U.S. Department of State Background Note

Uruguay

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Uruguay

PEOPLE

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 with Argentina.

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 rule.

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

The National Party's Luis Alberto Lacalle won the 1989 presidential election and served from 1990 to 1995. 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 military government.

The two traditional political parties, the National ("Blanco") and Colorado parties, which were founded in the early 19th century, in the past garnered about 90% of the vote but have seen their share decline over the past decades. At the same time the share of the Frente Amplio, a coalition of various left-of-center factions that became the largest political force in 1999, was on the rise. In October 2004 presidential elections, Tabare Vazquez ran against the Blanco candidate Jorge Larranaga, a former state governor and senator who got 34.3% of votes, and against the Colorado candidate, former Interior Minister Stirling who got 10.4%. President Vazquez won the elections in the first round, with 50.5% of ballots, and his party achieved parliamentary majority. The Frente Amplio has ruled Montevideo since 1990.

During its first 27 months in power, the Vázquez administration made good on its campaign promise to re-examine the human rights abuses committed during the period of military dictatorship and uncovered important forensic evidence. Bilateral relations with Argentina were strained by an ongoing dispute over the construction in Uruguay of large wood pulp mills on a shared river. Legislation tended to pass easily as the Frente Amplio enjoyed majorities in both houses of congress.

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 Gargano Ostuni
Ambassador to the United States--Carlos Alberto Gianelli Derois
Ambassador to the United Nations--Alejandro Artucio Rodriguez
Ambassador to the OAS--Dr. Lujan Flores

Uruguay maintains an Embassy 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, New York and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

ECONOMY

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 2005, Uruguay's contributions amounted to 44% of the total UN peace keeping troops sent by the region (2,486 soldiers and officers in 11 UN peacekeeping missions). As of August 2006, Uruguay had nearly 1,150 military personnel deployed to Haiti in support of MINUSTAH; its other major PKO troop deployment was in the Congo.

FOREIGN RELATIONS

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, the Southern Cone Common Market also composed of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. As of December 2006, Venezuela was in the process of becoming MERCOSUR's fifth full member, and Chile, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru were associate members.

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

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): customs issues, intellectual property protection, investment, labor, environment, and trade in goods. In late 2004, Uruguay and the U.S. signed an Open Skies Agreement, which was ratified in May 2006. In November 2005, they signed a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT), which entered into force on November 1, 2006. A Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) was signed in January 2007. 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
Ambassador-- Frank E. Baxter
Deputy Chief of Mission--James D. Nealon
Political/Economic Counselor--Peter Harding
Economic/Commercial Section Chief--James Perez
Consul--Blossom Perry
Chief, Management Section--Theresa Stewart
Public Affairs Officer--Linda González
Defense Attaché--LTC Frank Wagdalt, USA
Chief, Office of Defense Cooperation--Col. Maria Cordero, USAF

The U.S. 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 http://montevideo.usembassy.gov/

Other Contact Information
U.S. Department of Commerce
Trade Information Center
International Trade Administration
14th and Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20230
Tel: 800-USA-TRADE
Home page: http://www.export.gov/

American Chamber of Commerce in Uruguay
Plaza Independencia 831, Oficina 209
Edificio Plaza Mayor
11100 Montevideo, Uruguay
Tel: (5982) 908-9186
Fax: (5982) 908-9187
Home page: http://www.ccuruguayusa.com/
E-mail: info@ccuruguayusa.com

TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program advises Americans traveling and residing abroad through Consular Information Sheets, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings. Consular Information Sheets exist for all countries and include information on entry and exit requirements, currency regulations, health conditions, safety and security, crime, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. Public Announcements are issued to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas that pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to a certain country because the situation is dangerous or unstable.

For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site at http://www.travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, are also available at http://www.travel.state.gov. For additional information on international travel, see http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Travel/International.shtml.

The Department of State encourages all U.S citizens traveling or residing abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security conditions.

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.

The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.

Further Electronic Information
Department of State Web Site. Available on the Internet at http://www.state.gov, the Department of State web site provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy information, including Background Notes and daily press briefings along with the directory of key officers of Foreign Service posts and more. The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) provides security information and regional news that impact U.S. companies working abroad through its website http://www.osac.gov

Export.gov provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free export counseling, help with the export process, and more.

STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from the Federal government. The site includes current and historical trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities, and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank.

Revised: Jun. 2007

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