The Eastern Republic of Uruguay (Spanish: República Oriental del Uruguay) is a small country located in southern South America. It is bordered by Brazil to the north, the Uruguay River to the west, the estuary of the Río de la Plata (literally "Silver River", but commonly known in English as "River Plate") to the southwest, with Argentina on the other bank of both, and finally the South Atlantic Ocean to the southeast. About one-half of its people live in the capital and largest city, Montevideo.
The nation is the second-smallest country in South America and is one of the most politically and economically stable.
República Oriental del Uruguay
|National motto: Libertad o Muerte
(Spanish, Liberty or Death)
- % water:
176,220 km² ¹
August 25, 1825
August 28, 1828
Roman Catholic (~66%), Protestant (2%), Jewish (1%)
Rank 90th, 85th, 92nd, 75th
|Orientales, la Patria o la tumba
Main article: History of Uruguay
The name "Uruguay" comes from Guaraní, the language of the native people of the region. It means "River of the Painted Birds".
The first Europeans arrived in the area in the early 16th century. Both Spain and Portugal pursued the colonization of Uruguay, with the Spanish eventually gaining control. The future capital, Montevideo, was founded in the early 18th century and became a rival to Buenos Aires across the Río de la Plata. Montevideo, however, was thought of as a military center for the Spanish empire, while Buenos Aires was a commercial center.
In the early 19th century, independence movements sprung up across South America, including Uruguay (then known as the Banda Oriental, or "eastern bank" in English). Uruguayan territory was contested between the nascent states of Brazil and Argentina. Brazil annexed the area in 1821, but a revolt began on August 25, 1825, after which Uruguay became an independent country with the Treaty of Montevideo in 1828.
European settlement gradually replaced the original population of Charrúa Indians. In the latter part of the 19th century, Uruguay participated in the War of the Triple Alliance against Paraguay.
Uruguay then experienced a series of elected and appointed presidents and saw conflicts with neighboring states, political and economic fluctuations and modernization, and large inflows of immigrants, mostly from Europe. The work of President José Batlle y Ordóñez made Uruguay an advanced nation with a complex welfare system; for most of the 20th century Uruguay was on par with European nations. Due to its advanced social system and its stable democracy, Uruguay came to be known as "the Switzerland of the Americas".
The Uruguayan economy relies largely on agricultural exports. The world wars brought prosperity as Uruguayan beef and grain went to feed a war-ravaged Europe. World food prices dropped precipitously following the end of WWII, which triggered years of decline for the Uruguayan economy. By the 1960's, the stable social system began to break down as the economy spiralled. The government started losing popular support as students, workers and lower-class families felt the pain of an economy unable to adapt to a post-agricultural world economy. The Tupamaros, a radical leftist group, responded to the crisis with violence, which triggered government repression that ended with the suspension of individual rights by the president, Jorge Pacheco Areco, and his succesor, Juan María Bordaberry. Finally, in 1973, the army seized power, ushering in 11 years of military dictatorship in what was once one of the most stable democracies in the region. In 1984, democracy was finally restored with the election of Julio María Sanguinetti.
Main article: Politics of Uruguay
Uruguay's Constitution of 1967 created a strong presidency, subject to legislative and judicial checks. The president, who is both head of state and head of government, is elected by popular vote for a five-year term, with the vice president elected on the same ticket. Thirteen cabinet ministers, appointed by the president, head executive departments.
The parliament is the bicameral General Assembly or Asamblea General, which consists of a 30-member senate (Cámara de Senadores), presided over by the vice president of the republic, and a 99-member Chamber of Representatives (Cámara de Representantes). Members for both houses are elected by popular vote for a five-year term.
The highest court is the Supreme Court; below it are appellate and lower courts, and justices of the peace. In addition, there are electoral and administrative ("contentious") courts, an accounts court, and a military justice system.
For most of Uruguay's history, the Colorado and Blanco parties had alternated in power. The elections of 2004, however, brought the Frente Amplio, a coalition of various leftist parties, to power with majorities in both houses of parliament and the election of President Tabaré Vázquez Rosas by an absolute majority.
Main article: Departments of Uruguay
Uruguay consists of 19 departments (departamentos, singular - departamento):
Main article: Geography of Uruguay
Uruguay is the second-smallest country in South America. The landscape features mostly rolling plains and low hills (cuchillas) with a fertile coastal lowland, most of it grassland, ideal for cattle and sheep raising. The highest point in the country is the Cerro Catedral at 514 m. To the southwest is the Río de la Plata (Silver River), the estuary of the Uruguay River, which forms the western border, and the Paraná River, that does not run through Uruguay itself. The only other major river is the Río Negro . Several lagoons are found along the Atlantic coast.
The climate in Uruguay is temperate, but fairly warm, as freezing temperatures are almost unknown. The predominantly flat landscape is also somewhat vulnerable to rapid changes from weather fronts, as well as to the pampero , a chilly and occasionally violent wind blowing north from the pampas plains in Argentina.
Main article: Economy of Uruguay
Uruguay's economy is characterised by an export-oriented agricultural sector, a well-educated workforce, and high levels of social spending, as well as a developed industrial sector. After averaging growth of 5% annually in 1996–1998, in 1999–2001 the economy suffered from lower demand in Argentina and Brazil, which together account for nearly half of Uruguay's exports. 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. In recent years Uruguay has shifted most of its energy into developing the commercial use of IT technologies and has become the leading exporter of software in Latin America.
While some parts of the economy appeared to be resilient, the downturn had a far more severe impact on Uruguayan citizens, as unemployment levels rose to more than twenty percent, real wages fell, the peso was devalued, and the percentage of Uruguayans in poverty reached almost 40%. These worsening economic conditions played a part in turning public opinion against the free market economic policies adopted by the previous administrations in the 1990s, leading to popular rejection of proposals for privatization of the state petroleum company in 2003 and of the state water company in 2004. The newly elected Frente Amplio government, while pledging to continue payments on Uruguay's external debt, has also promised to undertake a crash jobs programs to attack the widespread problems of poverty and unemployment.
Main article: Demographics of Uruguay
As a Spanish-speaking country of Latin America, most Uruguayans share a Spanish cultural background, even though about one-quarter of the population is of Italian origin. Some 88% of the population is of European descent, with mestizos (8%) and blacks (4%) forming the only significant ethnic minorities. Church and state are officially separated, with most adhering to the Roman Catholic faith (66%), with smaller Protestant (2%) and Jewish (1%) communities, as well as a large nonprofessing group (31%).
Uruguay is distinguished by its high literacy rate, large urban middle class, and relatively even income distribution. During the past two decades, an estimated 500,000 Uruguayans have emigrated, principally to Argentina and Brazil. As a result of the low birth rate, high life expectancy, and relatively high rate of emigration of younger people, Uruguay's population is quite mature.
Main article: Culture of Uruguay
Main article: Sports in Uruguay
Soccer (fútbol in Spanish) is the most important sport in Uruguay. Uruguay won two Olympic gold medals in soccer in 1924 and in 1928. The first World Cup in soccer was held in 1930 in Montevideo, which Uruguay won. Uruguay also won the World Cup in 1950, beating Brazil in Rio de Janeiro. At present Uruguayan soccer is devalued as a consequence of the economic crisis as well as corruption in the sport's administration.