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Uruguay ( , ), is a country located in the southeastern part of South America. It is home to some 3.3 million people, of whom 1.1 million live in the capital Montevideomarker and its metropolitan area. An estimated 88–94% of the population are of mostly European and/or mixed descent.

Uruguay's only land border is with Rio Grande do Sul, Brazilmarker, to the north. To the west lies the Uruguay River, to the southwest lies the estuary of Río de la Platamarker, with Argentinamarker only a short commute across the banks of either of these bodies of water, while to the southeast lies the South Atlantic Oceanmarker. Uruguay is the second smallest country in South America, being larger than only Surinamemarker.

Colonia del Sacramentomarker, one of Uruguay's oldest European settlements, was founded by the Portuguese in 1680. Montevideo was founded by the Spanish in the early 18th century as a military stronghold. Uruguay won its independence in 1825–1828 following a three-way struggle among Spain, Argentina and Brazil. It is a constitutional democracy, where the president fulfills the roles of both head of state and head of government.

The economy is largely based on agriculture (making up 10% of GDP and the most substantial export) and the state sector. According to Transparency International, Uruguay is rated as the least corrupt country in Latin America (along with Chilemarker), with its political and labor conditions being among the freest on the continent.

Uruguay is one of the most economically developed countries in Latin America, with a high GDP per capita and the 47th highest quality of life in the world. It was the first Latin American country to legalize same and different sex civil unions at a national level in the year 2007.


The Oriental Republic of Uruguay is named after its geographic location to the east of the Uruguay River. This geographical reason as well as historical reasons caused the Uruguayans to be called "Orientals" , even though Uruguay is situated in the Western Hemispheremarker. The word Uruguay, coming from the Guarani language, means "river where the painted birds live".


Pre-Columbian times and colonization

The only documented inhabitants of Uruguay 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 area 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. In response, 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

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 ruler 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 Unitarians 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 sharp 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 entrepôt for goods from Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. The towns of Paysandúmarker and Saltomarker, both on the River Uruguay, also experienced similar development.

20th century

Development accelerated during the latter part of the 19th century as increasing numbers of immigrants established businesses and bought land. Partly through their efforts, sheep were introduced to graze together with cattle, ranches were fenced, and pedigreed bulls and rams were imported to improve livestock. Earnings from wool (which became the leading export in 1884), hides, and dried beef encouraged the British to invest in railroad building and also helped to modernize Montevideomarker, notably in its public utilities and transportation system—which thereby encouraged additional immigration.

In 1876, the Uruguayan armed forces took over the government and, aided by improved communications, began to establish firmer control over the interior. However, public support for the regime eventually waned because of the brutality and corruption of some of its leaders, and a civilian Colorado government returned to power in 1890.

Blanco's demands for a larger role in government escalated into the Revolution of 1897, led by Aparicio Saravia, which ended when the Colorado president, Juan Idiarte Borda, was killed by an assassin not associated with the Blancos. Although conflicts between Colorados and Blancos continued to impede economic development, by 1900 Uruguay’s population grew to one million—a 13-fold increase over the level of 1830. The Colorado leader José Batlle y Ordóñez was elected president in 1903. The following year the Blancos led a rural revolt, and eight bloody months of fighting ensued before Saravia was killed in battle and government forces emerged victorious. In 1905 the Colorados won the first largely transparent legislative election in 30 years, and domestic stability was finally attained.

Batlle, who had become a Colorado hero, took advantage of the nation’s stability and growing economic prosperity to institute major reforms, including increasing state intervention in economic matters. His administration helped expand cattle ranching, reduce the nation’s dependence on imports and foreign capital, improve workers’ conditions through far-reaching social reforms, and expand education. In addition Batlle abolished the death penalty, allowed women to initiate divorce proceedings, augmented the rights of children born out of wedlock, and reduced the political influence of the Roman Catholic Church—reflecting growing trends toward social liberalization and secularization in Uruguay.

Batlle had two terms (1903–07 and 1911–15) in which to initiate his policies, but, realizing that his program might be reversed by a future president or dictator, he promoted a constitutional reform to end the presidency and replace it with a plural executive, the colegiado. Batlle’s audacious plan split the Colorados and reinvigorated the Blanco opposition, and in 1916 the colegiado was defeated in the country’s first election by secret ballot. Batlle retained a significant amount of prestige and support, however, which allowed him to strike a compromise that partly rescued the colegiado; thus, in a constitution promulgated in 1918, executive responsibility was split between the president and a National Council of Administration.

A consensus government emerged with policies that were more cautious than innovative, except in social legislation. Higher living standards were supported by a ranching economy that had stopped growing, a dilemma hidden by the high export prices of the late 1920s.

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 neighboring Argentinamarker.

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, then undertaking kidnappings and torture of perceived enemies.

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.

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. A state of martial law was effectively used to decompose the MLN (Movement of National Liberation). The MLN heads were isolated in improvised prisons.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, 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 military rule 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 rebels, terrorists, or military leaders who were accused of killings and torture. 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.

Geography and climate

Satellite image of Uruguay.


At of continental land of jurisdictional water and small river islands, Uruguay is the second smallest sovereign nation in South America (after Suriname) and the third smallest territory (French Guianamarker is the smallest). The landscape features mostly rolling plains and low hill ranges (cuchillas) with a fertile coastal lowland.

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

The highest point in the country is the Cerro Catedralmarker at 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 Rivermarker.

A longstanding border dispute with Brazil involving territory in the north of Uruguay has not harmed close diplomatic relations with Brazil in years


The climate in Uruguay is temperate: it has warm to hot summers and cool to cold winters (variable weather). The predominantly gently undulating landscape is somewhat vulnerable to rapid changes from weather fronts. It receives the periodic influence of the polar air in winter, and tropical air from Brazil in summer. Without mountains to act as a barrier, the air masses freely move by the territory, causing abrupt weather changes.

Snow is not very common (most important events were in 1962 and 1991), though winter sees regular frosts. One of the coldest winters (since 1951) was 2007: July averaged in Montevideo, and in Florida city.

National extreme temperatures sea level are, Paysandú city 44.0°C (01-20-1943) and Melo city -11.0°C (06-14-1967).


Uruguay consists of nineteen departments ( , singular ). The first departments were formed in 1816 and the newest, Flores, dates from 1885. The departments are governed by an intendente municipal who is elected for five years. The members of the Departmental Assembly ( ) form the legislative level of the department.

Map of the departments of Uruguay in alphabetical order.
Department Area (square kilometres) Population* Capital
- Artigasmarker 11,928 79,317 Artigasmarker
- Canelonesmarker 4,536 509,095 Canelonesmarker
- Cerro Largomarker 13,648 89,383 Melomarker
- Coloniamarker 6,106 120,855 Colonia del Sacramentomarker
- Duraznomarker 11,643 60,926 Duraznomarker
- Flores 5,144 25,609 Trinidadmarker
- Floridamarker 10,417 69,968 Floridamarker
- Lavallejamarker 10,016 61,883 Minasmarker
- Maldonadomarker 4,793 147,391 Maldonadomarker
- Montevideo 530 1,342,474 Montevideomarker
- Paysandúmarker 13,922 115,623 Paysandúmarker
- Río Negromarker 9,282 55,657 Fray Bentosmarker
- Riveramarker 9,370 109,267 Riveramarker
- Rochamarker 10,551 70,614 Rocha
- Saltomarker 14,163 126,745 Saltomarker
- San Josémarker 4,992 107,644 San José de Mayomarker
- Sorianomarker 9,008 87,073 Mercedesmarker
- Tacuarembómarker 15,438 94,613 Tacuarembómarker
- Treinta y Tresmarker 9,676 49,769 Treinta y Tresmarker


World Trade Center.
Uruguay economy relies heavily on trade, particularly in agricultural exports, leaving the country particularly vulnerable to slumps in commodity prices and global economic slowdowns.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 some of its energy into developing the commercial use of technologies and has become the first exporter of software in Latin America.

A worsening economic condition played a part in turning public opinion against the mildly free market economic policies adopted by the previous administrations in the 1990s, leading to the 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 an emergency plan to attack the widespread problems of poverty and unemployment.In May 2008, the unemployment rate was below 7.2%.


Agriculture played such an important part in Uruguayan history and national identity until the middle of the twentieth century that the entire country was sometimes likened to a single huge estancia (agricultural estate) centered around Montevideo, where the wealth generated in the hinterland was spent, at its casco or administrative head.

Today, agriculture contributes roughly 11% to the country’s GDP and is still the main foreign exchange earner, putting Uruguay in line with other agricultural exporters like Brazil, Canada, and New Zealandmarker. Uruguay is a member of the Cairns Group of exporters of agricultural products. Uruguay’s agriculture has relatively low inputs of labor, technology, and capital compared to other such countries, which results in comparatively lower yields per hectare but also opens the door for Uruguay to market its products as "natural" or "ecological."

Industry has developed recently around estancia tourism which capitalizes on the traditional or folkloric connotations associated with gaucho culture and the remaining resources of Uruguay's historic Estancias.


Legislation hall, Montevideo
Uruguay is a multiparty presidential representative democratic republic, under which the President of Uruguay is both the head of state and the head of government. The president exercises executive power with his cabinet. Legislative power is vested in the two chambers of the General Assembly of Uruguay. The Judiciary branch is independent from that of the executive and legislature.

The Colorado and National parties have been locked in a power struggle, alternating throughout most of Uruguay's history. The elections of 2004, however, brought the Broad Front, a coalition of socialists, former Tupamaros, communists, social democrats, and Christian Democrats among others to power with majorities in both houses of parliament. A majority vote elected President Tabaré Vázquez.

Uruguay adopted its first constitution in 1830, following the conclusion of a three year war in which Argentinamarker and Uruguay fought as a regional federation: the United Provinces of Río de la Plata. Sponsored by the United Kingdommarker, the 1828 Treaty of Montevideo built the foundations for a Uruguayan state and constitution.

For most of Uruguay's history, the Partido Colorado has been the government. The other "traditional" party of Uruguay, Partido Blanco has ruled only twice. The Partido Blanco has its roots in the countryside and the original settlers of Spanish origin and the cattle ranchers. The Partido Colorado has its roots in the port city of Montevideo, the new immigrants of Italian origin and the backing of foreign interests.
The Partido Colorado built a welfare state financed by taxing the cattle revenue. The elections of 2004, however, brought the Frente Amplio, a coalition of socialists, communists, former Tupamaros, former communists and social democrats among others to govern with majorities in both houses of parliament and the election of President Tabaré Vázquez by an absolute majority.The Reporters Without Borders worldwide press freedom index has ranked Uruguay as 43rd of 173 reported countries in 2008.

According to Freedom House, an American organization that tracks global trends in political freedom, Uruguay ranked twenty-seventh in its "Freedom in the World" index. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, Uruguay scores a 8.08 on the Democracy Index, located in the 23rd position among the 30 countries considered to be Full Democracies in the world. The report looks at 60 indicators across five categories: Free elections, civil liberties, functioning government, political participation and political culture.

Uruguay ranks 28th in the World Corruption Perceptions Index composed by Transparency International.

The Uruguayan Constitution allows citizens to repeal laws or to change the constitution by referendum. During the last 15 years the 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.

Uruguay's president Tabare Vazquez
Attempts to reform the 1830 constitution in 1966 led to the adoption of an entirely new document in 1967. A constitution proposed under a military revolution in 1980 was rejected by a vote of the entire electorate.Uruguay's Constitution of 1967 created a strong presidency, subject to legislative and judicial balance. Many of these provisions were suspended in 1973 but reestablished in 1985.

The president, who is both the head of state and the 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 various executive departments.The General Assembly (Asamblea General) has two chambers.

The Chamber of Deputies (Cámara de Diputados) has 99 members, elected for a five year term by proportional representation. The Chamber of Senators (Cámara de Senadores) has 31 members; 30 members are elected for a five year term by proportional representation and the Vice-president who presides over it.

The Supreme Court is the highest court. Its judges are elected for 10-year terms by the General Assembly. Below the Supreme Court are appellate and lower courts, as well as justices of the peace. There are also electoral and administrative ("contentious") courts, an accounts court, and a military justice system.



Uruguayans share a Spanish linguistic and cultural background with its neighbour country Argentinamarker. Most Uruguayans are descended from colonial-era settlers and immigrants from Europe with almost 88% of the population being of European descent.

The majority of these are Spaniards and Italians, followed by the French, Germans, Portuguese, British (English or Scots), Irish, Swissmarker, Russians, Poles, Croats, Bulgarians, Hungarians, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Estonians, Latvians, Swedish, Danish, Dutch, Belgiansmarker, Austrians, Greeks, Scandinavians, Armenians and Turkish. There are also smaller numbers of Georgian and Lebanese people.

Many Swissmarker colonies such as Colonia Suiza, Colonia Valdense and Nueva Helvecia are founded in the department of Coloniamarker. Also, there are towns founded by early Britishmarker settlers, like Conchillas and Barker. A Russianmarker colony called San Javiermarker, is found in the department of Río Negromarker. Also there are Mennonite colonies in the department of Río Negro and in the department of Canelonesmarker. One of them, called El Ombú, is famous by its well-known Dulce de Leche "Claldy", and is located near the city of Young.

Many of the European immigrants arrived in Uruguay in the late 1800s and have heavily influenced the architecture and culture of Montevideo and other major cities. For this reason, Montevideo and life within the city are very reminiscent of Western Europe.

The rest of the Uruguayan population, approximately 10%, is Black/Afro-Uruguayan of African descent (4%) and about 1 or 2% are of Asian descent, mostly are Lebanese/Syrian Arab, and Chinese or Japanese ancestry.

Amerindians make up a small population in the Rural North-West region, with Mestizos making up 6% of the Population.

Demographic distribution

People in Montevideo
Metropolitan Montevideomarker, with about one and a half million inhabitants, is the capital and largest city. The rest of the urban population lives in about 20 towns. Montevideo is about 200 kilometers (124 miles) away from Buenos Airesmarker in neighboring Argentina.

Uruguay is distinguished by its high literacy rate (97.3%) and a large urban middle class. During the 1970s and 1980s, an estimated six-hundred thousand Uruguayans emigrated, principally to Spain, Italy, Argentina and Brazil. Other Uruguayans went to various countries in Europe, Australia and the USA.

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. In 2006, the country had a birth rate of 13.91 births per thousand population, lower than neighboring countries Argentina (16.73 births/1000 population)[3] and Brazil (16.56 births/1,000 population).

Church and state are officially separated. While the Government keeps no statistics concerning religious affiliation, a 2004 survey published in the daily newspaper El Pais reported that 54% of those interviewed designated themselves as Roman Catholics, 11% as Protestants, 9% as believers without a religious affiliation, and 26% as nonbelievers.

Although the majority of Uruguayans do not actively practice a religion, they are nominally members of the Catholic Church and other communities. Uruguayan life is what political observers consider Uruguay is the most secular country in South America.

Uruguay has a traditional mixed economy welfare state program yet in need of improvement since the 1990s. The average Uruguayan and neighbour country Argentinamarker can be compared with some of the western countries of Europe , and ranks behind that of North American giants the US and Canadamarker.

During the past two decades, an estimated 500,000 Uruguayans had emigrated, principally to Brazil, Argentina and Europe. (Spainmarker is the main destination for Uruguayans, but also drawn to the United Kingdommarker, Italymarker, Francemarker and Germanymarker).

Neighboring ties and short distances between Uruguayan cities and Argentine capital Buenos Aires, have drawn a path of success for very talented Uruguayans who settled in the neighbor country and became famous and locally accepted. Some famous Uruguayans who excelled in Argentina are entrepreneur and financier Juan Navarro, sports journalist Victor Hugo Morales, singer and actress Natalia Oreiro, football players Antonio Alzamendi, Enzo Francescoli and Carlos Goyen, actress China Zorrilla, entretainer Carlos Gardel, Carlos Perciavalle and former playboy and journalist Luis César Avilés.

Emigration to the United Statesmarker also rose recently, but remains a small part of the US Hispanic population. The majority of Uruguayans in the US live in Miamimarker,New Jerseymarker, and Washington, D.C.marker.



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


The basic railroad network, purchased from the British after World War II, is outdated and no longer in use except for a small line that runs from Montevideo to San José passing through the cities of Las Piedras and Canelones (as of February 2009).


Oceangoing ships call mainly at Montevideo. Vessels of various sizes navigate the inland waters, and a hydrofoil service connects Buenos Aires and Montevideo across the Río de la Plata.


An international airport lies near the Carrasco beach resort some from downtown Montevideo. The government-owned airline, Primeras Líneas Uruguayas de Navegación Aérea (PLUNA), links Montevideo with some international destinations.


Telecommunications in Uruguay are more developed than in most other Latin American countries. The telephone system is completely digitized and concentrated in and around Montevideo. The system is government-owned, and since the 1990s there have been controversial proposals to privatize it, or at least to sell some of its shares.


Uruguay has an impressive legacy of artistic and literary traditions, especially for its small size. The contribution of its alternating conquerors and diverse immigrants has resulted in native traditions that integrate this diversity. Uruguay has centuries old remains, fortresses of the colonial era. Its cities have a rich architectural heritage and an impressive number of writers, artists, and musicians. Uruguayan tango is the form of dance that originated in the neighborhoods of Montevideo, Uruguay towards the end of the 19th century. Tango, candombe, and murga are the three main styles of music.


José Enrique Rodó, a modernist, is considered Uruguay’s most significant literary figure. His book Ariel (1900), which stresses the importance of upholding spiritual over materialistic values, as well as resisting cultural dominance by Europe and the United States, continues to influence young writers. Outstanding among Latin American playwrights is Florencio Sánchez; his plays, written around the beginning of the 20th century and dealing with contemporary social problems, are still performed.

From about the same period and somewhat later came the romantic poetry of Juan Zorrilla de San Martín, Juana de Ibarbourou, Delmira Agustini and the short stories of Horacio Quiroga. The psychological stories of Juan Carlos Onetti have earned widespread critical praise, as have the writings of Mario Benedetti. 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"). Uruguayans of many classes and backgrounds enjoy reading historietas, comic books that often blend humour and fantasy with thinly veiled social criticism.

The folk and popular music of Uruguay shares with Argentinamarker not only its gaucho roots but also the tango. One of the most famous tangos, La Cumparsita (1917), was written by the Uruguayan composer Gerardo Matos Rodríguez. The candombe is a folk dance performed at Carnival mainly by Uruguayans of African ancestry. The guitar is the preferred musical instrument; and, in a popular contest called the payada, two singers, each with a guitar, take turns improvising verses to the same tune. Numerous radio stations and musical events reflect the popularity of rock music and Caribbeanmarker genres known as música tropical (“tropical music”). 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.

Another prominent exponent of Afro-Uruguayan art is abstract painter and sculptor Carlos Páez Vilaró. He drew from both Timbuktumarker and Mykonosmarker to create his best-known work: Casapueblo. His home, hotel and atelier near Punta del Estemarker, Casapueblo is a "livable sculpture," and draws thousands of visitors from around the world. The 19th-century painter Juan Manuel Blanes, whose works depict historical events, was the first Uruguayan artist to gain widespread recognition. 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.

Uruguay has a small but growing film industry, and movies such as Marcelo Bertalmío’s Los días con Ana (2000: Days with Ana) have earned international honours.


One of Uruguay's most famous works of literature is Ariel by José Enrique Rodó (1871–1917). Written in 1900, the book deals with the need to maintain spiritual values while pursuing material and technical progress. Florencio Sánchez (1875–1910) wrote plays about social problems that are still performed today. Juan Zorrilla de San Martín (1855–1931) wrote epic poems about Uruguayan history. Juana de Ibarbourou (1895–1979), Delmira Agustini (1866–1914) and Idea Vilariño (1920–2009) were also notable poets. Modern Uruguayan writers include Juan Carlos Onetti (author of No Man's Land and The Shipyard), novelist Mario Benedetti, social critic Eduardo Galeano, Mario Levrero, Sylvia Lago, Jorge Majfud and Jesús Moraes.


Uruguay is South America's most secular country. It has no official religion and church and state are separate. Religious freedom is guaranteed. Sixty-six percent of Uruguayans are Roman Catholics. Most Uruguayans baptize their children and marry in churches but less than half attend church on a regular basis. There is a small Jewish community in Montevideo (about 1% of the population) as well as several evangelical Protestant groups (about 2%). Macumba and Umbanda, religions of Afro-Brazilian origin, are the currently fastest-growing religions in Uruguay.


Spanish is the official language of Uruguay and is spoken by almost all of the population. Uruguayan Spanish has some Italian modifications due to the considerable number of Italian immigrants. 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 throughout the last years, especially amongst the youth. However, it is still a minority language, as are French and Italian. Other languages include Portuguese and Portuñol, a mixture of Spanish and Portuguese. Both are spoken in the northern regions near the Brazilian border.


Uruguayans are known to eat a lot of meat, such as asado. The parrillada (beef platter), chivito (a substantial steak sandwich), and pasta are the national dishes. The latter is due to Uruguay's many Italian immigrants in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Other Uruguayan dishes include morcilla dulce, a type of blood sausage cooked with ground orange fruit, orange peel and walnuts, and milanesa, a breaded veal cutlet similar to the German Wienerschnitzel. Snacks include olímpicos (club sandwiches), húngaras (spicy sausage in a hot dog roll), and masas surtidas (bite-sized pastries). Typical drinks include mate, tea, clericó (a mixture of white wine and fruit juice), medio y medio (part sparkling wine and part white wine), and red wine.

The cuisine of Uruguay is traditionally based on its European roots, like Mediterranean foods from Italymarker, Spainmarker and Francemarker, but also Germanymarker. Many foods from those countries such as pasta, sausages, and desserts are common in the nation's diet.A sweet paste, Dulce de Leche is the national obsession, used to fill cookies, cakes, pancakes, milhojas, and alfajores. The alfajores are shortbread cookies sandwiched together with Dulce de Leche or a fruit paste. Dulce de Leche is used also in flan con Dulce de Leche. On rainy days, the traditional snack is "tortas fritas," a food similar to Indian fry bread, fried in lard.

The national drink is the Grappamiel. Grappamiel is an alcoholic drink which is very popular in rural areas. It is distilled from sugar cane and honey. It is often consumed in the cold mornings of autumn and winter to warm up the body.

A traditional drink is an infusion called mate. The dried leaves and twigs of the yerba mate plant (Ilex paraguariensis) are placed in a small cup made from a gourd. Hot water is then poured into the gourd at near-boiling point so as to not burn the herb and spoil the flavour. The drink is sipped through a metal or cane straw, known as a Bombilla.

  • Asado: both the tradition of grilling beef over embers (which translates to barbecue in American English), and the dish, "tira de asado".
  • Chivito: a sandwich containing steak, ham, cheese, tomato, lettuce, and mayonnaise.
  • Choripán: a very popular Uruguayan fast food. A grilled "chorizo" and a crusty bread such as a baguette, with tomato, lettuce and mayonnaise.
  • Empanada : a small pie or turnover, most commonly filled with meat or ham and cheese.
  • Empanada Gallega: a fish pie, with sauce, onions and green peppers. Brought by the immigrants from Galiciamarker.
  • Fainá: a mix of chick pea flower, salt, water and olive oil, originally called "farinata" cooked like a pizza on a flat tray. Brought by immigrants from Liguria (Italy).
  • Gnocchi (known as "ñoquis") is traditionally eaten on the 29th day of each month. This was the day before payday, when people were at their poorest. Gnocchi made a cheap meal prepared from only mashed potatores and flour and provided a hearty meal. On these occasions, some people leave a coin or a banknote under the plate to attract prosperity.
  • Húngara: very similar to the Frankfurter, but very spicy.
  • Milanesa: a thin, breaded steak. There is a great variety, such as: Milanesa Napolitana, Milanesa Rellena and Suprema Maryland.
  • Lehmeyun: an Armenian dish, brought by the Armenian immigrants.
  • Pancho: the typically Uruguayan hot dog: a bun called "pan de Viena" filled with a "Frankfurter" with mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise or "salsa golf" on top.
  • Pascualina: a spinach pie, not unlike the spinach pies found throughout the Mediterranean. The name makes a reference to Pascua, 'Easter'.
  • Pastel de carne: in English: meat pie. Chopped meat, smash potatoes, green peppers, olives, eggs.
  • Russian salad: potatoes, carrots, peas and mayonnaise.

Due to its strong Italian tradition, all the famous Italian pasta dishes are found in Uruguay:ravioli, spaghetti, lasagna, tortellini, fettuccine, cannelloni, fusilli, agnolotti, tagliatelle, capellini, vermicelli, penne rigatti, fagioloni, cellentani, rotini, bucatini, farfalle and the traditional gnocchi. Although the pasta can be served with a lot of sauces, there is one special sauce that was created by Uruguayans. The Caruso Sauce is a pasta sauce made from double cream, meat extract, onions, ham and mushrooms. It is very popular with sorrentinos and agnolotti. There is also a huge variety of pizza, as well as calzone, fugazzetas, figazzas, fainás, and cheese fainá.

  • Alfajores: shortbread cookies, sandwiched together with Dulce de Leche or a fruit paste.
  • Bizcochos: buttery flaky pastry with many variants, the croissants being one of the most popular.
  • Budín inglés: in English: "English pudding". A pudding with fruits and nuts, very popular in Christmas and New Year's Eve.
  • Chajá: a dessert with meringue, sponge cake, "Chajá" cream and peaches. It is created by a well know firm in the city of Paysandúmarker.
  • Dulce de leche: a sweet treat made of milk and sugar. Is used in many Uruguayan desserts.
  • Dulce de membrillo: a sweet quince paste.
  • Flan: is a kind of rich custard dessert with a layer of soft caramel on top. It can be served with Dulce de Leche too (Flan con dulce de leche).
  • Garrapiñada: a very popular treat, made with peanuts, cocoa, vanilla and sugar. It is sold in little bags in the downtown streets.
  • Martín Fierro: a slice of cheese and a slice of quince paste (dulce de membrillo).
  • Pastafrola: an pie made of quince paste (dulce de membrillo).
  • Ricardito: Also as popular, this is a cream filled treat, covered with chocolate on a waffle base. It has different variants and it's sold in most kiosks in individual boxes.
  • Strudel: the famous apple pastry from Germanymarker.


Centenario Stadium
The main sport in Uruguay is soccer. In 1924, Uruguay sent its national team to the Olympics in Paris, the first South American nation to compete in Europe. They won gold at the competition, as well as at the next Olympics in Amsterdam in 1928. In addition, the Uruguay national football team is one of only five nations to win the FIFA World Cup on two or more occasions. In 1930, Uruguay hosted the first ever World Cup and went on to win the competition, defeating Argentina 4–2 in the final. Uruguay won the 1950 FIFA World Cup as well, famously defeating the favored hosts, Brazil, 2–1 in the last game of the final series. Uruguay is by far the smallest country, population wise, to win a World Cup. Out of the World Cup winners, the nation with the second smallest population is Argentinamarker (winners of the 1978 and 1986 editions), which has over 40 million people according to the latest estimate; the 2002 census has Uruguay's current population slightly under 3.4 million. In fact, only six nations with population smaller than Uruguay have ever participated in any World Cup.

Uruguay is also the smallest member nation of CONMEBOL, South American Football Association. Nevertheless, the Uruguayan national team has won the Copa América 14 times, a record it shares with Argentina.

The most popular football teams in Uruguay are Club Nacional de Football (Three times World champions, three times Copa Libertadores de América champions, two times Copa Interamericana champions, one time Recopa Sudamericana champions) and Club Atlético Peñarol (Three times World champions, five times Copa Libertadores de América champions). Those two, are followed by, Defensor Sporting Club, Danubio, historic teams as Montevideo Wanderers, and other popular teams like Cerro and Rampla Juniors. Uruguay has had many great known players such as Obdulio Varela, Juan Schiaffino, Enzo Francescoli, Alvaro Recoba and Diego Forlan (2005 and 2009 European Golden Shoe winner).

Estancia tourism

Estancia tourism is based upon traditional, folkloristic and/or historical elements of Uruguay and the remaining resources of the historic ranches (estancias) from Uruguay's "golden era".

International rankings

Political and economic rankings
GDP per capita – 60th highest, at I$11,969
Human Development Index – 46th high, at 0.852
Income Equality, 0.449 (Gini Index)
Literacy Rate – 51st, at 97.7%
Unemployment rate – 112th, at 8.70%

Health rankings
Fertility rate- 140th most fertile, at 1.85 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 highest death rate, at 9.16 per 1000 people
Life Expectancy – 47th highest, at 76.4 years
:Suicide Rate – 24th highest suicide rate, at 15.1 for males and 6.4 for females per 100,000 people
HIV/AIDS rate – 108th most cases, at 0.30%

Other rankings
CO2 emissions – 125th highest emissions, at 1.65 tonnes per capita
Electricity Consumption – 88th highest consumption of electricity, at 7,762,000,000 kWh
Broadband Internet access – no data
Global Peace Index – 25th highest peace rate in 2009

Comparative ranking by index
Index (Year) Author / Editor / Source Year of




Human Poverty, HPI-1 (3) United Nations
Poverty below $2 a day (4) United Nations
Global Peace The Economist
140 21º
Corruption Perception (6) Transparency International
180 23º
Democracy The Economist
167 23º
Prosperity Index Legatum Institute
104 36º
Press Freedom Reporters Without Borders
169 37º
Economic Freedom The Wall Street Journal
157 38º
Human Development United Nations
177 46º
Quality-of-life The Economist
111 46º
Travel and Tourism Competitiveness World Economic Forum
130 63º
Global Competitiveness World Economic Forum
131 65º
Income inequality (5) United Nations
126 88º
(1) Worldwide ranking among countries evaluated.
(2) Ranking among the 20 Latin American countries (Puerto Rico is not included).
(3) Ranking among 108 developing countries with available data only.
(4) Ranking among 71 developing countries with available data only. Countries in the sample surveyed between 1990 and 2005. Refers to population below income poverty line as defined by the World Bank's $2 per day indicator
(5) Because the Gini coefficient used for the ranking corresponds to different years depending of the country, and the underlying household surveys differ in method and in the type of data collected, the distribution data are not strictly comparable across countries. The ranking therefore is only a proxy for reference purposes, and though the source is the same, the sample is smaller than for the HDI
(6) The 2008 CPI for Uruguay is equal to that of Chilemarker, therefore both countries are tied in first place for Latin America.


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