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Uruguayan Indians Drawing from Hendrick Ottsen journal, 1603.
This is about the 'history of Uruguaymarker. See also the History of South America.

Pre-Columbian times and colonization

The only documented inhabitants of Uruguaymarker before European colonization of the area were the Charrua, a small tribe driven south by the Guaraní of Paraguaymarker. There have also been identified examples of ancient rock art, at locations such as Chamangá, and elsewhere.

The Spanishmarker 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 settlement in the region during the 16th and 17th centuries. Uruguay 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 Sorianomarker on the Río Negromarker. In 1669-71, the Portuguese built a fort at Colonia del Sacramentomarker. Spanish colonization increased as Spain sought to limit Portugalmarker's expansion of Brazilmarker's frontiers.

Montevideomarker was founded by the Spanish in the early 18th century as a military stronghold; its natural harbor soon developed into a commercial center competing with Argentinamarker's capital, Buenos Airesmarker. Uruguay's early 19th century history was shaped by ongoing fights between the Britishmarker, Spanishmarker, Portuguesemarker, and colonial forces for dominance in the Argentina-Brazil-Uruguay region. In 1806 and 1807, the British army attempted to seize Buenos Aires as part of their War with Spain. As a result, at the beginning of 1807, Montevideo was occupied by a 10,000-strong British force who held it until the middle of the year when they left to attack Buenos Aires.

Struggle for independence

In 1811, José Gervasio Artigas, who became Uruguay's national hero, launched a successful revolt against Spain, defeating them on May 18 in the Battle of Las Piedras. In 1814 he formed the Liga Federal (Federal League) of which he was declared Protector.

The constant growth of influence and prestige of the Federal League frightened Portugal (because of its republicanism), and in August, 1816 they invaded the Eastern Province (with Buenos Aires's tacit complicity), with the intention of destroying the protector and his revolution. The Portuguese forces, thanks to their numerical and material superiority, occupied Montevideo on January 20, 1817, and finally after a struggle for three years in the countryside, defeated Artigas in the Battle of Tacuarembómarker.In 1821, the Provincia Oriental del Río de la Plata (present-day Uruguay), was annexed by Brazil under the name of Província Cisplatina. As a reaction the Thirty-Three Orientals led by Juan Antonio Lavalleja declared independence on August 25, 1825 supported by the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata, present-day Argentina.

This led to the 500-day Argentina-Brazil War. Neither side gained the upper hand, and in 1828 the Treaty of Montevideo, fostered by the United Kingdommarker, gave birth to Uruguay as an independent state. The nation's first constitution was adopted on July 18, 1830. The remainder of the 19th century under a series of elected and appointed presidents saw interventions by — and conflicts with — neighboring states, political and economic fluctuations, and large inflows of immigrants, mostly from Europe.

The "Guerra Grande" 1839-1852

Manuel Oribe.
Fructuoso Rivera.
The political scene in Uruguay became split between two parties, the conservative Blancos ("Whites") and the liberal Colorados ("Reds"). The Colorados were led by Fructuoso Rivera and represented the business interests of Montevideo; the Blancos were headed by Manuel Oribe, who looked after the agricultural interests of the countryside and promoted protectionism. The two groups took their names from the color of the armbands that they wore; initially, the Colorados wore blue, but when it faded in the sun, they replaced it with red. 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 dictator Manuel de Rosas. Oribe took Rosas's side when the French navy blockaded Buenos Aires in 1838. This led the Colorados and the exiled Unitarios to seek French backing against Oribe and on June 15, 1838, an army led by the Colorado leader Rivera overthrew the president, who fled to Argentina. The Argentinian Unitarios formed a government-in-exile in Montevideo and, with secret French encouragement, Rivera declared war on Rosas in 1839. The conflict would last thirteen years and become known as the "Guerra Grande" (the "Great War"). In 1840, an army of exiled Unitarios attempted to invade northern Argentina from Uruguay but they had little success. Two years later, an Argentinian army overran Uruguay on Oribe's behalf. They seized most of the country but failed to take the capital. The siege of Montevideo, which began in February 1843, would last nine years and capture the world's imagination. Alexandre Dumas, père compared it to a new Trojan War. The besieged Uruguayans called on resident foreigners for help and a French and an Italian legion were formed. The latter was led by the exiled Giuseppe Garibaldi, who was working as a mathematics teacher in Montevideo when the war broke out. Garibaldi was also made head of the Uruguayan navy. He was involved in many famous actions during the war, notably the Battle of San Antonio, which won him a worldwide reputation as a formidable guerrilla leader. The Argentinian blockade of Montevideo was ineffective as Rosas generally tried not to interfere with international shipping on the River Plate. But in 1845, when access to Paraguaymarker was blocked, Britain and France allied against Rosas, seized his fleet and began a blockade of Buenos Aires, while Brazil joined in against Argentina. Rosas reached peace deals with Great Britain and France in 1849 and 1850 respectively. The French agreed to withdraw their legion if Rosas evacuated Argentinian troops from Uruguay. Oribe still maintained a loose siege of the capital. In 1851, the Argentinian caudillo Justo José de Urquiza turned against Rosas and signed a pact with the exiled Unitarios, the Uruguayan Colorados and Brazil against him. Urquiza crossed into Uruguay, defeated Oribe and lifted the siege of Montevideo. He then overthrew Rosas at the Battle of Caseros on February 3, 1852. With Rosas's defeat and exile, the "Guerra Grande" finally came to an end. Slavery was abolished in 1852.

The War of the Triple Alliance

In 1855, new conflict broke out between the parties. It would reach its high point during the War of the Triple Alliance. In 1863, the Colorado general Venancio Flores organized an armed uprising against the Blanco president, Bernardo Prudencio Berro. Flores won backing from Brazil and, this time, from Argentina, who supplied him with troops and weapons, while Berro made an alliance with the Paraguayan leader Francisco Solano López. When Berro's government was overthrown in 1864 with Brazilian help, López used it as a pretext to declare war on Uruguay. The result was the War of the Triple Alliance, a five-year conflict in which Uruguayan, Brazilian and Argentinian armies fought Paraguay, and which Flores finally won, but only at the price of the loss of 95% of his own troops. Flores did not enjoy his Pyrrhic victory for long. In 1868, he was murdered on the same day as his rival Berro.

Both parties were weary of the chaos. In 1870, they came to an agreement to define spheres of influence: the Colorados would control Montevideo and the coastal region, the Blancos would rule the hinterland with its agricultural estates. In addition, the Blancos were paid half a million dollars to compensate them for the loss of their stake in Montevideo. But the caudillo mentality was difficult to erase from Uruguay and political feuding continued culminating in the Revolution of the Lances (Revolución de las Lanzas) (1870-1872), and later with the uprising of Aparicio Saravia, who was fatally injured at the Battle of Masoller (1904).

Social and economic developments up to 1890

After the "Guerra Grande" there was a steady rise in the number of immigrants, above all from Italy and Spain. The number of immigrants had risen from 48% of the population in 1860 to 68% in 1868. In the 1870s, a further 100,000 Europeans arrived, so that by 1879 about 438,000 people were living in Uruguay, a quarter of them in Montevideo. In 1857, the first bank was opened; three years later a canal system was begun, the first telegraph line was set up, and rail links were built between the capital and the countryside.

The economy saw a steep upswing after the "Guerra Grande", above all in livestock raising and export. Between 1860 and 1868, the number of sheep rose from three to seventeen million. The reason for this increase lay above all in the improved methods of husbandry introduced by European immigrants.

Montevideo became a major economic centre of the region. Thanks to its natural harbour, it became an entrepot for goods from Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. The towns of Paysandúmarker and Saltomarker, both on the River Uruguay, also experienced similar development.

20th century

José Batlle y Ordóñez, president from 1903 to 1907 and again from 1911 to 1915, set the pattern for Uruguay's modern political development. He established widespread political, social, and economic reforms such as a welfare program, government participation in many facets of the economy, and a plural executive. Some of these reforms were continued by his successors.

During World War I, Uruguay sided against Germany and broke off diplomatic relations.

In 1930, Uruguay was chosen as the site of the first Football World Cup. Although the field was much smaller than the competitions of today, the event provided national pride when the home team won the tournament over their neighbors Argentinamarker.

On December 13, 1939 the Battle of the River Platemarker took place off the coast of Uruguay where British forces sunk the German Graf Spee. Most of the Graf Spee’s surviving crew of 1,150 were interned in Uruguay and Argentina and many remained after the war. A German Embassy official in Uruguay said his government has sent an official letter stating its position as to whether Germany claims ownership of the vessel. The German claim would be invalid because early in 1940 the Nazi government sold salvaging rights to the vessel to a Uruguayan businessman who was acting on behalf of the British government. However, any salvaging rights would have expired under Uruguayan law. By 1940 Germany had threatened to break of diplomatic relations with Uruguay. Nazi Germany protested that Uruguay gave safe harbor to the Carnarvon Castlemarker after it was attacked by a Nazi raider. The ship was repaired with steel plate reportedly salvaged from the Graf Spee. On January 25, 1942 Uruguay broke diplomatic relations with Nazi Germany.

In the late 1950s, partly because of a decrease in demand in the world market for agriculturial products, Uruguay began having economic problems, which included inflation, mass unemployment, and a steep drop in the standard of living for Uruguayan workers. This led to student militancy and labor unrest.

1950 also saw Uruguay win its second FIFA World Cup, defeating Brazil 2-1 in the competition's final match to take spot in the championship group, an event that became known as the Maracanazo.

An urban guerrilla movement known as the Tupamaros formed in the early 1960s, first robbing banks and distributing food and money in poor neighborhoods, then undertaking political kidnappings and attacks on security forces. Their efforts succeeded in first embarrassing, and then destabilizing, the government.

The US Office of Public Safety (OPS) began operating in Uruguay in 1965. The US Office of Public Safety trained Uruguayan police and intelligence in policing and interrogration techniques. The Uruguayan Chief of Police intelligence, Alejandro Otero, told a Brazilian newspaper in 1970 that the OPS, especially the head of the OPS in Uruguay, Dan Mitrione, had instructed the Uruguayan police how to torture suspects, especially with electrical implements.

President Jorge Pacheco declared a state of emergency in 1968, followed by a further suspension of civil liberties in 1972 by his successor, President Juan María Bordaberry, who brought in the Army to combat the guerrillas MLN, led by Raúl Sendic. After defeating the Tupamaros, the military seized power in 1973. Torture was effectively used to decompose the MLN (Movement of National Liberation). Uruguay soon had the highest per capita percentage of political prisoners in the world. The MLN (Movement of National Liberation) heads were isolated in improvised prisons and plunged into repeated acts of torture. Emigration numbers rose impressively, Uruguayans looked for political asylum throughout the world.Bordaberry was finally removed from his "president charge" in 1976. He was first succeeded by Alberto Demicheli. Subsequently a national council chosen by the military government elected Aparicio Méndez.

In 1980, in order to legitimize their position, the army forces proposed a change in the constitution that would be passed with a referendum. The "No" to the constitution reforms won the vote with 57.2% of the votes, showing the unpopularity of the de facto government, that was later accelerated by an economic crisis. In 1981, General Gregorio Álvarez assumed the presidency.

In 1984, massive protests against the dictatorship broke out. After a 24 hour general strike, talks began and the armed forces announced a plan for return to civilian rule. National elections were held in 1984; Colorado Party leader Julio María Sanguinetti won the presidency and, following the brief interim Presidency of Rafael Addiego Bruno, served from 1985 to 1990. The first Sanguinetti administration implemented economic reforms and consolidated democratization following the country's years under military rule. Nonetheless, Sanguinetti never supported the human rights claims, and his government didn't prosecute the military officials who engaged in repression and torture, neither the movement called TUPAMAROS or the MLN. Instead, he opted for a more peaceful option, signing an amnesty treaty called in Spanish "Ley de Amnistia".

Modern Uruguay

Sanguinetti's economic reforms, focusing on the attraction of foreign trade and capital, achieved some success and stabilized the economy. In order to promote national reconciliation and facilitate the return of democratic civilian rule, Sanguinetti secured public approval by plebiscite of a controversial general amnesty for military leaders accused of committing human rights violations under the military regime and sped the release of former guerrillas.

The National Party's Luis Alberto Lacalle won the 1989 presidential election and served from 1990 to 1995. President Lacalle executed major economic structural reforms and pursued further liberalization of trade regimes, including Uruguay's inclusion in the Southern Cone Common Market (MERCOSUR) in 1991. Despite economic growth during Lacalle's term, adjustment and privatization efforts provoked political opposition, and some reforms were overturned by referendum.

In the 1994 elections, former President Sanguinetti won a new term, which ran from 1995 until March 2000. As no single party had a majority in the General Assembly, the National Party joined with Sanguinetti's Colorado Party in a coalition government. The Sanguinetti government continued Uruguay's economic reforms and integration into MERCOSUR. Other important reforms were aimed at improving the electoral system, social security, education, and public safety. The economy grew steadily for most of Sanguinetti's term until low commodity prices and economic difficulties in its main export markets caused a recession in 1999, which has continued into 2002.

The 1999 national elections were held under a new electoral system established by a 1996 constitutional amendment. Primaries in April decided single presidential candidates for each party, and national elections on October 31 determined representation in the legislature. As no presidential candidate received a majority in the October election, a runoff was held in November. In the runoff, Colorado Party candidate Jorge Batlle, aided by the support of the National Party, defeated Broad Front candidate Tabaré Vázquez.

The Colorado and National Parties continued their legislative coalition, as neither party by itself won as many seats as the 40% of each house won by the Broad Front coalition. The formal coalition ended in November 2002, when the Blancos withdrew their ministers from the cabinet, although the Blancos continued to support the Colorados on most issues.

Batlle's five-year term was marked by economic recession and uncertainty, first with the 1999 devaluation of the Brazilian real, then with the outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease (aftosa) in Uruguay's key beef sector in 2001, and finally with the political and economic collapse of Argentina. Unemployment rose to close to twenty percent, real wages fell, the peso was devalued and the percentage of Uruguayans in poverty reached almost forty percent.

These worsening economic conditions played a part in turning public opinion against the free market economic policies adopted by the Batlle administration and its predecessors, leading to popular rejection through plebiscites of proposals for privatization of the state petroleum company in 2003 and of the state water company in 2004. In 2004 Uruguayans elected Tabaré Vázquez as president, while giving the Broad Front coalition a majority in both houses of parliament. The newly elected 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.

In 2009, former tupamaro and agriculture minister José Mujica, was elected president, subsequently succeding Vázquez in March 1st, 2010.


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