President: Tabaré Vázquez (2015)

Land area: 67,035 sq mi (173,621 sq km); total area: 68,039 sq mi (176,220 sq km)

Population (2014 est.): 3,332,972 (growth rate: 0.26%); birth rate: 13.18/1000; infant mortality rate: 8.97/1000; life expectancy: 76.81; density per sq mi: 48.86

Capital and largest city (2011 est.): Montevideo, 1,947,604 (metro. area), 1,305,082 (city proper)

Monetary unit: Uruguay peso

Oriental Republic of Uruguay

National name: República Oriental del Uruguay

Current government officials

Languages: Spanish, Portunol, or Brazilero

Ethnicity/race: white 88%, mestizo 8%, black 4%

Religions: Roman Catholic 47.1%, Protestant 11.1%, Jewish 0.3%

Literacy rate: 98.1% (2010 est.)

Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2013 est.): $56.27 billion; per capita $16,600. Real growth rate: 3.5%. Inflation: 8.3%. Unemployment: 6.5%. Arable land: 10.25%. Agriculture: soybeans, rice, wheat; beef, dairy products; fish; lumber, cellulose. Labor force (2013 est.): 1.7 million; agriculture 13%, industry 14%, services 73%. Industries: food processing, electrical machinery, transportation equipment, petroleum products, textiles, chemicals, beverages. Natural resources: arable land, hydropower, minor minerals, fish. Exports: $10.5 billion (2013 est.): beef, soybeans, cellulose, rice, wheat, wood, dairy products; wool. Imports: $12.5 billion (2013 est.): refined oil, crude oil, passenger and other transportation vehicles, vehicle parts, cellular phones. Major trading partners: U.S., Brazil, Germany, Argentina, Paraguay, China, Venezuela (2012).

Communications: Telephones: main lines in use: 1.01 million (2012); mobile cellular: 5 million (2012). Radio broadcast stations: AM 91, FM 149, shortwave 7 (2010). Radios: 1.97 million (1997). Television broadcast stations: 20 (2010). Televisions: 782,000 (1997). Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 1.036 million (2012). Internet users: 1.405 million (2009).

Transportation: Railways: total: 1,641 km (2010). Highways: total: 77,732 km; paved: 7,743 km; unpaved: 69,989 km (2010 est.). Waterways: 1,600 km; used by coastal and shallow-draft river craft (2011). Ports and harbors: Colonia, Fray Bentos, Juan La Caze, La Paloma, Montevideo, Nueva Palmira, Paysandu, Punta del Este, Piriapolis. Airports: 133 (2013).

International disputes: in 2010, the ICJ ruled in favor of Uruguay's operation of two paper mills on the Uruguay River, which forms the border with Argentina; the two countries formed a joint pollution monitoring regime; uncontested boundary dispute between Brazil and Uruguay over Braziliera/Brasiliera Island in the Quarai/Cuareim River leaves the tripoint with Argentina in question; smuggling of firearms and narcotics continues to be an issue along the Uruguay-Brazil border.

Major sources and definitions

Flag of Uruguay


Uruguay, on the east coast of South America south of Brazil and east of Argentina, is comparable in size to Oklahoma. The country consists of a low, rolling plain in the south and a low plateau in the north. It has a 120-mile (193 km) Atlantic shoreline, a 235-mile (378 km) frontage on the Rio de la Plata, and 270 mi (435 km) on the Uruguay River, its western boundary.


Constitutional republic.


Prior to European settlement, Uruguay was inhabited by indigenous people, the Charrúas. Juan Díaz de Solis, a Spaniard, visited Uruguay in 1516, but the Portuguese were first to settle it when they founded the town of Colonia del Sacramento in 1680. After a long struggle, Spain wrested the country from Portugal in 1778, by which time almost all of the indigenous people had been exterminated. Uruguay revolted against Spain in 1811, only to be conquered in 1817 by the Portuguese from Brazil. Independence was reasserted with Argentine help in 1825, and the republic was set up in 1828.

A revolt in 1836 touched off nearly 50 years of factional strife, including an inconclusive civil war (1839–1851) and a war with Paraguay (1865–1870), accompanied by occasional armed intervention by Argentina and Brazil. Uruguay, made prosperous by meat and wool exports, founded a welfare state early in the 20th century under President José Batlle y Ordóñez, who ruled from 1903 to 1929. A decline began in the 1950s as successive governments struggled to maintain a large bureaucracy and costly social benefits. Economic stagnation and left-wing terrorist activity followed.

A Civilian Gonvernment Improves Outlook

A military coup ousted the civilian government in 1973. The military dictatorship that followed used fear and terror to demoralize the population, taking thousands of political prisoners. After ruling for 12 years, the brutal military regime permitted election of a civilian government in Nov. 1984 and relinquished rule in March 1985; full political and civil rights were then restored.

Subsequent leaders contended with high inflation and a mammoth national debt. Presidential and legislative elections in Nov. 1994 resulted in a narrow victory for the center-right Colorado Party and its presidential candidate, Julio Sanguinetti Cairolo, who had been president in 1985–1990. He pushed for constitutional and economic reforms aimed at reducing inflation and the size of the public sector, including tax increases and privatization. In Nov. 1999 Jorge Batlle, of the Colorado Party, won the presidency.

In 2002, Uruguay entered its fourth year of recession. Economic troubles in neighboring Argentina caused a staggering 90% drop in tourism. Batlle also faced a sizable budget deficit, a growing public debt, and a weakening of the peso on international markets. The country's economic outlook began improving in 2003. In a Dec. 2003 referendum, 60% of the electorate voted against opening up the state oil monopoly to foreign investment. In Oct. 2004, Tabaré Vázquez of the Socialist Broad Front won 50.7% of the vote; he took office in March 2005. It was the left’s first national victory in Uruguay.

The Supreme Court ruled in October 2009 that amnesty laws protecting members of the military dictatorship from prosecution for human rights violations under the junta, which ruled from 1973 to 1985, are unconstitutional. Days later, former military ruler Gregorio Alvarez was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the murder of 37 people and human rights violations, and in February 2010 former president Juan Maria Bordaberry was also sentenced to 30 years for murder and his role in the 1973 military coup.

In November 2009's runoff presidential election, José Mujica, a former leftist guerrilla and a member the center-left governing Broad Front, defeated the conservative National Party candidate, Luis Alberto Lacalle, 53% to 43%. Mujica said he would pursue the moderate policies implemented by Vazquez, the outgoing president.

Mujica Pushes for Legalization of Marijuana in 2012

In June 2012, President Mujica called for the legalization and regulation of marijuana in Uruguay. The announcement came with the explanation that it was a move to end drug trafficking in the country. One of the lawmakers working on the proposal, Sebastián Sabini said, "We want to separate the market, users from traffickers, marijuana from other drugs."

If Uruguay passed the bill, it would make them the first legalized marijuana republic in the world. The Netherlands passed a bill to ignore marijuana use and sales in 1976. In 2001, Portugal ended all criminal offenses for drug use, but, if the bill passed, Uruguay would take it one step further, a state-run marijuana industry.

The bill was met with opposition from political opponents, doctors, and even marijuana users who were concerned with how marijuana would be managed. Crime and addiction, already on the rise in the country, was another concern. The bill would call for the government to require users to sign up for registration cards. The cards would track and limit purchases to an amount like 40 joints a month, officials explained.

In October 2012, Uruguay's Senate approved a bill allowing women to have abortions during first trimester pregnancies. The house approved it the previous month and President Mujica supported it. Mujica planned to sign the bill into law by November 2012. The bill was set to become the most progressive abortion rights law in Latin America.

Uruguay Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage

On April 10, 2013, lawmakers in Uruguay voted to legalize same-sex marriage, becoming the 12th country in the world to do so. The new law made Uruguay the second country in Latin America to pass legislation in support of gay marriage. Uruguay's neighbor, Argentina legalized same-sex marriage in 2010. President Mujica and his coalition of political parties, Broad Front, backed the law. Mujica was expected to sign the new legislation within ten days.

Uruguay's marriage equality bill first passed through the senate with a vote of 23-8. Then it passed in the lower house by a vote of 71-21. The legislation was another step toward same-sex equality in the country. In 2009, Uruguay became the first Latin American country to allow adoption for same-sex couples. It was also the first country in Latin America to have civil union legislation for same-sex couples. That national civil union law was passed in 2008.

First Active General Convicted for Human Rights Violations

On May 9, 2013, General Miguel Dalmao became the first active general convicted for human rights violations during Uruguay's 1970s dictatorship. Dalmao was convicted and sentenced to serve 28 years in prison over the death of a communist professor. The professor was killed in 1974. Dalmao was a 23-year-old lieutenant at the time of the professor's death.

In Nov. 2014, Tabaré Vázquez won a runoff presidential election. Vázquez took 56.6% of the vote. Luis Lacalle Pou came in second with 43.4%. Vázquez would take office on March 1, 2015. It would be his second term as president. He previously served from 2005 - 2010.

Uruguay accepted six inmates released from the Guantánamo Bay prison in December 2014. The suspects—four Syrians, a Tunisian, and a Palestinia—were held for 12 years and never charged.

See also Encyclopedia: Uruguay.
U.S. State Dept. Country Notes: Uruguay
Statistical Department (In Spanish only) www.ine.gub.uy/ .


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