Home page  
About Uruguay  
Production systems  
Sheep breeds &
wool production
 
Shearing & clip
preparation
 
Uruguayan Wool
Secretariat
 
Animal welfare  
Sustainable fibre  
Exporters  
Brokers  
Statistics  
Photo Gallery  
     
Contact us  
 

 

 
     
 

 

 

 


I. Introduction

Uruguay (country) (Spanish República Oriental del Uruguay), republic in east central South America, second smallest country on the continent, bounded on the north by Brazil, on the east by Brazil and the Atlantic Ocean, on the south by the Atlantic Ocean and the Río de la Plata, and on the west by Argentina. The Uruguay River forms the entire western boundary. The area of Uruguay is 176,215 sq km (68,037 sq mi). Montevideo is the country's capital, chief port, and economic center.


Uruguay was a part of Spain's colonial empire in the Americas until the early 1800s, when revolutionary forces ousted the Spanish. Both Argentina and Brazil then laid claim to Uruguayan territory and lent support to the opposing political factions struggling to control the region. International mediation of the dispute led to the establishment of Uruguay as an independent nation in 1828. Throughout most of its history, Uruguay has been a democracy. However, a leftist guerrilla movement in the 1970s led to a harsh crackdown that resulted in more than a decade of repressive military dictatorship. Democracy was restored in the 1980s.


Unlike most South American nations, Uruguay has a population that is largely of European origin, with few mestizos (people of mixed European and Native American ancestry) and no remaining indigenous people. Uruguay is a highly urbanized country, even though its economy is based largely on agriculture, particularly livestock raising, which flourishes on the rolling plains of the countryside. Tourism is also important, with foreign travelers attracted to the fine beaches along the Atlantic coast.

II. Land and Resources

Uruguay is in many ways a transition zone between the plains of the Argentine Pampas and the hilly Brazilian uplands. The terrain varies from rolling plains to low plateaus and hills. Uruguay has 660 km (410 mi) of coastline along the Atlantic Ocean and its estuary, the Río de la Plata. The country has an additional 813 km (505 mi) of frontage along its boundary rivers, including 435 km (270 mi) on the Uruguay River.

A. Natural Regions

The terrain in the south consists of grassy, rolling plains. Along the Atlantic coast, lagoons, sandy beaches, and sand dunes extend inland for 8 km (5 mi) or more. In the north and northwest is a low plateau, the Cuchilla de Haedo, diversified by ridges of hills that rise to an extreme height of 377 m (1,237 ft) above sea level. The eastern portion of the country is dominated by the Cuchilla Grande, a hilly region that extends generally south from Brazil to a point near Punta del Este; the Cuchilla Grande rises to 501 m (1,644 ft) at Mirador Nacional, the highest elevation in Uruguay.

The Cuchilla Grande acts as a drainage divide between the shorter streams flowing east to the Atlantic and streams flowing west to the Uruguay River. West of the divide the country is gently rolling; the only breaks in this surface occur along the relatively narrow river valleys. Woodland occurs chiefly along the riverbanks. The Río Negro is the principal river of the Uruguayan interior; only its lower portion is navigable. The Uruguay River is navigable from its mouth to Salto.

B. Climate

Uruguay has a temperate climate. The average temperature for the warmest months, January and February, is 21.7°C (71°F), and for the coldest month, June, 10°C (50°F). Rainfall is well distributed and averages about 890 mm (about 35 in) a year. During the winter months cold storms, known as pamperos, blow from the southwest, but frost is virtually unknown in most parts of the country.

C. Natural Resources

The country's principal resources are agricultural; minerals are scarce. Except for the sandy, marshy soils along the eastern coast, the soils are generally very fertile. A lush grass cover provides ample supplies of organic matter, and moderate, evenly distributed rainfall prevents excessive leaching, which can wash nutrients out of soil. Hydroelectric power is of major importance in Uruguay. 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.

D. Plants and Animals

The predominant vegetation in Uruguay is tall prairie grass. The bluish-tinted prairies provide an extremely rich natural pasture and still retain much of their original character. On the ridges, tall grass gives way to less nutritious varieties of short bunchgrass. Forests cover about three percent of Uruguay, which has a smaller forest area than any other South American country. On the prairies, a small purple flower grows in such abundance that Uruguay sometimes is called the Purple Land. Other flowering plants are 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 of the central region and the north. In the coastal area, pine and eucalyptus trees have been planted to halt the movement of sand. Poplar, cypress, oak, cedar, mulberry, and magnolia also have been introduced.

Puma, rhea (American ostrich), tapir, and seal, which were relatively abundant when the Spanish first visited Uruguay, are now scarce. Deer, otter, wild hog, fox, wildcat, armadillo, anteater, and various rodents are the most frequently seen mammals.

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 lizard, tortoise, rattlesnake, and a viper called the víbora de la cruz. Alligators are found in the upper waters of the Uruguay River. Large spiders are numerous.

III. Population

The people of Uruguay are predominantly of European origin, and many of them are foreign-born. They came chiefly from Spain, Italy, Brazil, Argentina, and France, although after World War II (1939-1945) some immigrants arrived from eastern and central Europe. Only about 5 to 10 percent are mestizos (persons of mixed European and Native American ancestry). None of the small original Native American population remains.

Uruguay has a large middle class, which developed in the 20th century, partly because the government employed a large portion of the population in white-collar jobs. These jobs afforded many people slow but steady upward social mobility, but they also created a considerable gap between the urban rich and the rural poor.

A. Population Characteristics

The population of Uruguay is 3,332,782 (2000 estimate). The average population density is 19 persons per sq km (49 per sq mi). The population is concentrated near the coast. Only 9 percent of the population is rural. Migration from farms to cities and the resultant strain on cities has been a serious social and economic problem. Since the 1960s tourism has stimulated the development of beach resorts east of Montevideo. The most famous of these resorts, Punta del Este, draws vacationers from all over the world. In the interior cities, economic activity centers on agriculture.

B. Principal Cities

The principal cities of Uruguay are Montevideo (population, 1996, 1,378,707), the country's capital, chief port, and economic center; Salto (117,597), a center of commerce, shipping, and the meat-salting and meat-packing industries; and Paysandú (111,509), a port and center of the meat-packing and frozen-meat industries.

C. Religion and Language

Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the constitution of Uruguay. Three-quarters of the people belong to the Roman Catholic Church. Spanish is the official language.

D. Education

Uruguay has one of the highest rates of literacy (97.8 percent of the adult population) in Latin America. 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. In 1996 primary schools numbered 2,415 and were attended by 345,600 students; secondary schools had an enrollment of 170,700. Institutions of higher education include the University of the Republic (1849) and about 40 teacher-training schools.

E. Culture and Art

Western European tradition is widespread in Uruguay today. By the 19th century most of the Native Americans had been supplanted by Europeans, chiefly Spaniards and Italians. Since then the country has adopted the cultural institutions of these immigrants. As in Argentina, which has folk music and dances similar to those of Uruguay, the gaucho (South American cowboy) has been the subject of folklore and music.

1. Literature

Colonial literature was largely limited to science, education, and religion. Uruguay's first noteworthy writer to use gaucho themes was 18th-century poet Bartolomé Hidalgo. Although not a gaucho himself, 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 around the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.

2. Painting

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.

3. Music

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 composers of the 20th century were Eduardo Fabini, whose works are based mainly on native themes; Cluzeau Mortet; Vincente Ascone; and Héctor Tosar, who is also a pianist.

F. Cultural Institutions

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.

IV. Economy

Agriculture, specifically stock raising, is of primary importance to the economy, although manufacturing is increasing in significance. Most businesses are privately owned, but the government operates the state railways, electrical power and telephones, and the official broadcasting service. In 1997 budget figures showed $6.3 billion in revenue and $6.6 billion in expenditure.

A. Agriculture

Stock raising is the principal agricultural activity of Uruguay and the mainstay of the economy, contributing more than 35 percent of yearly Uruguayan exports in the form of meat, wool, and hides. The moderate climate, with few local variations in temperature, and the even distribution of precipitation make it possible to pasture stock throughout the year. In 1999 livestock numbered 10.7 million cattle, 15.5 million sheep, 500,000 horses, and 360,000 hogs. Wool production in 1999 was 75,503 metric tons. Only 7 percent of the land is devoted to crops, although the area under cultivation is gradually increasing. The principal crops are sugarcane, sugar beets, wheat, rice, potatoes, sorghum, and corn.

B. Forestry and Fishing

In 1998 some 3.9 million cubic meters (137 million cubic feet) of roundwood were cut; most of the harvest is typically used for fuel. The fishing industry expanded dramatically during the 1970s. The total catch in 1997 was 136,912 metric tons.

C. Mining and Manufacturing

Mineral production in Uruguay is comparatively unimportant to the economy. The principal mining activity is the quarrying of sand and clay. The government has encouraged the development of export-oriented manufacturing industries; overall industrial production grew rapidly in the late 1970s but declined from 1980 to 1988. The leading industrial activities are the manufacture of woolen, cotton, and rayon textiles 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. A steel-manufacturing plant at Nueva Palmira was opened in the early 1980s.

D. Currency, Banking, and Trade

The legal currency of Uruguay is the peso uruguayo, consisting of 100 centésimos (10.50 pesos uruguayos equal U.S.$1; 1998 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 (1896) is a state bank and the financial agent of the government. The Central Bank of Uruguay (1967) is the sole bank of issue and controls private banking.

Foreign trade plays an important role in the economy of Uruguay. In 1998 exports were valued at $2.9 billion and imports at $3.8 billion. The leading purchasers of the country's exports are Brazil, Argentina, the United States, Germany, and Italy; chief sources for imports are Brazil, Argentina, and the United States. Textiles and textile products, meats, fish, rice, and hides are the most important exports. Tourism, especially from Argentina, is an increasingly important source of foreign currency. Uruguay imports raw materials for manufacturing, fuel and lubricants, food products, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, construction materials, synthetic plastics and resins, machinery and parts, and motor vehicles. Uruguay is a founding member of the Latin American Integration Association (LAIA) and of 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 trade and regional integration. The MERCOSUR group, which also includes Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay and is headquartered in Montevideo, works toward establishing duty-free trade between members.

E. Transportation and Communications

About 90 percent of the Uruguayan railroad system was British-owned until 1947, when it was purchased by the government of Uruguay. The railroad system has a total of 3,003 km (1,866 mi) of track. The national airline, known as PLUNA, was sold to private interests in 1994. Several foreign airlines also provide service to and from Uruguay. About one-eighth of Uruguay's road system is hard surfaced. River transport is extensive; navigable waterways total about 1,250 km (about 780 mi).

In 1997 Uruguay had 603 radio receivers and 239 television sets for every 1,000 inhabitants. Some 36 daily newspapers are published.

F. Labor

The chief labor federation, the National Confederation of Workers, includes 200 unions, with a total of about 900,000 members

V. Government

According to the constitution of 1966, Uruguay has a democratic republican form of government with a popularly elected president and legislature. In 1973, however, the National Congress was dissolved by the military, and in 1976 the elected president was deposed. The country was subsequently ruled by a military-supported regime. General elections held in 1984 paved the way for a return to civilian rule.

A. Executive

From the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, executive power in Uruguay was held by a president elected by the Council of the Nation, a body composed of the Council of State (the legislature) and 25 high-ranking military officers. The electoral system restored in 1984 provides for a president chosen by universal suffrage for a five-year term.

B. Legislature

The General Assembly, 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.

C. Political Parties

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 two important military leaders, General Manuel Oribe and General José F. Rivera, respectively. During most of the 19th century the titles denoted little more than the personal followings of these two men and of their successors. Gradually, the Colorado Party's chief support came from the cities and that of the Blancos came from the country. As European immigrants brought more radical ideas to the country, the Colorados became associated with the more liberal urban population, while the Blancos typified the conservative and traditionalist elements of the rural population.

However, since the 1930s there has been no significant programmatic contrast between the two parties. Rather, both Colorados and Blancos have been divided into several factions, and the political divisions among these factions have been far more important than any division between the parties themselves. By the 1990s both the Colorados and the Blancos were conservative.

The Communist Party was legalized in Uruguay in 1985. A leftist coalition, known as the Broad Front, grew in popularity in the 1990s. The Broad Front included Communist and Socialist parties and replaced the Colorados as the party of the left.

D. Local Government

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

E. Judiciary

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 five-year terms. The administrative courts hear cases involving the functioning of state administration. Lower courts consist of 19 civil courts and 10 criminal and correctional courts in Montevideo, and departmental courts in the departmental capitals and other large towns.

F. Health and Welfare

The ministry of public health and its various appointed commissions have established health centers and clinics, checked the incidence of tuberculosis, and lowered the infant mortality rate. In 1992 Uruguay had one physician for every 312 inhabitants and one hospital bed for every 222 inhabitants. Life expectancy at birth in 2000 averaged 80 years for women and 73 for men.

The country 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.

G. Defense

In 1998 Uruguay had an active volunteer army of 17,600 soldiers. The navy and air force were small, having forces of 5,000 and 3,000, respectively. Military service is not compulsory.

VI. History

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 discouraged by the Charrúa. The first permanent settlement was made in 1624 by the Spanish on the Río Negro at Soriano.

A. 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 (1830-1834), who were distinguishable by their red (colorado) hatbands, appealed to Brazil for support. The followers of Manuel Oribe, the country's second president (1835-1838), who were distinguishable by their white (blanco) hatbands, turned to Argentina. From these factions arose Uruguay's traditional political parties, the Blancos and the Colorados.

B. 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.

C. 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).

D. 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 January 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.

E. 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, a Peruvian Inca who had led an uprising against the Spaniards in 1780), 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 elections in 1971 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. After widespread arrests in 1971, some 150 Tupamaros escaped in two separate prison breaks. 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 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.

F. 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 then dissolved the legislature, replacing it with a 25-member appointed Council of State that was dominated by the military. The Communist-led National Labor Confederation (CNT) responded with a general strike, which was broken by the government on July 11 after violent confrontations. On August 11 the autonomy of the unions was ended 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.

Such plans contrasted with the wishes of the armed forces for a gradual return to democracy. The military deposed Bordaberry in June 1976. A new national council of 25 civilians and 21 military officers subsequently elected Aparicio Méndez, a former minister of public health, as president for a five-year term. One of the first acts of his government was to withhold political rights from people active in politics between 1966 and 1973. The military regime maintained intense political repression. 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. In 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 November 1983 and a general strike in January 1984. 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.

G. Civilian Government

Presidential elections were held in November 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. He took office in March 1985. 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. The government executed about 150 Uruguayans between 1973 and 1985. About 200 people “disappeared,” and thousands of others were imprisoned and tortured.

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 includes Communists, Socialists, and former Tupamaro guerrillas, made significant inroads against the more traditional Blanco and Colorado parties.

In November 1999 the Colorado Party's Jorge Batlle defeated the Broad Front's Tabaré Vásquez in Uruguay's presidential election. Vásquez had forced a runoff by winning the first round in October, and 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.


Source: Microsoft Encarta encyclopedia

 

E-mail: contact_us @ wool.com.uy
Powered by SUL