Uruguay - language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion

Read about Uruguay: language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate ...


Uruguay (country) country on the southeastern coast of South America between Brazil and Argentina. It is the second smallest country in South America, after Suriname. The capital and chief economic center of Uruguay is the coastal city of Montevideo (pronounced MAHN teh vih DAY oh).

Uruguay was a part of the colonial empire of Spain in the Americas until the early 1800s. After a brief period of Portuguese rule, Uruguay became an independent nation in 1828. Its Spanish past influences many aspects of Uruguayan culture. Spanish is the official language of Uruguay. The country’s formal name in Spanish is República Oriental del Uruguay.

A small country about the size of the state of Oklahoma, Uruguay is heavily urbanized. More than 90 percent of all Uruguayans live in urban areas, and more than 40 percent live in the capital city. Most of Uruguay’s people are of European descent.

Tourism plays a major role in Uruguay’s economy. The country’s picturesque beaches attract visitors from all over the world. Agriculture also is an important economic activity, especially the raising of livestock.


Uruguay’s land is a transition zone between the Pampas plains of Argentina and the hilly uplands of Brazil. The terrain varies from grassy, rolling plains in the south to low plateaus and hills to the north and east. The Cuchilla Grande region in the east is the most rugged part of Uruguay, containing the country’s highest point, Cerro Catedral. Wide sandy beaches, sand dunes, and shallow lagoons fringe the Atlantic coastline.

The Uruguay River, which forms the country’s western border, joins the Paraná River at the Atlantic Ocean, forming an estuary between Uruguay and its neighbor to the south, Argentina. This giant estuary, called the Río de la Plata (Spanish for “Silver River”), is 200 km (120 mi) wide at its mouth. The Paraná-Uruguay drainage system is the largest in South America after that of the Amazon River. The Río Negro is the principal river of the country’s interior, although only its lower portion is deep enough for access by ship.

Climate of Uruguay

Uruguay has a warm, temperate climate. Located south of the equator, Uruguay experiences its warmest months in January and February, when the average temperature is about 22°C (72°F). The coldest month is June, when the temperature averages 10°C (50°F). The country gets about 890 mm (35 in) of rainfall annually. During the winter months, cold storms known as pamperos blow from the southwest, but frost and snow are virtually unknown in most parts of Uruguay.

Natural Resources of Uruguay

Uruguay’s principal resources are agricultural; minerals are scarce, and there are no known petroleum reserves. Except for the sandy, marshy areas along the eastern coast, the country’s soil is generally very fertile and good for farming.

Hydroelectricity from the nation’s rivers is responsible for about 75 percent of Uruguay’s energy production. The principal hydroelectric power plant is Salto Grande on the Uruguay River. Two other plants are in operation on the Río Negro, and another, on the Brazilian border, was constructed during the 1980s. The electric power industry is under the control of the government. The country also imports natural gas from neighboring Argentina via a pipeline completed in the late 1990s.

Plants and Animals in Uruguay

The predominant vegetation in Uruguay is tall prairie grass. The bluish-tinted prairies provide an extremely rich natural pasture. The nation has a smaller forest area than any other South American country.

Flowering plants in Uruguay include myrtle, mimosa, rosemary, and scarlet-flowered ceiba. Indigenous hardwood trees include urunday, lapacho, carob, quebracho, jacaranda, willow, and acacia. Palms flourish in the southeast and in the valleys. In the coastal area, pine and eucalyptus trees have been planted to prevent erosion. Poplar, cypress, oak, cedar, mulberry, and magnolia trees are also found around the country.

Common mammals found in Uruguay include otter, wild hog, fox, wildcat, armadillo, anteater, and various rodents. Such mammals as the puma, rhea (American ostrich), tapir, and seal were relatively abundant when the Spanish first visited Uruguay in the 16th century. Today they are scarce.

Waterfowl include the swan, stork, crane, white heron, and duck. Other birds are the vulture, burrowing owl, partridge, quail, wild turkey, parakeet, lapwing, cardinal, and hummingbird. The principal reptiles are lizards, tortoises, rattlesnakes, and a viper called the víbora de la cruz. Caimans thrive in the upper waters of the Uruguay River. There are many species of large spiders.


The people of Uruguay are almost entirely of European descent, mostly Spanish and Italian. Few indigenous people still live in Uruguay—most native tribes died out by the 19th century. Only about 5 to 10 percent of the population is mestizo (mixed native and white), black, or mulatto (mixed black and white).

Uruguay’s population is 3,494,382 (2009 estimate). The average population density is 20 persons per sq km (52 per sq mi). The population is concentrated near the Atlantic coast, and only 7 percent of the population is rural. Migration from farms to cities and the resulting crowded urban conditions have been serious social and economic problems.

Principal Cities of Uruguay

The principal cities of Uruguay are Montevideo (population, 2005 estimate, 1,347,888), the country’s capital, chief port, and economic center; Salto (99,072), a center of commerce, shipping, and the meat-salting and meat-packing industries; and Paysandú (115,222), a port and center of the meat-packing and frozen-meat industries.

Religion and Language of Uruguay

Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the constitution of Uruguay. Three-quarters of the people belong to the Roman Catholic Church. There are also sizable Protestant and Jewish congregations. The official language is Spanish, which in Uruguay has been influenced by Italian vocabulary and pronunciation.

Education in Uruguay

Uruguay has one of the highest rates of literacy in Latin America, at 98 percent of the adult population. Six years of primary education is compulsory, and Uruguay is one of the few nations in the Western Hemisphere in which all education, including college and postgraduate work, is free. However, many students from poor families must leave school to go to work. The largest college in Uruguay is the University of the Republic, founded in Montevideo in 1849.

Culture and Art of Uruguay

Western European tradition is widespread in Uruguay. Since the 19th century the country has adopted the cultural institutions of the European immigrants who settled there. As in Argentina, which has folk music and dances similar to those of Uruguay, the gaucho (South American cowboy) has been a common subject of folklore and music.


Uruguay’s first noteworthy writer was 18th-century poet Bartolomé Hidalgo. Although not a gaucho himself, he used gaucho themes. He was one of the first poets to introduce the colorful language of rural folk into poetry. Juan Zorrilla de San Martín wrote Tabaré (1886; translated 1956), considered one of the genuine epic poems of America. Tabaré describes the clash between Spanish settlers and indigenous people in Uruguay that ended in the destruction of the indigenous culture.

Important writers of the 20th century were essayist José Enrique Rodó; novelists and short-story writers Juan Carlos Onetti, Carlos Martínez Moreno, and Mario Benedetti; and poet Julio Herrera y Reissig. Other significant Uruguayan authors of the century include Carlos Reyles, a writer of realistic psychological novels; Horacio Quiroga, one of Latin America’s finest short-story writers; Julio Herrera y Reissig, a complex symbolist poet; and Alberto Zum Felde, a historian and literary critic. Uruguay has also produced many talented women writers, including Delmira Agustini, Juana de Ibarbourou, Sara Bollo, Éster de Cáceres, Sara de Ibáñez, and Orfila Bardesio. Florencio Sánchez, Latin America’s best-known dramatist, wrote realistic plays of national problems at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. See Latin American Literature.


Juan Manuel Blanes was Uruguay’s foremost painter of the 19th century. The Municipal Museum of Fine Arts in Montevideo now bears his name. Three important artists of the 20th century were Rafael Barradas, an abstract painter; Pedro Figari, a painter of colorful 19th-century scenes in the postimpressionist style; and Joaquín Torres-García, who founded the Torres-García workshop, which influenced a generation of Uruguayan painters.


Uruguayan folk and popular music reflect the mood of the people and of the land. Songs include the melancholy “Vidala” and “Triste,” and the dreamy and plaintive “Estilo,” a song of the plains. One of the foremost musicologists of Latin America is Francisco Curt Lange, who has collected and published hundreds of the region’s folk songs. Among important Uruguayan composers of the 20th century were Eduardo Fabini, whose works are based mainly on native themes; Cluzeau Mortet; Vincente Ascone; and Héctor Tosar.

Cultural Institutions of Uruguay

All the major libraries in Uruguay are in Montevideo. They include the National Library; the Library of the National Historical Museum, known for its collection of engravings, maps, coins, and native Uruguayan material; the National Congress Library; and the library of the National Archives.

The principal museums include the National Historical Museum, the National Museum of Fine Arts, and the Museum of Natural History, all in Montevideo. The Museo del Indo y del Gaucho, in Tacuarembó, has collections of Native American and gaucho art, weapons, and implements.

Sports and Holidays in Uruguay

The national game of Uruguay is soccer (known as fútbol in Spanish). The country’s national teams have won many international competitions, including two titles in the prestigious World Cup: the first World Cup, which Uruguay hosted in 1930, and another in 1950. Important soccer games are played in the large Centenary Stadium in Montevideo.

Other popular sports in Uruguay are polo—introduced by the British—tennis, boxing, golf, water sports of all kinds, and automobile and boat racing. Because of the mild climate, outdoor sports are popular year-round.

An annual festival known as Carnival Week, typically held in February, draws huge crowds to Montevideo for parades, masquerades, music, and dancing. This festival’s biggest celebrations take place on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Another important holiday, La Semana Criolla, is observed during the week before Easter and features rodeos and other traditional activities. Uruguay’s Independence Day is celebrated on August 25.


Although Uruguay is not highly industrialized, it is not considered underdeveloped. Population growth in Uruguay is much slower than in most underdeveloped countries and the population exerts only minor pressure on the natural resources that drive the nation’s economy. Income per person is low compared with the United States or Western European countries, but it is one of the highest in Latin America.

Uruguay has a large middle class that developed during the 20th century. A primary factor in this transformation was the large number of white-collar jobs generated by the government. These jobs afforded many people slow but steady upward social mobility, but they also created a considerable income gap between the urban and rural populations.

Agriculture, specifically raising animals such as sheep and cattle, is still of primary importance to the economy, although manufacturing is growing in significance. Most businesses are privately owned, but the government operates the state railways, electrical power and telephones, and the official broadcasting service. In 2007 budget figures showed $6.2 billion in revenue and $6.2 billion in expenditures.

Agriculture of Uruguay

Livestock raising is the principal agricultural activity of Uruguay and a mainstay of the economy. Meat, wool, and hides make up more than one-third of the country’s annual exports. The moderate climate and even seasonal distribution of rainfall allow animals to graze throughout the year.

Only 8 percent of the land is devoted to crops, although the area under cultivation is increasing. The most important crops are cereal grains, including wheat, corn, rice, oats, barley, and rye. Crops used to produce oils, such as sunflower seeds, linseed (flaxseed), and peanuts, make up the second most important group of crops. Other profitable products are sugarcane, sugar beets, and citrus fruits.

Forestry and Fishing in Uruguay

Uruguay is not densely forested; most of the wood harvested is used for fuel. The government has developed the fishing industry and the annual catch has grown dramatically since the 1970s. Hake, croaker, weakfish, and squid are among the most important species caught.

Manufacturing and Mining in Uruguay

Industrial production grew rapidly in Uruguay in the late 1970s as the government encouraged the development of export-oriented manufacturing industries, but this activity has declined since the 1980s. The leading industries are textile manufacturing and the processing of food, primarily meat. Oil refining, cement manufacturing, and the production of clothing, steel, aluminum, electrical equipment, and chemicals are also important industries in the country.

Mineral production in Uruguay is comparatively unimportant to the economy. The principal mining activity is the quarrying of sand and clay. There is also some gold mining.

Currency, Banking, and Trade in Uruguay

The legal currency of Uruguay is the peso uruguayo, consisting of 100 centésimos (23.50 pesos uruguayos equal U.S.$1; 2007 average). In 1993 the peso uruguayo replaced Uruguay’s former currency, the nuevo peso, at the rate of 1 peso uruguayo per 1,000 nuevo pesos. Uruguay has a well-developed banking system, with many private banks. The Bank of the Republic, founded in 1896, is a state bank and the financial agent of the government. The Central Bank of Uruguay controls private banking.

Foreign trade plays an important role in the economy of Uruguay. In 2007 exports were valued at $4.5 billion and imports at $5.6 billion. The country’s main trading partners are Argentina, Brazil, and the United States. Textiles, meats, fish, rice, and hides are the most important exports. Imports include raw materials for manufacturing, fuel and lubricants, food products, plastics, chemicals, prescription medicines, construction materials, machinery, and cars and trucks.

Uruguay is a founding member of several trade groups, including the Latin American Integration Association (LAIA) and the Southern Cone Common Market (known by its Spanish acronym, Mercosur). The LAIA, which encompasses all of the countries in South America except Suriname, Guyana, and French Guiana, works toward increasing regional integration and trade. Mercosur, which also includes Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay and is headquartered in Montevideo, focuses on establishing duty-free trade between members.

Tourism of Uruguay

Tourism is an increasingly important part of the economy of Uruguay. Visitors come from all over the world, but especially from neighboring Argentina. Uruguay features many luxurious beach resorts, such as the famous Punta del Este.


Uruguay had several constitutions during the course of the 20th century. The country alternated between a presidential form of government and a system under which executive power was held by a nine-member national council. Uruguay’s most recent constitution, adopted by popular referendum in 1966, provides for a republican form of government with a popularly elected president and legislature (Congreso, or National Congress). All citizens at least 18 years old are required by law to vote.

In 1973 the National Congress was dissolved after a military takeover. The government was ruled by a national security council composed primarily of high-ranking military officers. All local governments were dissolved and replaced with officials appointed by the central government. This system lasted until general elections were held in 1984, paving the way for a return to civilian rule the following year.

Executive of Uruguay

The electoral system restored in 1984 provides for a president and vice president chosen by universal suffrage for a five-year term. The president appoints a Council of Ministers to head the various government departments.

Legislature of Uruguay

The National Congress, Uruguay’s legislature, consists of a Chamber of Deputies, which has 99 members, and a Senate, with 30 members. Elected by popular vote, members of the legislature serve a five-year term. The country’s vice president serves as president of the Senate.

Political Parties of Uruguay

For much of its history, Uruguay essentially had a two-party system, dominated by the National (Blanco) Party and the Colorado Party. Both of these parties were formed in the 1830s by military leaders, the Blanco Party by General Manuel Oribe and the Colorado Party by General José Fructuoso Rivera. Blanco is Spanish for ‘white’; colorado for ‘colored red”—names that originated from the traditional colors of the hatbands worn by supporters.

During most of the 19th century the two parties were little more than the personal followings of their founders and of their successors. As European immigrants brought more radical ideas to Uruguay, the Colorado Party became associated with the more liberal urban population while the Blanco Party typified the conservative and traditionalist elements of the rural population.

By the 1930s there were few significant differences between the two parties, however. Both Colorados and Blancos had divided into several factions, and the political divisions among these factions were far more important than any division between the parties themselves. By the 1990s both the Colorados and the Blancos were considered politically conservative.

The Communist Party became legal in Uruguay in 1985. A leftist coalition, known as the Broad Front (or Progressive Encounter), grew in popularity in the 1990s. The Broad Front included the Communist and Socialist parties and replaced the Colorados as the party of the left. In 1999 the Broad Front won the most seats of any party in the National Congress. In 2004 the party captured the presidency, signaling the end of the 180-year dominance of the two original parties.

Local Government of Uruguay

Uruguay is divided into 19 administrative departments. Each department has an administrator appointed by the central government.

Judiciary in Uruguay

In 1977 the judiciary was placed under the direct control of the central government. The highest court, the Court of Justice, has five members, appointed by the executive to serve ten-year terms. The administrative courts hear cases involving the functioning of state administration. Lower courts handle legal matters in the departmental capitals and other large towns.

Health and Welfare in Uruguay

Uruguay is noted for its advanced social-welfare programs; coverage includes accidents, occupational illnesses, sickness, old age, maternity, and child welfare. A special fund issues grants to families; and laws have been passed to protect women and minors in employment. The ministry of public health has established numerous health centers and clinics, lowered the incidence of tuberculosis, and lowered the infant mortality rate.

Defense of Uruguay

In 2006 Uruguay had an active volunteer army of 17,000 soldiers. The navy and air force were small, having forces of 5,000 and 3,100, respectively. Military service is not compulsory.


The Charrúa, a warlike and seminomadic indigenous people, originally occupied the land on the eastern side of the Uruguay and La Plata rivers. Spanish explorer Juan Díaz de Solís was the first European to arrive in the territory now included in Uruguay. In 1516 his landing party sailed into Río de la Plata. That same year, the Charrúa killed Solis’s party on the riverbanks. Subsequent attempts to colonize the territory during the 16th century were also discouraged by the Charrúa. The first permanent settlement was made in 1624 by the Spanish on the Río Negro at Soriano.

International Rivalry During the Colonial Period

Between 1680 and 1683, contesting Spanish ownership of the region, Portuguese colonists in Brazil established several settlements, such as the Novo Colonia del Sacramento, along the Río de la Plata opposite Buenos Aires. However, the Spanish made no attempt to dislodge the Portuguese until 1723, when the latter began fortifying the heights around the Bay of Montevideo. A Spanish expedition from Buenos Aires forced the Portuguese to abandon the site, and there the Spanish founded the city of Montevideo in 1726. Spanish-Portuguese rivalry continued in the 18th century, ending in 1777 with the establishment of Spanish rule in the territory under the jurisdiction of the viceroyalty of La Plata.

A crisis occurred in the colony after French emperor Napoleon imprisoned Spanish king Ferdinand VII and invaded Spain in 1808. After French troops captured the last royalist stronghold in Spain in 1810, a group of leading citizens in Buenos Aires rejected the authority of the viceroy and established a caretaker government to rule over the colony in the name of King Ferdinand. In reality, many of the leaders of the new government were determined to make the colony independent of Spanish rule. Buenos Aires was unable to establish its influence over several outlying areas, including Uruguay, where the Spanish viceroy had moved his court. In 1810 and 1811, Uruguayan revolutionaries, led by General José Gervasio Artigas, joined in the revolt against Spain. The Spanish governor was driven from Montevideo in 1814.

In 1816 the Portuguese in Brazil—perceiving that the newly emancipated territory, known as the Banda Oriental del Uruguay (Eastern Shore of Uruguay), was weak after its struggle with Spain—invaded the territory, ostensibly to restore order. The Portuguese conquest was completed in 1821, when the Banda Oriental was annexed to Brazil. However, the so-called Immortal 33, a group of revolutionaries led by Juan Antonio Lavalleja, began fighting the Brazilians and driving them from the countryside. In 1825 representatives from the Banda Oriental’s provincial legislature declared the territory’s independence. Argentina intervened on Uruguay’s behalf, and war broke out between Brazil and Argentina. British mediation brought about a peace treaty, by which both Brazil and Argentina guaranteed Uruguay’s independence. As a result, the República Oriental del Uruguay was established in 1828; its first constitution was adopted in 1830.

However, Uruguay has never been entirely free of the influence of its neighbors. During much of the 19th century, the warring factional leaders (caudillos) appealed to either Argentina or Brazil for help against each other, and civil war was frequent until 1872. The followers of José Fructuoso Rivera, the country’s first president (1830-1835 and 1839-1845), appealed to Brazil for support. The followers of Manuel Oribe, the country’s second president (1835-1838), turned to Argentina. Uruguay’s traditional political parties, the Blancos and the Colorados, emerged from these two factions.

Independence and Civil War

The República Oriental del Uruguay was organized in 1830, but it was soon divided into hostile factions as a result of rivalry between the Blancos and the Colorados. Civil war broke out in 1836. During the conflict, the Blancos, aided by Argentine forces, besieged Montevideo, which was held by the Colorados from 1843 until 1852. The Colorados, aided by Brazil and anti-Argentine forces, defeated Oribe and the Blancos in 1852. Rivera and the Colorados thereupon took power. The two factions renewed conflict in 1855 and continued it intermittently, with the Colorados retaining control almost continuously after 1865.

Between 1865 and 1870 Uruguay was allied with Brazil and Argentina in a war against Paraguay. In the War of the Triple Alliance (1865-1870), Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay fought Paraguay’s attempts to establish its influence in Uruguay. Although the allies won the war, both sides suffered heavy losses. Bitter fighting continued between the Blancos and the Colorados until 1872, when they agreed to divide the country into spheres of influence as a first step toward peaceful coexistence. Foreign interventions tapered off after the War of the Triple Alliance, and the improved political conditions, which developed as the result of the agreement between the parties, led to social and economic progress. The last decades of the 19th century were years of relative peace.

The era of peace was interrupted by the murder of President Juan Idiarte Borda of the Colorado Party in 1897. After Idiarte’s assassination, the Blancos and the Colorados concluded another territorial agreement. This agreement preserved Blanco strength within only a limited area. European immigration increased after 1880 as settlers were attracted by the prospects of peace and fertile soil. Most of these immigrants adopted Colorado ideas. The election of José Batlle y Ordóñez to the presidency in 1903 caused the Blancos to fear the agreement would be discarded because the Colorado Party now held a large majority of votes. Another civil war broke out, and it ended with the defeat of the Blancos. The interparty agreement was ended by the new government. The Blancos were granted amnesty, however.

Early-20th-Century Domestic and Foreign Issues

In the early 20th century, membership in the two rival political groups ceased to be merely a matter of traditional loyalties. The Blancos became the conservative party, attracting chiefly the rural population and the clergy, and the Colorados became known as progressive and proponents of advanced social legislation. During the second presidential term of José Batlle y Ordóñez, between 1911 and 1915, social legislation was enacted, and Uruguay soon became known as the most progressive nation in South America.

Batlle’s moderately socialist program included the establishment of many government-owned businesses, some of which were monopolies. His program also promoted retirement and medical-aid programs; free education; extensive labor legislation; and public health measures. Much of this program was put into effect by Batlle’s successors. Batlle never succeeded in establishing a policy of agrarian reform because rural landowners had sufficient power in the legislature to block such reforms.

In 1917, during World War I, Uruguay broke off relations with Germany and leased German ships, seized in the harbor of Montevideo, to the United States. In that year a new constitution, dividing the executive authority between the president and the national administrative council and providing for the separation of church and state, was promulgated. Uruguay joined the League of Nations in 1920.

In 1933 President Gabriel Terra, who had taken office in 1931, demanded that the Uruguayan constitution be amended to allow the president wider powers. His demands brought threats of revolution, and he thereupon established a dictatorship with the cooperation of Luis Alberto de Herrera, the Blanco Party leader. The two men ruled together in a mild dictatorship in which all government positions and spoils were divided among their followers. A new constitution adopted in 1934 made this agreement law and curtailed individual liberties.

General Alfredo Baldomir, the leading Colorado, began the restoration of democratic government. He was elected president in 1938. A new constitution adopted in 1942 provided for a single president, no special status for either party, and the full restoration of liberties. During World War II (1939-1945), Uruguay severed diplomatic, financial, and economic relations with the Axis powers. In 1945 the country joined the United Nations (UN).

Postwar Decade

Tomás Berreta, candidate of the Colorado Party and former public works minister, was elected president in 1946, but he died a few months after taking office. Vice President Luis Batlle Berres completed the remainder of Berreta’s term. During this time, government policy became more conservative and government efforts centered on consolidation of the social changes introduced originally by Batlle and his successors. The presidential and general assembly elections of 1950 brought Andrés Martínez Trueba of the Colorado Party to power. In 1952 a Trueba-sponsored constitutional amendment, approved the year before, abolished the presidency and transferred executive power to a nine-member national council of government.

In retaliation against the Uruguayan policy of granting asylum to Argentine political refugees, Argentine dictator Juan Perón imposed travel and trade restrictions on Uruguay. The government, in protest, severed diplomatic relations with Argentina in 1953.

Meanwhile, declining wool prices and curtailed meat exports had led to increasing unemployment and inflation. To ease the economic situation, Uruguay entered into trade agreements during 1956 with the People’s Republic of China and other Communist countries. The economy continued to deteriorate, however.

In 1958, after 93 years of Colorado government, an overwhelming majority elected the Blancos to power, partly as a reaction to the prolonged economic recession. The new government initiated economic reforms; it was faced, however, with leftist agitation and consequent labor unrest, and it charged that Uruguay was being made a base of international communism.

Political Deterioration

The Blancos continued in power until 1966. In that year they and the Colorados supported a measure for a return to the presidential system, and the measure was approved by referendum in November. In general elections held at the same time, the Colorados won, and Oscar Daniel Gestido, a retired air force general, was elected president. After Gestido died, Vice President Jorge Pacheco Areco succeeded to the presidency.

Trying to halt Uruguay’s rampant inflation, Pacheco immediately instituted wage and price controls. Labor disputes erupted, and Pacheco declared a state of emergency in June 1968 and again in June 1969. During these states of emergency, constitutional guarantees were suspended, student demonstrators were shot, hundreds of suspected dissidents were imprisoned, and the police began to use torture during interrogations.

A group of student revolutionaries, the Tupamaros (a name taken from Tupac Amarú, the last emperor of the Inca people), responded with an urban guerrilla campaign. They kidnapped and later released a number of foreign diplomats and businessmen, robbed several banks, freed political prisoners from the jails, and assassinated a number of police officials. From June 1968 until March 1969, Uruguay remained under modified martial law. In June 1969 a fact-finding visit by Nelson Rockefeller, who was then governor of New York State, was met by violent demonstrations. Pacheco imposed a modified state of siege.

In the 1971 elections the Colorado candidate, Juan María Bordaberry, and the Blanco candidate were virtually tied. In 1972 the Electoral Court proclaimed Bordaberry president and he began a five-year term. Meanwhile, violence by the Tupamaros had escalated, and kidnappings and killings became common. In April 1972 Congress declared a state of internal war and suspended constitutional guarantees; some 35,000 police and military searched for guerrilla hideouts. The state of war was lifted in July, but constitutional guarantees were further suspended until 1973. Bordaberry soon came under pressure both from the Blancos and from dissident factions of his own party. Labor groups reacted to the government’s stringent economic and social policies with strikes throughout 1972. Inflation soared, and the currency was devalued ten times in that year.

Military Takeover

Following the largely successful suppression of the guerrillas, military leaders became convinced that they should play a central role in the country’s political affairs. In February 1973 they demanded the creation of a military ‘national security council’ to control the administration.

This arrangement led to a conflict with Congress. Bordaberry dissolved the legislature, replacing it with a 25-member appointed Council of State dominated by the military. The Communist-led National Labor Confederation (CNT) responded with a general strike, which was broken by the government after violent confrontations. The unions lost their independence and the CNT was banned.

In the following years the military extended its control to most of the country’s institutions. In 1976 Bordaberry canceled elections scheduled for that year, but the military deposed him and named a new national council. Aparicio Méndez, a former minister of public health, was selected president for a five-year term.

The military regime maintained intense political repression during its period of control. More than 1 in 1,000 Uruguayans were held as political prisoners and there was widespread torture. In 1980 the regime attempted to legitimize itself by obtaining approval for a new constitution that would give the armed forces a permanent supervisory role over the government. That constitution was overwhelmingly rejected in a popular referendum. In 1981 General Gregorio Alvarez was installed as president for a term expiring in 1985.

Alvarez restored political rights to some politicians. However, all the left-wing parties and the most popular leaders of the traditional parties remained banned. During the next three years popular opposition to the regime, intensified by an economic downturn, became increasingly open. This opposition culminated in a demonstration by 400,000 Uruguayans in Montevideo in late 1983 and a general strike in early 1984.

Civilian Government

The armed forces, isolated by the collapse of military rule in Argentina, finally agreed to hold elections and restore civilian government. The military stipulated that the opposition parties had to agree to exclude banned politicians from the elections, and they also had to promise that the military would be immune from prosecution for abuses against political dissidents. These crimes included the execution of about 150 Uruguayans by the government between 1973 and 1985, the “disappearance” of least 200 people, and the imprisonment and torture of thousands of others.

Presidential elections were held in late 1984, with the armed forces exercising veto power over the choice of nominees. The winner was a moderate, Julio María Sanguinetti of the Colorado Party. An amnesty covering all members of the military accused of human rights violations from 1973 to 1985 was granted in 1986 and upheld by referendum in 1989. Controversy over these crimes and the subsequent amnesty continues to influence the country’s politics.

In 1989 Luis Alberto Lacalle of the Blancos was elected president. Economic stagnation and rising inflation soon prompted him to implement an austerity program and to announce plans to privatize state-run companies. In protest, labor leaders called a series of general strikes. Former president Julio María Sanguinetti, a candidate for the Colorado Party, won the 1994 presidential election. In legislative elections the Broad Front, a leftist coalition that included Communists, Socialists, and former Tupamaro guerrillas, for the first time able to campaign legally and openly, made significant inroads against the more traditional Blanco and Colorado parties.

Recent Events

In November 1999 the Colorado Party’s Jorge Batlle—whose great-uncle had served as Uruguay’s president nearly 100 years earlier—defeated the Broad Front’s Tabaré Vázquez, a Socialist, in the presidential election. Vázquez, a physician and the popular mayor of Montevideo, had forced a runoff by winning the first round in October. Batlle was only able to win after gaining the Blancos’ support. The Broad Front won pluralities in both houses of the legislature in the October legislative elections.

Batlle’s presidency oversaw one of the worst economic crises in Uruguay’s history. During his tenure nearly a third of Uruguayans were at the poverty level and unemployment ranged from 13 to 20 percent. Tens of thousands of young people were forced to emigrate to seek work.

In the presidential elections of October 2004, the coalition led by candidate Tabaré Vázquez captured about 51 percent of the vote, avoiding a runoff. The election brought the left to power for the first time in Uruguay’s history. The Blanco Party candidate won more than 30 percent of the vote but the candidate of the Colorado Party won only 10 percent. The Popular Participation Movement, founded by former Tupamaros, many of whom had been jailed and tortured or forced into exile during the military dictatorship, won more votes than any other party in the Broad Front coalition. The Broad Front coalition also captured both houses of the Congress.

The victory of the left in Uruguay appeared to confirm a growing trend in Latin America in which voters have chosen leftists or populists over moderates and conservatives. Since 1998, the left has won presidential elections in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. Like the coalition in Uruguay, all have campaigned on platforms that rejected the free-market policies of the International Monetary Fund, which have been supported by various United States administrations. See also Globalization.

Several of the new leftist governments, such as Argentina and Chile, have also initiated investigations of past human rights violations carried out under Operation Condor in the 1970s and 1980s. Operation Condor was a joint effort of several right-wing regimes in the hemisphere that resulted in the disappearance and torture of tens of thousands of left-wing activists. With the election of Vázquez, Uruguay also made prosecution of human rights violations a top priority. In November 2006 a Uruguayan judge issued arrest warrants for former president Bordaberry and a top aide in the murders of two legislators and two suspected Tupamaros guerrillas.

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