americas to test hemp cultivation.[17] Uruguay is reimbursed by the UN for the majority of its military spending, because the majority of its military is deployed as UN peacekeepers.



Translated into English, República Oriental del Uruguay becomes Oriental Republic of Uruguay; The Eastern Republic of Uruguay; or the Republic of the East of the Uruguay. The last is actually the only correct literal translation, as it is named after its geographic location to the east of the Uruguay River. Because of the ambiguity in its meaning when translated, the government of Uruguay normally uses simply Uruguay in English.

The etymology of the Uruguay River, coming from the Guaraní language, is uncertain, but the official meaning[18] is "river of painted birds".


Early history and colonization

The only documented inhabitants of Uruguay before European colonization of the area were the Charrúa, a small tribe driven south by the Guaraní of Paraguay.[8]

The Spanish arrived in the territory of present-day Uruguay in 1516 but the people's fierce resistance to conquest, combined with the absence of gold and silver, limited their settlement in the region during the 16th and 17th centuries.[8] Uruguay then became a zone of contention between the Spanish and the Portuguese empires. In 1603 the Spanish began to introduce cattle, which became a source of wealth in the region. The first permanent settlement on the territory of present-day Uruguay was founded by the Spanish in 1624 at Soriano on the Río Negro. In 1669–71 the Portuguese built a fort at Colonia del Sacramento. Spanish colonization increased as Spain sought to limit Portugal's expansion of Brazil's frontiers.[citation needed]

Montevideo was founded by the Spanish in the early 18th century as a military stronghold. Its natural harbor soon developed into a commercial area competing with Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires.[8] Uruguay's early 19th century history was shaped by ongoing fights between the British, Spanish, Portuguese, and other colonial forces for dominance in the Platine region.[8] In 1806 and 1807 the British army attempted to seize Buenos Aires and Montevideo as part of the Napoleonic Wars. As a result Montevideo was occupied by a British force from February to September 1807.

Independence struggle

The oath of the Thirty-Three Orientals

In 1811 José Gervasio Artigas, who became Uruguay's national hero, launched a successful revolution against the Spanish authorities, defeating them on 18 May at the Battle of Las Piedras.[8]

In 1813 the new government in Buenos Aires convened a constituent assembly where Artigas emerged as a champion of federalism, demanding political and economic autonomy for each area, and for the Banda Oriental in particular.[19] The assembly refused to seat the delegates from the Banda Oriental however, and Buenos Aires pursued a system based on unitary centralism.[19]

Consequently Artigas broke with Buenos Aires and besieged Montevideo, taking the city in early 1815.[19] Once the troops from Buenos Aires had withdrawn the Banda Oriental appointed its first autonomous government.[19] Artigas organized the Federal League under his protection, consisting of six provinces, four of which are now part of Argentina.[19]

In 1816 a force of 10,000 Portuguese troops invaded the Banda Oriental from Brazil and took Montevideo in January 1817.[19] After nearly four more years of struggle Portuguese Brazil annexed the Banda Oriental as a province under the name of Cisplatina.[19] The Brazilian Empire became independent from Portugal in 1822. In response to the annexation the Thirty-Three Orientals, led by Juan Antonio Lavalleja, declared independence on 25 August 1825 supported by the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata (present-day Argentina).[8]

This led to the 500 day-long Argentina-Brazil War. Neither side gained the upper hand and in 1828 the Treaty of Montevideo, fostered by the United Kingdom, gave birth to Uruguay as an independent state. The nation's first constitution was adopted on 18 July 1830.[8]

Blancos–Colorados conflicts

At the time of independence Uruguay had an estimated population of just under 75,000.[20] The political scene in Uruguay became split between two parties: the conservative Blancos (Whites) headed by Manuel Oribe, representing the agricultural interests of the countryside; and the liberal Colorados (Reds) led by Fructuoso Rivera, representing the business interests of Montevideo. The Uruguayan parties became associated with warring political factions in neighbouring Argentina.

The Colorados favored the exiled Argentinian liberal Unitarios, many of whom had taken refuge in Montevideo while the Blanco president Manuel Oribe was a close friend of the Argentinian ruler Manuel de Rosas. On 15 June 1838 an army led by the Colorado leader Rivera overthrew the president, who fled to Argentina.[20] Rivera declared war on Rosas in 1839. The conflict would last thirteen years and become known as the Guerra Grande (the Great War).[20]

In 1843 an Argentinian army overran Uruguay on Oribe's behalf but failed to take the capital. The siege of Montevideo, which began in February 1843, would last nine years.[21] The besieged Uruguayans called on resident foreigners for help which led to a French and an Italian legion being formed, the latter led by the exiled Giuseppe Garibaldi.[21] (Hitherto unknown, it was Garibaldi's fame in this war which led to his later central role in the Unification of Italy).

In 1845 Britain and France intervened against Rosas to restore commerce to normal levels in the region. Their efforts proved ineffective and by 1849, tired of the war, both withdrew after signing a treaty favorable to Rosas.[21] It appeared that Montevideo would finally fall when an uprising against Rosas, led by Justo José de Urquiza governor of Argentina's Entre Ríos Province began. The Brazilian intervention in May 1851 on behalf of the Colorados, combined with the uprising, changed the situation and Oribe was defeated. The siege of Montevideo was lifted and the Guerra Grande finally came to an end.[21] Montevideo rewarded Brazil's support by signing treaties that confirmed Brazil's right to intervene in Uruguay's internal affairs.[21]

In accordance with the 1851 treaties Brazil intervened militarily in Uruguay as often as it deemed necessary.[22] In 1865 the Triple Alliance was formed by the emperor of Brazil, the president of Argentina, and the Colorado general Venancio Flores, the Uruguayan head of government whom they both had helped to gain power. The Triple Alliance declared war on Paraguayan leader Francisco Solano López[22] and the resulting War of the Triple Alliance ended with the invasion of Paraguay and its defeat by the armies of the three countries. Montevideo, which was used as a supply station by the Brazilian navy, experienced a period of prosperity and relative calm during the war.[22]

The constitutional government of General Lorenzo Batlle y Grau (1868–72) was forced to suppress an insurrection led by the National Party.[23] After two years of struggle a peace agreement was signed in 1872 that gave the Blancos a share in the emoluments and functions of government, through control of four of the departments of Uruguay.[23] This establishment of the policy of co-participation represented the search for a new formula of compromise, based on the coexistence of the party in power and the party in opposition.[23]

Between 1875 and 1886 the military became the center of power.[24] During this authoritarian period the government took steps toward the organization of the country as a modern state, encouraging its economic and social transformation. Pressure groups (consisting mainly of businessmen, hacendados, and industrialists) were organized and had a strong influence on government.[24] A transition period (1886–90) followed, during which politicians began recovering lost ground and some civilian participation in government occurred.[24]

Mass immigration and development

After the Guerra Grande there was a sharp rise in the number of immigrants, primarily from Italy and Spain. By 1879 the total population of the country was over 438,000.[25] The economy saw a steep upswing, above all in livestock raising and exports.[25] Montevideo became a major economic centre of the region and an entrepôt for goods from Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.[25]

The Colorado leader José Batlle y Ordóñez was elected president in 1903.[26] The following year the Blancos led a rural revolt and eight bloody months of fighting ensued before their leader, Aparicio Saravia, was killed in battle. Government forces emerged victorious, leading to the end of the co-participation politics that had begun in 1872.[26] Batlle had two terms (1903–07 and 1911–15) during which, and taking advantage of the nation's stability and growing economic prosperity, he instituted major reforms such as a welfare program, government participation in many facets of the economy, and a plural executive.[8]

Gabriel Terra became president in March 1931. His inauguration coincided with the effects of the Great Depression.[27] when the social climate became tense as a result of the lack of jobs. There were confrontations in which police and leftists died.[27] In 1933 Terra organized a coup d'état, dissolving the General Assembly and governing by decree.[27] A new constitution was promulgated in 1934, transferring powers to the president.[27] In general, the Terra government weakened or neutralized economic nationalism and social reform.[27]

In 1938 general elections were held and Terra's brother-in-law, General Alfredo Baldomir, was elected president. Under pressure from organized labor and the National Party Baldomir advocated free elections, freedom of the press, and a new constitution.[28] Although Baldomir declared Uruguay neutral in 1939 British warships and the German ship Admiral Graf Spee fought a battle not far off Uruguay's coast.[28] Admiral Graf Spee took refuge in Montevideo, claiming sanctuary in a neutral port, but was later ordered out.[28] In 1945 Uruguay abandoned its policy of neutrality and joined the Allied cause.

In the late 1950s, partly because of a world-wide decrease in demand for agricultural products, Uruguayans suffered from a steep drop in the standard of living which led to student militancy and labor unrest. An urban guerrilla movement known as the Tupamaros emerged, engaging in activities such as robbing banks and distributing the proceeds to the poor in addition to attempting political dialogue. As the government banned their political activities and the police became more oppressive, the Tupamaros took up an overtly armed struggle.[29][verification needed]

President Jorge Pacheco declared a state of emergency in 1968, followed by a further suspension of civil liberties in 1972. In 1973, amid increasing economic and political turmoil, the armed forces closed the Congress and established a civilian-military regime.[8] Around 180 Uruguayans are known to have been killed during the 12-year military rule from 1973–1985.[30] Most were killed in Argentina and other neighbouring countries, with only 36 of them having been killed in Uruguay.[31]

Return to democracy

Then-president of Uruguay Jorge Batlle with then-former American president George H.W. Bush

A new constitution, drafted by the military, was rejected in a November 1980 referendum.[8] Following the referendum the armed forces announced a plan for the return to civilian rule, and national elections were held in 1984.[8] Colorado Party leader Julio María Sanguinetti won the presidency and served from 1985 to 1990. The first Sanguinetti administration implemented economic reforms and consolidated democracy following the country's years under military rule.[8]

The National Party's Luis Alberto Lacalle won the 1989 presidential election and an amnesty for human rights abusers was endorsed by referendum. Sanguinetti was again elected in 1994.[32] Both carried on with the economic structural reforms initiated after the reinstatement of democracy and other important reforms were aimed at improving the electoral system, social security, education, and public safety.

The 1999 national elections were held under a new electoral system established by a 1996 constitutional amendment. Colorado Party candidate Jorge Batlle, aided by the support of the National Party, defeated Broad Front candidate Tabaré Vázquez. The formal coalition ended in November 2002 when the Blancos withdrew their ministers from the cabinet,[8] although the Blancos continued to support the Colorados on most issues. Low commodity prices and economic difficulties in Uruguay's main export markets, first in Brazil with the devaluation of the real then in Argentina in 2002, caused a severe recession—the economy contracted by 11%, unemployment climbed to 21% and the percentage of Uruguayans in poverty rose to over 30%.[33]

In 2004 Uruguayans elected Tabaré Vázquez as president, while giving the Broad Front a majority in both houses of Parliament. Vázquez stuck to economic orthodoxy. As commodity prices soared and the economy recoiled from recession, he tripled foreign investment, cut poverty and unemployment, cut public debt from 79% of GDP to 60% and kept inflation steady.[34]

In 2009 José Mujica, a former left-wing militant who spent almost 15 years in prison during the country's military rule, emerged as the new President as the Broad Front won the election for a second time.[35]


Palacio Legislativo, Montevideo

Uruguay is a representative democratic republic with a presidential system.[36] The members of government are elected for a five-year term by a universal suffrage system.[36] Uruguay is a unitary state: justice, education, health, security, foreign policy and defence are all administered nationwide.[36] The Executive Power is exercised by the president and a cabinet of 13 ministers.[36]

The legislative power is constituted by the General Assembly, composed of two chambers: the Chamber of Deputies of 99 members representing the 19 departments, elected based on proportional representation; and the Chamber of Senators consisting of 31 members, 30 of whom are elected for a five year term by proportional representation and the Vice-president, who presides over the chamber.[36]

The judicial arm is exercised by the Supreme Court, the Bench and Judges nationwide. The members of the Supreme Court are elected by the General Assembly; the members of the Bench by the Supreme Court with the consent of the Senate; and the judges are directly assigned by the Supreme Court.[36]

Uruguay adopted its current constitution in 1967.[citation needed] Many of its provisions were suspended in 1973, but re-established in 1985. Drawing upon Switzerland and its use of the initiative, the Uruguayan Constitution also allows citizens to repeal laws or to change the constitution by popular initiative which culminates into a nation-wide referendum. During the last 15 years this method has been used several times: to confirm a law renouncing prosecution of members of the military who violated human rights during the military regime (1973–1985); to stop privatization of public utilities companies; to defend pensioners' incomes; and to protect water resources.[37]

For most of Uruguay's history, the Partido Colorado has been in government.[citation needed] However, in the Uruguayan general election, 2009, the Broad Front won an absolute majority in Parliamentary elections, and José Mujica of the Broad Front defeated Luis Alberto Lacalle of the Blancos to win the presidency.

A 2010 Latinobarómetro poll found that, within Latin America, Uruguayans are among the most supportive of democracy and by far the most satisfied with the way democracy works in their country.[38] Uruguay ranked 27th in the Freedom House "Freedom in the World" index. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit in 2008, Uruguay scored an 8.08 in the Democracy Index and ranked 23rd amongst the 30 countries considered to be Full Democracies in the world.[39] Uruguay ranks 24th in the World Corruption Perceptions Index composed by Transparency International.[40]

Foreign relations

Uruguay's president José Mujica with the former President of Brazil Lula da Silva

In November 2010 Uruguay ratified the Unasur Constitutive Treaty, becoming the ninth nation out of 12 to do so. The treaty was written in 2008 and was to come into force 30 days after the date of receipt of the ninth instrument of ratification.[41]

Argentina and Brazil are Uruguay's most important trading partners: imports from Argentina accounted for 20% of the total in 2009.[1] Since bilateral relations with Argentina are considered a priority, Uruguay denies clearance to Falkland Islands bound British naval vessels and prevents them from calling in at Uruguayan territories and ports for supplies and fuel.[42] A rivalry between the port of Montevideo and the port of Buenos Aires, dating back to the times of the Spanish Empire, has been described as a "port war". Officials of both countries emphasized the need to end this rivalry in the name of regional integration in 2010.[43]

The construction of a controversial pulp paper mill in 2007, on the Uruguayan side of the Uruguay River, caused protests in Argentina over fears that it would pollute the environment and lead to diplomatic tensions between the two countries.[44] The ensuing dispute remained a subject of controversy into 2010, particularly after ongoing reports of growing water contamination in the area were later proved to be from sewage discharge of Gualeguaychú town.[45][46] In November 2010 Uruguay and Argentina announced they had reached a final agreement for the joint environmental monitoring of the pulp mill.[47]

Brazil and Uruguay have signed cooperation agreements on defence, science, technology, energy, river transportation and fishing, with the hope of accelerating political and economic integration between these two neighbouring countries.[48] Uruguay has two uncontested boundary disputes with Brazil, over Isla Brasilera and the 235 km2 (91 sq mi) Invernada River region near Masoller, over which tributary represents the legitimate source of the Quaraí River/Cuareim River.[1]

Uruguay has enjoyed friendly relations with the United States since its transition back to democracy.[33] Commercial ties between Uruguay and the United States have expanded substantially in recent years, with the countries signing a bilateral investment treaty in 2004 and a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement in January 2007.[33] The United States and Uruguay have also cooperated on military matters, with both countries playing significant roles in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti.[33]

President Mujica backed Venezuela's bid to join Mercosur and supported the Venezuelan Economy Minister Ali Rodriguez to become general secretary of UNASUR, a position previously held by Néstor Kirchner. Venezuela has a deal to sell Uruguay up to 40,000 barrels of oil a day under preferential terms.[49] Uruguay will officially recognize a Palestinian state in March 2011.[50]


The Uruguayan armed forces are constitutionally subordinate to the president, through the minister of defense.[8] The armed forces personnel number about 14,000 for the Army, 6,000 for the Navy, and 3,000 for the Air force.[8] Enlistment is voluntary in peacetime, but the government has the authority to conscript in emergencies.[1]

Since May 2009, homosexuals are allowed to serve openly in the military after the Defence Minister signed a decree stating that military recruitment policy would no longer discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.[51] In the fiscal year 2010 the United States provided Uruguay with $1.7 million in military assistance, including $1 million in Foreign Military Financing and $480,000 in International Military Education and Training.[33]

Uruguay ranks first in the world on a per capita basis for its contributions to the United Nations peacekeeping forces with 2,513 soldiers and officers in 10 UN peacekeeping missions.[8] As of February 2010 Uruguay had 1,136 military personnel deployed to Haiti in support of MINUSTAH and 1,360 deployed in support of MONUC in the Congo.[8] In December 2010 a Uruguayan, Major General Gloodtdofsky, was appointed Chief Military Observer and head of the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan.[52]

Administrative divisions

Map of the departments of Uruguay

Uruguay is divided into 19 departments whose local administrations replicate the division of the executive and legislative powers.[36] Each department elects its own authorities through a universal suffrage system.[36] The departmental executive authority resides in a superintendent and the legislative authority in a departmental board.[36]

Department Capital Area Population (2010 est.)[53]
Artigas Artigas &1000000000001192800000011,928 km2 (4,605 sq mi) 79,270
Canelones Canelones &100000000000045360000004,536 km2 (1,751 sq mi) 525,980
Cerro Largo Melo &1000000000001364800000013,648 km2 (5,270 sq mi) 90,883
Colonia Colonia del Sacramento &100000000000061060000006,106 km2 (2,358 sq mi) 120,894
Durazno Durazno &1000000000001164300000011,643 km2 (4,495 sq mi) 62,155
Flores Trinidad &100000000000051440000005,144 km2 (1,986 sq mi) 25,726
Florida Florida &1000000000001041700000010,417 km2 (4,022 sq mi) 70,811
Lavalleja Minas &1000000000001001600000010,016 km2 (3,867 sq mi) 61,994
Maldonado Maldonado &100000000000047930000004,793 km2 (1,851 sq mi) 152,523
Montevideo Montevideo &10000000000000530000000530 km2 (200 sq mi) 1,336,878
Paysandú Paysandú &1000000000001392200000013,922 km2 (5,375 sq mi) 116,387
Río Negro Fray Bentos &100000000000092820000009,282 km2 (3,584 sq mi) 56,513
Rivera Rivera &100000000000093700000009,370 km2 (3,620 sq mi) 112,084
Rocha Rocha &1000000000001055100000010,551 km2 (4,074 sq mi) 70,374
Salto Salto &1000000000001416300000014,163 km2 (5,468 sq mi) 128,669
San José San José de Mayo &100000000000049920000004,992 km2 (1,927 sq mi) 110,714
Soriano Mercedes &100000000000090080000009,008 km2 (3,478 sq mi) 88,449
Tacuarembó Tacuarembó &1000000000001543800000015,438 km2 (5,961 sq mi) 96,783
Treinta y Tres Treinta y Tres &100000000000095290000009,529 km2 (3,679 sq mi) 49,497
Total¹ &10000000000175016000000175,016 km2 (67,574 sq mi) 3,356,584


Satellite image of Uruguay.

At 176,214 km2 (68,037 sq mi) of continental land 142,199 km2 (54,903 sq mi) of jurisdictional water and small river islands,[54] Uruguay is the second smallest sovereign nation in South America (after Suriname) and the third smallest territory (French Guiana is the smallest).[1] The landscape features mostly rolling plains and low hill ranges (cuchillas) with a fertile coastal lowland.[1]

A dense fluvial network covers the country, consisting of four river basins or deltas; the Río de la Plata, the Uruguay River, the Laguna Merín and the Río Negro. The major internal river is the Río Negro ('black river'). Several lagoons are found along the Atlantic coast.

The highest point in the country is the Cerro Catedral whose peak reaches to 514 metres (1,686 ft) AMSL in the Sierra Carapé hill range. To the southwest is the Río de Plata, the estuary of the Uruguay River which forms the western border, and the Paraná River.

Montevideo is the southernmost capital city in the Americas, and the third most southerly in the world (only Canberra and Wellington are further south).

Uruguay has 660 km of coastline.[1]

There are nine National Parks in Uruguay. Five in the wetland areas of the east, three in the central hill country and one in the west along the Rio Uruguay.[55]


Uruguay's climate is relatively mild. Located entirely within the temperate zone Uruguay has a climate that is fairly uniform nationwide.[56] Seasonal variations are pronounced, but extremes in temperature are rare.[56] As would be expected by its abundance of water, high humidity and fog are common.[56] The absence of mountains, which act as weather barriers, makes all locations vulnerable to high winds and rapid changes in weather as fronts or storms sweep across the country.[56] Both summer and winter weather may vary from day to day with the passing of storm fronts where a hot northerly wind may occasionally be followed by a cold wind (pampero) from the Argentine Pampas.[6]

Uruguay has a largely uniform temperature throughout the year, summer being tempered by winds off the Atlantic, and severe cold in winter is unknown.[56][57] The heaviest precipitation occurs during the autumn months, although more frequent rainy spells occur in winter.[6] The mean annual precipitation is generally greater than 40 inches (1,000 mm), decreasing with distance from the sea coast, and is relatively evenly distributed throughout the year.[6]

The average temperature for the mid-winter month of July varies from 12 °C (54 °F) at Salto in the northern interior to 9 °C (48 °F) at Montevideo in the south.[6] The midsummer month of January varies from a warm average of 26 °C (79 °F) at Salto to 22 °C (72 °F) at Montevideo.[6] National extreme temperatures at sea level are, Paysandú city 44 °C (111 °F) (20 January 1943) and Melo city −11 °C (12.2 °F) (14 June 1967).[58]


World Trade Center Montevideo

Uruguay experienced a major economic and financial crisis between 1999 and 2002, principally a spillover effect from the economic problems of Argentina.[33] The economy contracted by 11% and unemployment climbed to 21%.[33] Despite the severity of the trade shocks Uruguay's financial indicators remained more stable than those of its neighbours, a reflection of its solid reputation among investors and its investment-grade sovereign bond rating, one of only two in South America.[59][dated info]

In 2004 the Vázquez government signed a three-year $1.1 billion stand-by arrangement with the International Monetary Fund, committing the country to a substantial primary fiscal surplus, low inflation, considerable reductions in external debt and several structural reforms designed to improve competitiveness and attract foreign investment.[33] Uruguay terminated the agreement in 2006 following the early repayment of its debt, but maintained a number of the policy commitments.[33]

Vázquez also created the "Ministry of Social Development" and sought to reduce the country's poverty rate with a $240 million National Plan to Address the Social Emergency (PANES), that provided a monthly conditional cash transfer of approximately $75 to over 100,000 households in extreme poverty. In exchange, those receiving the benefits were required to participate in community work, ensure that their children attended school daily and had regular health check-ups.[33]

In 2005 Uruguay was the first exporter of software in South America.[60] The Frente Amplio government, while continuing payments on Uruguay's external debt,[61] also undertook an emergency plan to attack the widespread problems of poverty and unemployment.[62] The economy grew at an annual rate of 6.7% during the 2004–2008 period.[63] Uruguay's exports markets have been diversified in order to reduce dependency on Argentina and Brazil.[63] Poverty was reduced from 33% in 2002 to 21.7% in July 2008, while extreme poverty dropped from 3.3% to 1.7%, respectively.[63]

Between the years 2007 and 2009 Uruguay was the only country in the Americas which did not technically experience a recession (two consecutive downwards quarters).[64] Unemployment reached a record low of 5.4% in December 2010 before rising to 6.1% in January 2011.[65] Low unemployment has caused a rise in inflationary pressures,[66] although Uruguay's GDP expanded by 10.4% for the first half of 2010.[67] According to IMF estimates, Uruguay is likely to achieve growth in real GDP of between 8% and 8.5% in 2010, followed by 5% growth in 2011 and 4% in subsequent years.[66] The gross public sector debt contracted in the second quarter of 2010, after five consecutive periods of sustained increase, reached 21.885 billion US dollars, equivalent to 59.5% of the GDP.[68]


In 2010 Uruguay's export-oriented agricultural sector contributed to 9.3% of the GDP, and employed a 13% of the workforce.[1] Official statistics from Uruguay's Agriculture and Livestock Ministry indicate that meat and sheep farming in Uruguay occupies 59.6% of the land. The percentage further increases to 82.4% when cattle breeding is linked to other farm activities such as dairy, forage and rotation with crops such as rice.[69] Agriculture produces 70% of Uruguayan exports.[8]

According to FAOSTAT, Uruguay is one of world's largest producers of: soybeans (9th); greasy wool (12th); horse meat (14th); beeswax (14th); quinces (17th); natural honey (19th); cattle meat (20th).[70]

Most farms are family managed (25,500 out of 39,120) and beef and wool represent the main activities and main source of income for 65% of them followed by vegetable farming at 12%, dairy farming at 11%, hogs at 2% and poultry at 2%.[69] Beef is the main export commodity of the country totalling over a billion U.S. dollars in 2006.[69]

In 2007 Uruguay had cattle herds totalling 12 million head, making it the country with the highest number of cattle per capita at 3.8.[69] However, 54% of the total number of cattle is in the hands of 11% of farmers who have a minimum of 500 head. At the other extreme 38% of farmers exploit small lots and have cattle herds averaging below a hundred head.[69]


The Port of Montevideo

The Port of Montevideo, handling over 1.1 million containers annually, is the most advanced container terminal in South America.[71] Its quay can handle 14 metres (46 ft) draught vessels. Nine straddle cranes allow for 80 to 100 movements per hour.[71] The port of Nueva Palmira is a major regional merchandise transfer point, and houses both private and government-run terminals.[72]

Carrasco Airport, designed by the architect Rafael Viñoly with an investment of 165 million dollars, was inaugurated in 2009.[73][74] The airport can handle up to 4,500,000 users per year.[73] PLUNA is the flag carrier of Uruguay, and is headquartered in Carrasco.[75][76] The Laguna del Sauce Airport, located 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) from Punta del Este, has been remodeled in 1997 and runways have been renovated through a private investment concession.[72]

The Administración de Ferrocarriles del Estado is the autonomous agency in charge of rail transport and the maintenance of the railroad network. Uruguay has about 1,200 km (750 mi) of operational railroad track.[1] Until 1947 about 90% of the railroad system was British-owned.[77] In 1949 the government nationalized the railways, along with the electric trams and the waterworks company.[77] However, in 1985 the "National Transport Plan" suggested passenger trains were too costly to repair and maintain.[77] Cargo trains would continue for loads more than 120 tons, but bus transportation became the "economic" alternative for travellers.[77] The last passenger train rolled into Montevideo on 2 January 1988.[77]

Surfaced roads connect Montevideo to the other urban centers in the country, the main highways leading to the border and neighboring cities. Numerous unpaved roads connect farms and small towns. Overland trade has increased markedly since Mercosur (Southern Common Market) was formed in the 1990s. Most of the country's domestic freight and passenger service is by road rather than rail.


Telecommunications in Uruguay are more developed than in most other Latin American countries, being the first country in the Americas to achieve complete digital telephony coverage in 1997. The telephone system is completely digitized and has very good coverage over all the country. The system is government-owned and there have been controversial proposals to partially privatize since the 1990s.[citation needed]

The mobile phone market is shared by the state-owned (Ancel) and two private companies, Movistar and Claro.


Colour/Race (self-reported, 2008)[78]
White 95.4%
Black/African 3.4%
Indigenous 1.1%
Asian/Amarillo 0.1%

Uruguayans are of predominantly European origin with an estimated 88% of the population being of European descent.[1] A 2008 survey by the Instituto Nacional de Estadística (INE) of Uruguay requesting the respondent to self-report their predominant ancestry (only one choice was allowed) found that 95.4% reported a predominant white ancestry, 3.4% Black or African, 1.1% Indigenous and 0.1% Asian or Amarillo ("yellow").[78] Another INE survey, also conducted in 2008, found that 10% reported having some degree of Black/African ancestry,[79] 5.5% partial Indigenous,[80] and 0.3% partial Asian ancestry.[81]

Most Uruguayans of European ancestry are descendants of 19th and 20th century immigrants from Spain and Italy (about one-quarter of the population is of Italian origin)[8] and, to a much lesser degree, from France and Britain.[6] Earlier settlers had migrated from Argentina and Paraguay.[6] Few direct descendants of Uruguay's indigenous peoples remain, and mestizos account for less than one-tenth of the population.[6] People of African descent make up an even smaller proportion of the total.[6]

The rates of birth and population growth in Uruguay are much lower than in other Latin American countries.[6] Uruguay's population is quite mature[8] as a result of the low birth rate, high life expectancy, and relatively high rate of emigration of younger people. A quarter of the population are less than 15 years old and about a sixth are aged 60 and older.[6]

Health Facts:[82]

  • Fertility rate - 140th most fertile, at 1.89 per woman
  • Birth rate - 157th most births, at 13.91 per 1000 people
  • Infant mortality - 128th most deaths, at 1 per 1000 live births
  • Death rate - 84th death rate at 9.16 per 1000 people
  • Life Expectancy - 47th at 76.4 years
  • Suicide Rate - 24th suicide rate per 100,000 (15.1 for males and 6.4 for females)
  • HIV/AIDS Rate – 108th at 0.30%

From 1963 to 1985 an estimated 320,000 Uruguayans emigrated.[83] By far the most popular destination for Uruguayan emigrants was Argentina followed by the United States, Australia, Spain, Brazil, and Venezuela.[83] In 2009, for the first time in 44 years, the country saw an overall positive influx when comparing immigration to emigration. 3,825 residence permits were awarded in 2009, compared with 1,216 in 2005.[84] 50% of new legal residents come from Argentina and Brazil. A migration law passed in 2008 gives immigrants the same rights and opportunities that nationals have, with the requisite of proving a monthly income of $650.[84]

Metropolitan Montevideo is the only large city and has around 1.3 million inhabitants. The rest of the urban population lives in about 20 towns.[8] Uruguay is less densely populated than Argentina and Brazil although the neighbouring regions of southern Brazil and north eastern Argentina have roughly comparable population densities.[6]


Religion in Uruguay (2008)[85]
Religion Percent
Roman Catholic
Non-Catholic Christian
Nonsectarian believers

Uruguay has no official religion, church and state are officially separated[8] and religious freedom is guaranteed. A 2008 survey by the Instituto Nacional de Estadística of Uruguay gave Catholicism as the main religion, with 45.7% of the population, 9.0% are non-Catholic Christians, 0.6% are Animists or Umbandists (an Afro-Brazilian religion) and 0.4% Jewish. 30.1% reported believing in a god, but not belonging to any religion, while 14% were Atheist or Agnostic.[85] Among the sizeable Armenian community in Montevideo the dominant religion is Christianity, specifically Armenian Apostolic.[86]

Political observers consider Uruguay the most secular country in the Americas.[87] Uruguay's secularization began with the relatively minor role of the church in the colonial era, compared with other parts of the Spanish Empire. The small numbers of Uruguay's Indians and their fierce resistance to proselytism reduced the influence of the ecclesiastical authorities.[88]

After independence anticlerical ideas spread to Uruguay, particularly from France, further eroding the influence of the church.[89] In 1837 civil marriage was recognized and in 1861 the state took over the running of public cemeteries. In 1907 divorce was legalized and in 1909 all religious instruction was banned from state schools.[88] Under the influence of the radical Colorado reformer José Batlle y Ordóñez (1903–1911) complete separation of church and state was introduced with the new constitution of 1917.[88]


Uruguayan Spanish has some modifications due to the considerable number of Italian immigrants. Immigrants used to speak a mixture of Italian and Spanish known as 'cocoliche' and some of the words are still commonly used by the population. As is the case with neighboring Argentina, Uruguay employs both voseo and yeismo (with [ʃ] or [ʒ]). English is common in the business world and its study has risen significantly in recent years, especially among the young. Other languages include Portuguese and Portuñol (a mixture of Spanish and Portuguese). Both are spoken in the northern regions near the Brazilian border.[90][91] As few native peoples exist in the population no indigenous languages are thought to remain in Uruguay.[92]


Uruguayan culture is strongly European and its influences from southern Europe are particularly important.[6] The tradition of the gaucho has been an important element in the art and folklore of both Uruguay and Argentina.[6]

Visual arts

A "livable sculpture", Carlos Páez Vilaró's Casapueblo is his home, hotel and museum.

A prominent exponent of Afro-Uruguayan art is abstract painter and sculptor Carlos Páez Vilaró. He drew from both Timbuktu and Mykonos to create his best-known work: his home, hotel and atelier Casapueblo near Punta del Este. Casapueblo is a "livable sculpture" and draws thousands of visitors from around the world.[93] The 19th-century painter Juan Manuel Blanes, whose works depict historical events, was the first Uruguayan artist to gain widespread recognition.[6] The Post-Impressionist painter Pedro Figari achieved international renown for his pastel studies of subjects in Montevideo and the countryside. Blending elements of art and nature the work of the landscape architect Leandro Silva Delgado has also earned international prominence.[6]

Uruguay has a small but growing film industry and movies such as Whisky by Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll (2004), Marcelo Bertalmío's Los días con Ana (2000: "Days with Ana") and Ana Diez's Paisito (2008),about the 1973 military coup, have earned international honours.[6]


The folk and popular music of Uruguay shares not only its gaucho roots with Argentina but also those of the tango.[6] One of the most famous tangos, La Cumparsita (1917), was written by the Uruguayan composer Gerardo Matos Rodríguez.[6] The candombe is a folk dance performed at Carnival mainly by Uruguayans of African ancestry.[6] The guitar is the preferred musical instrument and, in a popular traditional contest called the payada two singers, each with a guitar, take turns improvising verses to the same tune.[6] Numerous radio stations and musical events reflect the popularity of rock music and the Caribbean genres, known as música tropical ("tropical music").[6] Early classical music in Uruguay showed heavy Spanish and Italian influence but, since the 20th century, a number of composers of classical music including Eduardo Fabini, Vicente Ascone and Héctor Tosar have made use of Latin American musical idioms.[6]

Rock and roll first broke into Uruguayan audiences with the arrival of British band The Beatles in the early 1960s. A wave of bands appeared in Montevideo, including Los Shakers, Los Mockers, Los Iracundos and Los Malditos, who became major figures in the so-called Uruguayan Invasion of Argentina.[94] Popular bands of the Uruguayan Invasion sang in English.


José Enrique Rodó (1871–1917), a modernist, is considered Uruguay's most significant literary figure.[6] His book Ariel (1900) deals with the need to maintain spiritual values while pursuing material and technical progress.[6] Besides stressing the importance of upholding spiritual over materialistic values, it also stresses resisting cultural dominance by Europe and the United States.[6] The book continues to influence young writers.[6] Notable amongst Latin American playwrights is Florencio Sánchez (1875–1910) who wrote plays about contemporary social problems that are still performed today.[6]

From about the same period came the romantic poetry of Juan Zorrilla de San Martín (1855–1931) who wrote epic poems about Uruguayan history. Also notable are Juana de Ibarbourou (1895–1979), Delmira Agustini (1866–1914), Idea Vilariño (1920–2009) and the short stories of Horacio Quiroga.[6] The psychological stories of Juan Carlos Onetti (such as No Man's Land and The Shipyard) have earned widespread critical praise, as have the writings of Mario Benedetti.[6]

Uruguay's best-known contemporary writer is Eduardo Galeano, author of Las venas abiertas de América Latina (1971; "Open Veins of Latin America") and the trilogy Memoria del fuego (1982–87; "Memory of Fire").[6] Other modern Uruguayan writers include Mario Levrero, Sylvia Lago, Jorge Majfud and Jesús Moraes.[6] Uruguayans of many classes and backgrounds enjoy reading historietas, comic books that often blend humour and fantasy with thinly veiled social criticism.[6]


The Reporters Without Borders worldwide press freedom index has ranked Uruguay as 37th of 178 reported countries in 2010.[95] Freedom of speech and media are guaranteed by the constitution, with qualifications for inciting violence or "insulting the nation".[62] Uruguayans have access to more than 100 private daily and weekly newspapers, more than 100 radio stations and some 20 terrestrial television channels and cable TV is widely available.[62]

Uruguay's long tradition of freedom of the press was severely curtailed during the years of military dictatorship. On his first day in office in March 1985 Sanguinetti re-established complete freedom of the press.[96] Consequently Montevideo's newspapers, which account for all of Uruguay's principal daily newspapers, greatly expanded their circulations.[96]

State-run radio and TV are operated by the official broadcasting service SODRE.[62] Some newspapers are owned by, or linked to, the main political parties.[62] El Día was the nation's most prestigious paper until its demise in the early 1990s, founded in 1886 by the Colorado party leader and (later) president José Batlle y Ordóñez. El País, the paper of the rival Blanco Party, has the largest circulation.[6] Búsqueda is Uruguay's most important weekly news magazine and serves as an important forum for political and economic analysis.[96] Although it sells only about 16,000 copies a week its estimated readership exceeds to 50,000.[96] MercoPress is an independent news agency focusing on news related to Mercosur and is based in Montevideo.[97]


Asado is a popular traditional dish in Uruguay, a kind of barbecued beef.

Beef is fundamental to Uruguayan cuisine and the country is one of the world's top consumers of red meat per capita.[6] Popular foods include beef platters, steak sandwiches (chivito), pastas, barbecued kidneys and sausages.[6]

Locally produced soft drinks, beer, and wine are commonly served, as is clericó, a mixture of fruit juice and wine.[6] Uruguay and Argentina share a national drink called mate.[6] Grappamiel, made with alcohol and honey, is served in the cold mornings of autumn and winter to warm up the body. Often locals can be seen carrying leather cases containing a thermos of hot water, the traditional hollowed gourd called a mate or guampa, a metal straw called a bombilla, and the dried yerba mate leaves.[98] Sweet treats, including flans with dulce de leche and alfajores (shortbread cookies), are favorites for desserts or afternoon snacks.[98]

Other Uruguayan dishes include: morcilla dulce, a type of blood sausage cooked with ground orange fruit, orange peel and walnuts; milanesa, a breaded veal cutlet similar to the Italian cotoletta; snacks such as olímpicos (club sandwiches), húngaras (spicy sausage in a hot dog roll), and masas surtidas (bite-sized pastries).[citation needed]


Centenario Stadium

Football is the most popular Sport in Uruguay. The first international match outside the British Isles was played between Uruguay and Argentina in Montevideo in July 1902.[99] Uruguay won gold at the 1924 Paris Olympic Games,[100] and again in 1928 in Amsterdam.[101]

The Uruguay national football team has won the FIFA World Cup on two occasions. Uruguay won the inaugural tournament on home soil in 1930 and again in 1950, famously defeating home favorites Brazil in the final.[102] Uruguay has won the Copa América (an international tournament for South American nations and guests) more than any other country, their victory in 2011 made a total of 15 Copa Américas won. Uruguay has by far the smallest population of any country that has won a World Cup.[102] Despite their early success they have only qualified for two of the last five World Cups.[102] Uruguay performed very credibly in the 2010 FIFA World Cup having reached the semi-final for the first time in 40 years. Diego Forlán was presented with the Golden Ball award as the best player of the 2010 tournament.[103]

Uruguay exported 1,414 football players during the 2000s, almost as many players as Brazil and Argentina.[104] In 2010, the Uruguayan government enacted measures intended to retain players in the country.[104]

Football was taken to Uruguay by English sailors and labourers in the late 19th century. Less successfully, they introduced cricket. The Montevideo-based football club Peñarol, who are successful in domestic and South American tournaments, was founded as the Central Uruguay Railway Cricket Club.


Education in Uruguay is secular, free,[105] and compulsory for 14 years, starting at the age of 4.[106] The system is divided into six levels of education: early childhood (3–5 years); primary (6–11 years); basic secondary (12–14 years); upper secondary (15–17 years); higher education (18 and up); and post-graduate education.[106]

Public education is the primary responsibility of three institutions: the Ministry of Education and Culture, which coordinates education policies, the National Public Education Administration, which formulates and implements policies on early to secondary education, and the University of the Republic, responsible for higher education.[106] In 2009, the government planned to invest 4.5% of GDP in education.[105]

Uruguay ranks high on standardised tests such as PISA at a regional level, but compares unfavourably to the OECD average, and is also below some countries with similar levels of income.[105] In the 2006 PISA test, Uruguay had one of the greatest standard deviations among schools, suggesting significant variability by socio-economic level.[105]

Uruguay is part of the One Laptop Per Child project, and in 2009 became the first country in the world to provide a laptop for every primary school student,[107] as part of the Plan Ceibal.[108] Over the 2007–2009 period 362,000 pupils and 18,000 teachers were involved in the scheme; around 70% of the laptops were given to children who did not have computers at home.[108] The OLPC programme represents less than 5% of the country's education budget.[108]

See also

  • Outline of Uruguay
  • Index of Uruguay-related articles
  • International rankings of Uruguay
  • List of Uruguayans
  • South America Life Quality Rankings
  • South America Life Quality Rankings - Economy and Finance
  • South America Life Quality Rankings - Law and Justice

Further reading

  • Andrew, G. R. (2010) Blackness in the White Nation: A History of Afro-Uruguay, The University of North Carolina Press
  • Behnke, A. (2009) Uruguay in Pictures, Twenty First Century Books
  • Box, B. (2011) Footprint Focus: Uruguay, Footprint Travel Guides
  • Burford, T. (2010) Bradt Travel Guide: Uruguay, Bradt Travel Guides
  • Canel, E. (2010) Barrio Democracy in Latin America: Participatory Decentralization and Community Activism in Montevideo, The Pennsylvania State University Press
  • Clark, G. (2008) Custom Guide: Uruguay, Lonely Planet
  • Jawad, H. (2009) Four Weeks in Montevideo: The Story of World Cup 1930, Seventeen Media
  • Lessa, F. and Druliolle, V. (eds.) (2011) The Memory of State Terrorism in the Southern Cone: Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, Palgrave Macmillan
  • Mool, M (2009) Budget Guide: Buenos Aires and Montevideo, Cybertours-X Verlag


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