Oriental Republic of Uruguay
Area: 176,000 sq. km. (68,000 sq. mi.); slightly
smaller than Oklahoma.
Cities: Capital--Montevideo (est. pop.
Terrain: Plains and low hills; 84% agricultural.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Uruguayan(s).
Population (2004): 3.2 million.
Annual growth rate: 0.6%.
Ethnic groups (est.): European descent 93%,
African descent 5%, mestizo 1%.
Religions: Roman Catholic 52%, Protestant and
other Christian 16%, Jewish 2%, non-professing
or other 30%.
Education: Literacy (2004)--97%.
Health: Life expectancy (2004)--75.4 yrs.
(79.2 yrs females; 71.3 yrs. males). Infant
mortality rate--15/1,000 (2003).
Work force (1.3 million, 2004): Manufacturing--13.5%;
Constitution: First 1830, current 1967, most
recently amended December 1996.
Branches: Executive--president (chief of
state and head of government). Legislative--General
Assembly consisting of a 99-seat Chamber of
Deputies and a 30-seat Senate. Judicial--Supreme
Court of Justice.
Administrative subdivisions: 19 departments with
Political parties/coalitions: Colorado Party,
Blanco (National) Party, Encuentro
Progresista-Frente Amplio, Nuevo Espacio.
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
Economy (2004 unless noted)
Gross domestic product (GDP): $13.2 billion;
$11.2 billion (2003)
Annual growth rate: 12.3%; +2.5% (2003); -11.0%
(2002); -3.4% (2001).
Per capita GDP: $4,078; $3,309 (2003).
Natural resources: Arable land, pastures,
hydroelectric power, granite, marble.
Agriculture (13% of GDP): Products--beef,
wool, rice, wheat, barley, corn.
Industry (31.7% of GDP): Types--meat
processing, wool, textiles, leather, leather
apparel, beverages and tobacco, chemicals,
cement, petroleum refining.
Services: 55% of GDP.
Trade: Exports (f.o.b.)--$2.9 billion:
meat, wool, hides, leather, wool products, fish,
rice, furs. Major markets--United States
(19.8%), Brazil (16.3%), Argentina (7.6%),
Germany (5.1%), Mexico (4.0%), China (3.9%).
Imports (c.i.f.)--$3.1 billion: machinery,
chemicals, fuel, vehicles. Major suppliers--Brazil
and Argentina (25.7% each), United States
(9.0%), China (7.1%), Germany (3.4%).
Uruguayans share a Spanish linguistic and
cultural background, even though about
one-quarter of the population is of Italian
origin. Most are nominally Roman Catholic
although the majority of Uruguayans do not
actively practice a religion. Church and state
are officially separated.
Uruguay is distinguished by its high literacy
rate, large urban middle class, and relatively
even income distribution. The average Uruguayan
standard of living compares favorably with that
of most other Latin Americans. Metropolitan
Montevideo, with about 1.4 million inhabitants,
is the only large city. The rest of the urban
population lives in about 20 towns. During the
past two decades, an estimated 500,000
Uruguayans have emigrated, principally to
Argentina and Spain. Emigration to the United
States also rose significantly. 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.
The only inhabitants of Uruguay before European
colonization of the area were the Charrua
Indians, a small tribe driven south by the
Guarani Indians of Paraguay. The Spanish
discovered the territory of present-day Uruguay
in 1516, but the Indians' fierce resistance to
conquest, combined with the absence of gold and
silver, limited settlement in the region during
the 16th and 17th centuries. The Spanish
introduced cattle, which became a source of
wealth in the region. Spanish colonization
increased as Spain sought to limit Portugal's
expansion of Brazil's frontiers.
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 1811, Jose
Gervasio Artigas, who became Uruguay´s national
hero, launched a successful revolt against
Spain. In 1821, the Provincia Oriental del Rio
de la Plata, present-day Uruguay, was annexed to
Brazil by Portugal. The Provincia declared
independence from Brazil in August 25, 1825
(after numerous revolts in 1821, 1823, and 1825)
but decided to adhere to a regional federation
The regional federation defeated Brazil after
a 3-year war. The 1828 Treaty of Montevideo,
fostered by the United Kingdom, gave birth to
Uruguay as an independent state. The nation's
first constitution was adopted in 1830. The
remainder of the 19th century, under a series of
elected and appointed presidents, saw
interventions by neighboring states, political
and economic fluctuations, and large inflows of
immigrants, mostly from Europe. Jose Batlle y
Ordoñez, president from 1903 to 1907 and again
from 1911 to 1915, set the pattern for Uruguay's
modern political development. He established
widespread political, social, and economic
reforms such as a welfare program, government
participation in many facets of the economy, and
a plural executive. Some of these reforms were
continued by his successors.
By 1966, economic, political, and social
difficulties led to constitutional amendments,
and a new constitution was adopted in 1967. In
1973, amid increasing economic and political
turmoil, the armed forces closed the Congress
and established a civilian-military regime,
characterized by repression and widespread human
rights abuses. A new constitution drafted by the
military was rejected in a November 1980
plebiscite. Following the plebiscite, the armed
forces announced a plan for return to civilian
rule. National elections were held in 1984.
Colorado Party leader Julio Maria Sanguinetti
won the presidency and served from 1985 to 1990.
The first Sanguinetti administration implemented
economic reforms and consolidated democracy
following the country's years under military
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
The National Party's Luis Alberto Lacalle won
the 1989 presidential election and served from
1990 to 1995. Lacalle executed major structural
economic reforms and pursued further
liberalization of the trade regime. Uruguay
became a founding member of MERCOSUR in 1991
(the Southern Cone Common Market, which includes
Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay). 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
continued into 2003.
The 1999 national elections were held under a
new electoral system established by
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 Frente Amplio
candidate Tabaré Vázquez.
The legislative coalition of the Colorado and
National parties that held during most of
Batlle´s administration ended in November 2002,
when the Blancos withdrew their ministers from
the cabinet. Throughout most of his
administration, President Batlle had to handle
Uruguay´s largest economic crisis in recent
history, which impacted on poverty and led to
increased emigration. Aside from successfully
addressing the crisis, Batlle increased
international trade, attracted foreign
investment and tried to resolve issues related
to Uruguayans who disappeared during the
On June 27, 2004 the parties held primary
elections to select their candidates for the
national elections to be held on October 31. The
Frente Amplio had already determined that
Vázquez would be its candidate, the Colorados
settled on former Interior Minister Guillermo
Stirling, and the Blanco Party chose Jorge
Larranaga, a former state governor and senator.
Vázquez won the national election in the first
round with a majority of the popular vote
(50.7%) and was sworn in as President on March
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Uruguay's 1967 constitution institutionalizes a
strong presidency, subject to legislative and
judicial checks. The president's term is 5
years. Thirteen cabinet ministers, appointed by
the president, head executive departments. The
constitution provides for a bicameral General
Assembly responsible for enacting laws and
regulating the administration of justice. The
General Assembly consists of a 30-member Senate,
presided over by the vice president of the
republic, and a 99-member Chamber of Deputies.
In the October 2004 general elections, the
Frente Amplio won the presidency in the first
round with 50.7% and a majority of the seats in
each chamber. The National (Blanco) Party won
34.1%, the Colorado Party 10.3%, and the
Independent Party 1.8%.
The highest court is the Supreme Court; below
it are appellate and lower courts and justices
of the peace. In addition, there are electoral
and administrative ("contentious") courts, an
accounts court, and a military judicial system.
Principal Government Officials
President--Tabaré Ramón Vázquez Rosas
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Reinaldo Apolo
Ambassador to the United States--Carlos Alberto
Ambassador to the United Nations--Alejandro
Ambassador to the OAS--vacant
Uruguay maintains an
in the United States at 1913 "I" Street NW,
Washington, DC 20006 (tel. 202-331-1313, fax
202-331-8142). Uruguay maintains consulates in
Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, and New York.
Uruguay's economy remains dependent on
agriculture. Agricultural production, which
accounts for only 12% of GDP, and the industrial
sector (18% of GDP), based on the transformation
of agricultural products, make up more than half
of the country's exports. Leading economic
sectors include meat processing, agribusiness,
wood, wool, leather production and apparel,
textiles, and chemicals. Though still relatively
small, the software industry is growing rapidly.
In 2003, Uruguay went through the steepest
economic and financial crisis in recent history,
which developed mostly from external factors.
Devaluation in Brazil in 1999 made Uruguayan
goods less competitive, and an outbreak of foot
and mouth disease in 2001 curtailed beef exports
to North America. Starting in late 2001, an
economic crisis in Argentina undermined
Uruguay's economy, with exports to Argentina and
tourist revenues falling dramatically. In
mid-2002 Argentine withdrawals from Uruguayan
banks started a bank run that was overcome only
by massive borrowing from international
financial institutions. This, in turn, led to
serious debt sustainability problems. A
successful debt swap helped restore confidence
and significantly reduced country risk.
Uruguay’s economy resumed growth in 2003, with a
2.5% rise in GDP. GDP grew about 12% in 2004 and
5.0%-6.0% growth is expected for 2005.
Uruguay’s spectacular recovery over the past
couple of years has been based on increased
exports, especially to North America. The U.S.
became Uruguay’s largest export market in 2004,
thanks in large part to meat exports. Uruguay
enjoys a positive investment climate, with a
strong legal system and open financial markets.
It grants equal treatment to national and
foreign investors and, aside from very few
sectors, there is neither de jure nor de facto
discrimination toward investment by source or
Uruguay has traditionally favored substantial
state involvement in the economy, and
privatization is still widely opposed. Recent
governments have carried out cautious programs
of economic liberalization similar to those in
many other Latin American countries. They
included lowering tariffs, controlling deficit
spending, reducing inflation, and cutting the
size of government.
The Lacalle administration implemented a 1991
state company reform law, though privatization
was stalled when voters rejected the sale of the
state telephone company, ANTEL, in a 1992
referendum. Long-distance calls and data
transmission were opened to competition in 2001,
but basic telephony still remains a state
monopoly. Other former state sectors have been
partially liberalized, including insurance,
mortgages, road construction and repair,
piped-gas distribution, energy generation, water
sanitation and distribution, cellular telephony,
and airline transportation. Another law, passed
in 2000, demonopolized oil refining activities
and allowed the state energy company to
associate with foreign partners, while still
remaining under government control. However, the
law was repealed in a popular referendum.
The armed forces are constitutionally
subordinate to the president through the
minister of defense. By offering early
retirement incentives, the government has
trimmed the armed forces to about 14,500 for the
army, 6,000 for the navy, and 3,000 for the air
force. As of February 2003, Uruguay had 1,754
soldiers deployed in 11 UN peacekeeping
missions. The largest groups were in the Congo,
where 1,549 Uruguayan troops controlled one
sector of the country, and the Sinai, where 60
troops were stationed.
Uruguay traditionally has had strong political
and cultural links with its neighbors and
Europe. With globalization and regional economic
problems, its links to North America have
strengthened. Uruguay is a strong advocate of
constitutional democracy, political pluralism,
and individual liberties. Its international
relations historically have been guided by the
principles of non-intervention, multilateralism,
respect for national sovereignty, and reliance
on the rule of law to settle disputes. Uruguay's
international relations also reflect its drive
to seek export markets and foreign investment.
It is a founding member of MERCOSUR.
Uruguay is a member of the Rio Group, an
association of Latin American states that deals
with multilateral security issues (under the
Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance).
Uruguay's location between Argentina and Brazil
makes close relations with these two larger
neighbors and MERCOSUR associate members Chile
and Bolivia particularly important. Usually
considered a neutral country and blessed with a
professional diplomatic corps, Uruguay is often
called on to preside over international bodies.
Uruguay is a member of the Latin American
Integration Association (ALADI), a trade
association based in Montevideo that includes 10
South American countries plus Mexico and Cuba.
U.S.-Uruguayan relations traditionally have been
based on a common outlook and emphasis on
democratic ideals. In 2002, Uruguay and the U.S.
created a Joint Commission on Trade and
Investment (JCTI) to exchange ideas on a variety
of economic topics. In March 2003, the JCTI
identified six areas of concentration until the
eventual signing of the Free Trade Area of the
Americas (FTAA) in 2005: customs issues,
intellectual property protection, investment,
labor, environment, and trade in goods. In 2005,
Uruguay and the U.S. signed a Bilateral
Investment Treaty and ratified an Open Skies
Agreement. More than 80 U.S.-owned companies
operate in Uruguay, and many more market U.S.
goods and services.
Uruguay cooperates with the U.S. on law
enforcement matters such as regional efforts to
fight drug trafficking and terrorism. It has
also been very active in human rights issues.
From 1999 through early 2003 Uruguayan
citizens were exempted from visas when entering
the United States under the Visa Waiver Program.
This exemption was withdrawn on April 16, 2003,
based on the high overstay rates for Uruguayans
and worldwide national security concerns.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Deputy Chief of Mission--James D. Nealon (Chargé
Political/Economic Counselor--Peter Harding
Economic/Commercial Section Chief--James Perez
Chief, Management Section--Theresa Stewart
Public Affairs Officer--Linda González
Defense Attaché--LTC Frank Wagdalt, USA
Chief, Office of Defense Cooperation--Col. Maria
Embassy in Uruguay is located at Lauro
Muller 1776, Montevideo (tel: 598-2 418-7777;
fax: 598-2-410-0022). The mailing address for
the embassy is UNIT 4500, APO AA 34035. The
Embassy also has an Internet web page at