[yoor-uh-gwey, -gwahy; Sp. oo-roo-gwahy]
Uruguay, officially Oriental Republic of Uruguay, republic (2005 est. pop. 3,416,000), 68,536 sq mi (177,508 sq km), SE South America. The second smallest country (after Suriname) in South America, Uruguay extends from a short Atlantic coastline along the north bank of the Río de la Plata to the Uruguay River, which separates it on the west from Argentina. To the north is Brazil. The capital and largest city is Montevideo.

Land and People

The land is an area of topographical transition from the humid Argentine Pampa to the uplands of S Brazil. North of the alluvial plain, known as the Banda Oriental [Span.,=east bank, i.e., of the Uruguay and the Río de la Plata], Uruguay generally has long, sweeping slopes and grasslands, wooded valleys with slow-moving rivers, and long ranges of low hills, with some huge granite blocks that stand out against the horizon. Although Uruguay is within the temperate zone, climatic variations are moderate; generally the climate is warm, with rainfall evenly distributed through the seasons, but in some years there are severe droughts.

Most of the population is concentrated in the south; over 40% live in Montevideo. Almost 90% of Uruguay's people are of European descent, Spanish and Italian predominating; there are few pure indigenous Uruguayans. The original inhabitants, the Charrúa, were absorbed into the Spanish and Portuguese populations after long resistance; today the mestizo element (less than 10% of the total population) is found principally in N Uruguay. Spanish is the official language, but a dialect containing elements of Spanish and Portuguese is spoken along the Brazilian frontier. The majority of the population is nominally Roman Catholic. The nation has long been remarkable for its contributions to literature and the arts (see Spanish American literature). The Univ. of the Republic is in Montevideo.


Uruguay's greatest natural resource is its rich agricultural land, almost 90% of which is devoted to livestock raising. Cattle, sheep, horses, and pigs are the major livestock animals. Grains for cattle fattening and human consumption make up the bulk of the harvested crops. Rice is the major food crop, followed by wheat and sugarcane. Corn is the principal feed concentrate. Barley, oats, and grain sorghums are also grown, and oil crops (flaxseed and sunflower seed) and sugar beets are important. In the vicinity of Salto there are many orchards and vineyards.

Despite Uruguay's basically agricultural-pastoral economy, its dependence upon imports for most raw materials, and its lack of fuel resources, there is considerable industrialization. The processing of agricultural and animal products accounts for about half of the manufacturing activity; Fray Bentos and Paysandú are noted for their meatpacking plants. Other industries manufacture electrical machinery, transportation equipment, petroleum products, textiles, and chemicals. A large refinery near Montevideo processes imported crude oil. Mineral resources include marble, stone, granite, and bauxite. There are important hydroelectric plants on the Uruguay and Negro rivers. Fishing and forestry add to the country's economy.

Uruguay's magnificent beaches, such as those at Punta del Este, are great economic assets; tourists, chiefly from Argentina, contribute much to the national income. The country's transportation facilities are extensively developed. Meat, wool, and hides and skins constitute the majority of Uruguay's exports; rice, fish, and dairy products are also exported. Machinery, chemicals, and vehicles are imported. Brazil, the United States, Argentina, and Russia are the main trading partners. Uruguay is a member of Mercosur.


Uruguay is governed under the constitution of 1967 as amended. Executive power is held by the president, who is both head of state and head of government. The president is popularly elected for a five-year term and may not serve consecutive terms. The bicameral legislature, the General Assembly, consists of a 30-seat Chamber of Senators and a 99-seat Chamber of Representatives. The members of the General Assembly are also elected for five-year terms. Administratively, Uruguay is divided into 19 departments.


European Involvement and the Struggle for Independence

Although the Río de la Plata was explored as early as 1515, it was not until 1624 that the Spanish established the first permanent settlement, at Soriano in SW Uruguay. The Portuguese founded (1680) a short-lived settlement at Colonia, and in 1717 they fortified a hill on the site of Montevideo. Fearing encroachment and competition, the Spanish drove them out (1724) and from then until the wars of independence controlled the Banda Oriental. Uruguay's position between Spanish and Portuguese settlements, and later between Argentina and Brazil, helped determine the emergence of Uruguay as an independent state. On the pampas stock raising spread; gradually the unbounded range gave way to huge estancias (cattle ranches) and small settlements concentrated about the ranch buildings.

It was the rough and hardy gaucho who fought for independence, and the traditions, personal loyalties, and rivalries of the gauchos helped to keep the nation in almost continual strife for three quarters of a century after independence was won. When the revolutionary banner was raised in the Argentine in 1810, the leaders of the Banda Oriental, notably Artigas, accepted the cause, but in 1814 Artigas broke with the military junta of Buenos Aires and began a struggle for Uruguayan independence that lasted until the Brazilian occupation of Montevideo in 1820. Five years later a small group, known as the Thirty-three Immortals, under the guidance of Lavalleja, declared Uruguay independent.

Independence and War

In 1827 at Ituzaingó Brazil was defeated. Great Britain, opposing Brazilian expansion south to the Río de la Plata, helped ultimately to create an independent Uruguay as a buffer state between Argentina and Brazil. The peace (1828) stipulated that the new Uruguayan constitution should be acceptable to both the larger nations. When it was adopted in 1830, Fructuoso Rivera was chosen as president. He was promptly faced with revolts led by his old rival, Lavalleja, and when he was succeeded in office by Manuel Oribe, he himself revolted against Oribe, who was in sympathy with Juan Manuel de Rosas of Argentina. In the long fratricidal struggle that ensued, the two dominant political parties of Uruguay emerged, Rivera's Colorados [reds] and Oribe's Blancos [whites].

Oribe was driven out in 1838, but later with the aid of Rosas returned to begin the long siege of Montevideo. The Italian patriot Garibaldi fought in the Uruguayan wars from 1842 to 1846. In 1851 the Argentine general Urquiza drove out Rosas and brought an end to the Uruguayan civil war. When in 1864 Brazil presented a claim for damages to property and nationals during the civil wars, Uruguay refused to accept it. Brazil invaded and, aided by the Uruguayan general Vanancio Flores (a Colorado), overthrew the Blanco president. Paraguay, under Francisco Solano López, came to the assistance of the Blancos, whereupon Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay formed a tripartite alliance against Paraguay (see Triple Alliance, War of the). During the 19th and 20th cent. waves of immigration, chiefly from Europe, augmented the Uruguayan population.

Government Reforms

Until the rise of José Batlle y Ordóñez early in the 20th cent., Uruguay experienced many revolutions and counterrevolutions. In Batlle's second term as president (1911-15), however, began the social and material progress that made Uruguay one of the more stable and prosperous nations of Latin America. By a coup in 1933, Gabriel Terra suspended the constitution of 1919, and his rule was strongly personalistic. Yet, under Terra's rule, which ended in 1938, the socialistic measures for public welfare were not reversed but forwarded; the labor code was broadened, social benefits increased, and industry further nationalized.

Batlle's influence on Uruguayan political practice did not end with his death; concerned lest the country again fall prey to dictatorial caudillos, he had advocated the creation of an executive governing council. This reform, inspired by the Swiss multiple-executive system of government, was adopted in 1951; the office of president was abolished and replaced by a nine-man council with a president, chosen from the majority party, to act as titular head of state. The plural executive, however, proved ineffectual; factionalism and apathy within the council hindered action on social and economic problems, which became pressing in the mid-1950s and acute during the 60s.

Civil Strife in Modern Uruguay

The increasing use of synthetics and the steadily declining price of wool cut deeply into Uruguay's exports of wool and leather. Inflation and unemployment grew, and the vast, inefficient bureaucracy became a burden to the economy. In 1958 the Colorados, who had been in power for over 93 years, were overwhelmingly defeated by the conservative Blancos, who won again in 1962 by a narrower margin. Throughout the 1960s and early 70s the economic decline continued, intensified by droughts and floods and accompanied by massive social unrest—riots, paralyzing strikes, and the emergence of a terrorist Marxist guerrilla group, the well-organized Tupamaro National Liberation Front (see Tupamaros).

In 1967 a new constitution abolished the plural executive and reinstated a powerful president. That same year the Colorado party returned to power, with Oscar Gestido as president. Gestido died after several months in office and was succeeded by his vice president, Jorge Pacheco. Pacheco and his hand-picked successor, José María Bordaberry (who was elected in 1972), ruled with increasingly dictatorial powers. As the Tupamaros increased their terrorist activities, kidnapping foreign diplomats and assassinating high officials, the army assumed tremendous power, even pressuring President Bordaberry (June, 1973) to dissolve the congress. The military, which made Aparicio Méndez president in 1976, ruled Uruguay with brutal force, regularly disregarding human rights by kidnapping, imprisoning, torturing, or murdering citizens.

The government's repressive tactics caused a massive emigration of Uruguayans, mostly to Argentina. After a 1980 plebiscite to continue de facto military rule was voted down by the populace, the military government steadily lost power. General Gregorio Álvarez became president in 1981. In 1985, Julio María Sanguinetti of the centrist Colorado party became president, restoring civilian government but also granting amnesty (1986) to former leaders accused of human-rights violations (for crimes committed in Uruguay). Luis Alberto Lacalle Herrera of the conservative National (Blanco) party became president in 1990. He was forced to form a coalition government in order to secure a parliamentary majority, and his attempts to introduce free-market reforms were obstructed.

Sanguinetti was returned to the presidency by a slim margin in the 1994 elections, and also had to form a coalition; he sought cutbacks in Uruguay's bankrupt social security program and modest amounts of privatization. In 1999, Jorge Batlle Ibañez, also of the Colorado party, was elected president; during the election, he faced a strong challenge on the left from the Broad Front's Tabaré Vázquez, the former mayor of Montevideo. Since the late 1990s the country's economy has been hurt by crises in the economies of Brazil and Argentina, its principal trade partners, resulting in several years of recession that became particularly severe in 2002. In 2003, Batlle Ibañez announced that the government would compensate families of victims of the 1976-85 military dictatorship and of the guerrilla groups that opposed it.

Uruguay's economic difficulties enabled Tabaré Vázquez to win the presidency without a runoff in 2004; his Broad Front coalition also won majorities in both legislative houses. Vázquez became the first leftist to be elected president in Uruguay. The building in Uruguay of two pulp mills on the Uruguay River along the Argentina border led to tensions between the two nations throughout 2006; fearful of possible pollution from the mills, Argentinians blockaded several bridges between the nations. The International Court of Justice agreed to hear Argentina's contention that the mills violated a treaty on the use of the river but allowed construction to proceed while the court considered the case; it also refused to order Argentina to stop the protests, which continued into 2007.

Also in 2006, former president Bordaberry was charged and arrested in connection with the political murders of dissidents and others in 1976; in 2007 former president Álvarez was arrested on similar charges. The supreme court in 2009 declared the 1986 amnesty law unconstitutional. Álvarez, Uruguay's last military dictator, was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2009 for murder and human-rights offenses in connection with the disappearance of dissidents during military rule. In the Oct., 2009, elections the Broad Front won a narrow legislative majority, and after a runoff in November its presidential candidate, José "Pepe" Mujica, a former leftist guerrilla, also won.


See G. Pendle, Uruguay (3d ed. 1965); R. H. Brannon, The Agricultural Development of Uruguay (1968); J. H. Ferguson, The River Plata Republics (1968); T. E. Weil et al., Area Handbook for Uruguay (1971); M. E. Gilio, The Tupamaro Guerrillas (tr. 1973); M. H. Finch, A Political Economy of Uruguay Since 1890 (1981); M. Weinstein, Uruguay: Democracy at the Crossroads (1988).

Uruguay, river, c.1,000 mi (1,610 km) long, rising in S Brazil and flowing in an arc W, SW, and S to the Río de la Plata, an estuary; it forms part of the Brazil-Argentina border and most of the Argentina-Uruguay line. Its chief headstream is the Pelotas of S Brazil; the Río Negro of S Brazil and Uruguay is an important tributary. The lower river is navigable for oceangoing vessels for 130 mi (209 km) upstream. Its upper course is broken by waterfalls. Salto Grande Falls is the site of a joint hydroelectric project of Argentina and Uruguay. Concordia, Argentina, and Salto and Paysandú, Uruguay, are on the river.
Uruguay.(official full name in República Oriental del Uruguay; , Oriental Republic of Uruguay) is a country located in the southeastern part of South America. It is home to 3.46 million people, of whom 1.7 million live in the capital Montevideo and its metropolitan area.

It is bordered by Brazil to the north, by Argentina across the bank of both the Uruguay River to the west and the estuary of Río de la Plata to the southwest, and the South Atlantic Ocean to the southeast. Its surface is 176.215 km² being by its territorial extension the second smallest country in South America, larger only than Suriname and the French overseas department of French Guiana.

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 between 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. Uruguay's economy is on the whole more stable than in its surrounding states, and it maintains a solid reputation with investors.

According to Transparency International, Uruguay is the least corrupt country in Latin America (along with Chile), with its political and labor conditions being among the freest on the continent.

In November 2007 it became the first Latin American country and the second in all of the Americas (after Canada) to recognize same-sex civil unions at the national level.

94.6% of the population are of European descent. 47.1% of Uruguayans are declared Roman Catholics, 11.1% Protestant and 0.3% Jewish. 40.4% do not attend church. Uruguay is South America's most secular country, where there is no official religion, and in which church and state are separate.


The name "Uruguay" comes from Guaraní. It has many possible meanings. Some of the proposed meanings are:

  • "River of the uru" or "River of the country of the uru": a version attributed to Felix de Azara, which suggests that the name of the country comes from the word urú, which means "bird" in the vicinity of the Uruguay River (from uru = "bird", gua = "place of", and y = "water").
  • "River of colorful or 'painted' chinchillas (birds)": poetic interpretation attributed to Juan Zorrilla de San Martín.
  • "River of those who bring food": an anonymous version which has been popularized since the discovery of an old document written by Jesuit Lucas Marton.

NB: To distinguish Uruguayan nationals from the citizens of the Argentine city of Concepción del Uruguay, they are known in Spanish as uruguayos but officially called "Orientales" (Easterners) though, since the official name of the country is: Republica ORIENTAL del URUGUAY, meaning: Uruguay's Eastern Bank Republic,and not "Oriental Republic of Uruguay" as stated , while the inhabitants of Concepción del Uruguay are known as uruguayenses.


The inhabitants of Uruguay before European colonization of the area were various tribes of hunter gatherer native Americans, the best known being the Charrúa Indians, a small tribe driven south by the Guaraní Indians of Paraguay. The population is estimated at no more than 5,000 to 10,000.

Europeans arrived in the territory of present-day Uruguay in the year 1536, but 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 Villa Soriano on the southwestern coast of the Río Negro. In 1680 the Portuguese built a fort at Colonia del Sacramento. Spanish colonization increased as Spain sought to limit Portugal's expansion of Brazil's frontiers.

Another segment of colonial Uruguay's population consisted of people of African descent. Colonial Uruguay's African community grew in number as its members escaped harsh treatment in Buenos Aires. Many relocated to Montevideo, which had a larger black community, seemed less hostile politically than Buenos Aires, and had a more favorable climate with lower humidity.

As a province of the Viceroyalty of La Plata, colonial Uruguay was known as the Banda Oriental, or "Eastern Strip", referring to its location east of the Rio Uruguay. The inhabitants called themselves Orientales ("Easterners"), a term they still commonly use to refer to themselves.

Uruguay's capital, Montevideo, 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 Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires. Uruguay's early 19th century history was shaped by ongoing conflicts between the British, Spanish, Portuguese, 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.

The Uruguayans' road to independence was much longer than those of other countries in the Americas. Early efforts at attaining independence focused on overthrow of Spanish rule, a process begun by Jose Gervasio Artigas in 1811 when he led his forces to victory against the Spanish in the battle of Las Piedras on May 18, 1811. In 1816, Portuguese troops invaded present-day Uruguay, which led to its eventual annexation by Brazil in 1821 under the provincial name, Provincia Cisplatina. On April 19, 1825, thirty-three Uruguayan exiles led by Juan Antonio Lavalleja returned from Buenos Aires to lead an insurrection in Uruguay. They were known as the Treinta y Tres Orientales. Their actions inspired representatives from Uruguay to meet in Florida, a town in the recently liberated area, where they declared independence from Brazil on August 25, 1825. Uruguayan independence was not recognized by its neighbors until 1828, after the Argentina-Brazil War, when Britain, in search of new commercial markets, brokered peace between Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. On August 27, 1828, Uruguay was formally proclaimed independent at the preliminary peace talks between Brazil and Argentina.


Uruguay's politics take place in a framework of a presidential representative democratic republic, whereby the President of Uruguay is both head of state and head of government, and of a multi-party system. Executive branch is exercised by the government. Legislative branch is vested in both the government and the two chambers of the General Assembly of Uruguay. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.

For most of Uruguay's history, the Partido Colorado has been the government. The other "traditional" party of Uruguay, Partido Blanco, having 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 and giving state pickles and free services to the new urban immigrants which became dependent on the state. The elections of 2004, however, brought the Frente Amplio, a coalition of socialists, former Tupamaros, former communists and mainly 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 57th of 168 reported countries in 2006.

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 7.96 on the Democracy Index, located in the last position among the 28 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 CPI (Corruption Perception 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 (See Economy: Public Sector), to defend pensioners' incomes, and to protect water resources.


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 1800s. Tango, candombe, and murga are the three main styles of music in this city.


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

Department Area (square kilometres) Population* Capital
Artigas 11,928 78,019 Artigas
Canelones 4,536 485,028 Canelones
Cerro Largo 13,648 86,564 Melo
Colonia 6,106 119,266 Colonia del Sacramento
Durazno 11,643 58,859 Durazno
Flores 5,144 25,104 Trinidad
Florida 10,417 68,181 Florida
Lavalleja 10,016 60,925 Minas
Maldonado 4,793 140,192 Maldonado
Montevideo 530 1,326,064 Montevideo
Paysandú 13,922 113,244 Paysandú
Río Negro 9,282 53,989 Fray Bentos
Rivera 9,370 104,921 Rivera
Rocha 10,551 69,937 Rocha
Salto 14,163 123,120 Salto
San José 4,992 103,104 San José de Mayo
Soriano 9,008 84,563 Mercedes
Tacuarembó 15,438 90,489 Tacuarembó
Treinta y Tres 9,676 49,318 Treinta y Tres


At 176,214 square kilometres (68,036 square miles) of continental land and 142,199 square kilometres (54,903 sq mi) of jurisdictional waters and small river islands, Uruguay is the second smallest sovereign nation in South America (after Suriname) and the third smallest territory (French Guiana 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, the Uruguay River, the Laguna Merín and the Río Negro. The major internal river is the Río Negro ('black river'). Several lagoons are found along the Atlantic coast.

The highest point in the country is the Sierra de las Animas at 513.66 meters (1,685 ft 3 in) in the Sierra de Carapé mountain range. To the southwest is the Río de la Plata, the estuary of the Uruguay River, which forms the western border, and the Paraná River, that does not run through Uruguay itself.


Uruguay shares borders with Argentina and Brazil.

With Argentina:

Uruguay River to the west and Río de la Plata in the south.
With Brazil:
Chuy Stream 13 kilometres (8.1 mi), straight line (Chuy) 8.7 kilometres (5.4 mi), San Miguel Stream 13 km (8.1 mi), Merín Lagoon, 280.1 km (174 mi) Yaguarón River, 142.4 km (88.5 mi), Yaguarón 'Chico' River 18.5 km (11.5 mi), 'Arrollo de la Mina' Stream 20.4 km (12.7 mi), Aceguá straight line 37.2 km (23.1 mi), San Luis Stream 31.3 km (19.4 mi), North Branch of the San Luis Stream 3.6 km (2.2 mi), Straight line 8 km (5 mi), 'Cañada del Cementerio' 4 km (2.5 mi), Straight lines 0.6 km (0.4 mi), 'Cuchilla de Santa Ana' SE 168.5 km (104.7 mi), Rivera-Livramento 4.8 km (3 mi), 'Cuchilla de Santa Ana' 20.8 km (12.9 mi), 'Cuchilla Negra' 4189.3 km (2603.1 mi), 'Arrollo de la Invernada' Stream 37.8 km (23.5 mi), Cuareim River 313.4 km (194.7 mi)

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


The climate in Uruguay is temperate: it has warm summers and cold winters. The predominantly gently undulating landscape is also 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 in zone that act as a barrier, the air masses freely move by the territory, causing abrupt weather changes.

The coolest month is June, while the warmest is January. The rainfall is equally distributed throughout the year, but tends to be a bit more frequent in the autumn months. There can be frequent thunderstorms in the summer. Although snow is not very common, it snowed in 1913, 1918, 1930, 1962, 1963, 1975, 1980, 1989, 1991, 1992, and 2007. One of the coldest winter (from 1951) was 2007: Tºjuly average 7,6°C Montevideo-Carrasco airport , Tºjuly average 6,8°C 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).

Enclaves and exclaves

Uruguay's most important enclave is the Argentine island Isla Martín García in the Río de la Plata. The island is within the boundaries of Uruguayan waters. Since 1984, Uruguay has also an Antarctic base "General Artigas" on King George Island in Antarctica, which is part of the South Shetland Islands archipelago, at , some 100 km (62 mi) from the Antarctic peninsula itself; however, this base can not be considered an official exclave.


Uruguay has a middle-income economy, mainly dominated by the State services sector, an export-oriented agricultural sector and an industrial sector. Uruguay 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 stabler 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.

While some parts of the economy appeared to be resilient, the downturn had severe impact on the local population. Unemployment levels rose to more than 20%, real wages fell, the peso devalued. These worsening economic conditions 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 a Emergency Plan to attack the widespread problems of poverty and unemployment. In May 2008, the unemployment rate was below 7.2 % (See section: Social issues.)


Agriculture played such an important part in Uruguayan history and national identity until the middle of the twentieth century that the entire country was then 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 Zealand. 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.


The overwhelming majority of Uruguay's population is of predominantly European descent. People of Spanish and Italian ancestry are the most numerous, followed by those of French, German, Portuguese, British, Swiss, Russian, Polish, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Estonian Dutch, Belgian, Croatian, Austrian, Serbian, Greek, Scandinavian, Irish, Romanian and Armenian origin. According to the 2006 National Survey of Homes by the Uruguayan National Institute of Statistics: 94.6% chose European ancestry, 3.4% chose Afro/Black ancestry, and 2% chose Asian ancestry. Uruguay is the only country in the Americas without Amerindian descendance.

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 reminiscent of parts of Europe.

Some colonies such as Colonia Valdense (a Waldensian colony), Colonia Suiza (also named Nueva Helvecia, a mainly Swiss colony with some German and Austrian settlers), were founded in the department of Colonia. There are also towns founded by early British settlers such as Conchillas and Barker. A Russian colony called San Javier was founded in the department of Río Negro. Mennonite colonies can also be found in the department of Río Negro and in the department of Canelones. One of them, called El Ombú, is located near the city of Young.There are also some German colonies like Nuevo Berlin.

Uruguay has a large urban middle class and a literacy rate of 96.8% (1996 est). During the 1970s and 1980s, an estimated 600,000 Uruguayans emigrated, mainly to Spain, Italy, Argentina and Brazil. Other Uruguayans have settled in various countries in Europe, as well as in the United States, Canada, and Australia.


Church and state are officially separated since 1919. According to the 2006 National Survey of Homes by the Uruguayan National Institute of Statistics: 47.1% of Uruguayans define themselves as Roman Catholic, 23.2% as "believing in God but without religion", 17.2% as Atheist or Agnostic, 11.1% "Non-Catholic Christian" (Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran), 0.6% as followers of Umbanda or other "afro" religions, 0.3% as Jewish, and 0.4% chose "Other".

Social Issues

Data published by the United Nations showed the Gini index for Uruguay to be 0.449 in 2003. A score of 1.000 on this scale would constitute maximum inequality between social classes, and a score of 0.000 would constitute an even distribution of wealth.

A recent report used 2 indicators to estimate the number of people living in poverty in the country.

  • Indigence line: income of the family is not enough for the basic food consumption.
  • Poverty line: income of the family is not enough for food consumption, clothing, health and transport.

The numbers obtained depends according with the methodology used, the inform uses 3 different methods. According to the one proposed by the Regional Workshop about poverty measurement in 1996, which produces the highest values of all, the results for the first quarter of 2006 are:

Population below Indigence line: 3.01%

Population below Poverty line: 18%

The reports shows the indicators are improving as the country is recovering from the last 2002 crisis; in 2004, poverty indicators reached an all time high.

A new ministry of Social Development was created by the Broad Front (Uruguay) (Frente Amplio) government led by Tabare Vazquez, and an Emergency plan which targets the less favoured 200.000 Uruguayans.

The average income of a woman in 2002 in Uruguay was 71.8% of the income of men for the same activity. The average income of African heritage workers is 65% of that of those of European heritage.

Although rents in neighborhoods not in high demand are not very expensive in Uruguay, another property is usually required as a warranty for the contract, or a deposit which many cannot afford. This first condition makes renting a property especially difficult for the least favored sectors of the population. According to the INE, 23.3% of the population lives in a place neither owned nor rented. Some of them are proper built houses, but others are precarious constructions built illegally in public or private empty land just outside the cities. Thus, whole new poor neighborhoods have emerged in the last decades. They are called Asentamientos or more colloquially Cantegriles in ironic allusion to the fashionable Neighborhood of Cantegril in Punta del Este. The phenomenon is similar to the Favelas in Brazil, Villas Miseria in Argentina, Barrios in Venezuela, Arrabales in Spain, Poblaciones Callampa in Chile or Jacales in Mexico.


The main sport in Uruguay is football. 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 final. 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 Argentina (winners of the 1978 and 1986 editions) who currently have just over 40,000,000 people according to the latest estimate; the 2002 census has Uruguay's current population slightly under 3,400,000. The Uruguay national team has also won the Copa América 14 different 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), followed by Defensor, Danubio (last Uruguayan champion). Uruguay has had many great known players such as Enzo Francescoli, Alvaro Recoba and Diego Forlan (2005 European Golden Shoe winner).

Basketball, Rugby, and Tennis are other popular sports in Uruguay.

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 - , at 0.449 (Gini Index)
Literacy Rate - 51st, at 97.7%
Unemployment rate - 112th, at 8.70%Health rankings
Fertility rate- 139th 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 - 21th highest peace rate in 2008Comparative ranking by index
Index (Year) Author / Editor / Source Year of
Human Poverty, HPI-1 (2005)(3) United Nations (UNDP)
Poverty below $2 a day (1990-2005)(4) United Nations (UNDP)
Global Peace (2008) The Economist
140 21º
Corruption Perception (2008)(6) Transparency International
180 23º
Democracy (2006) The Economist
167 27º
Press Freedom (2007) Reporters Without Borders
169 37º
Human Development (2005) United Nations (UNDP)
177 46º
Economic Freedom (2008) The Wall Street Journal
157 46º
Quality-of-life (2005) The Economist
111 46º
Travel and Tourism Competitiveness (2008) World Economic Forum
130 61º
Global Competitiviness (2007) World Economic Forum
131 75º
Income inequality (1989-2007)(5) United Nations (UNDP)
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 suveyed between 1990-2005. Refers to population below income poverty line as define 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 is equal than Chile, therefore both countries are tied in the first place for Latin America.


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