Uruguay Map

Uruguay    Plants and Animal Back to Top

Crop production in Uruguay has never been as important as livestock raising. Only about 8 percent of the land area was dedicated to growing crops in the mid-1980s, compared with 75 percent dedicated to livestock. The amount of land under cultivation has varied according to the world price of livestock products. When beef prices have declined, for example, ranchers have planted wheat or corn. Rising livestock prices in the 1980s resulted in a considerable decrease in the area dedicated to most crops. Because crop production had gradually become more efficient through mechanization, however, crop yields did not necessarily decline.

Although crop yields per hectare had generally increased, erosion of the thin topsoil layer became a significant problem in Uruguay during the 1980s. It was estimated that 30 percent of all arable areas had been adversely affected. The ill effects were most serious in areas that had been under continuous cultivation for long periods.

Rice surpassed wheat as Uruguay's most significant crop in the 1980s. In contrast to the general downward trend in farmed land area, the land dedicated to rice production increased from 55,000 hectares in 1980 to 81,000 hectares in 1988. Over this same period, production rose from 228,000 tons to 381,000 tons, a 67 percent increase. Only about 40,000 tons were consumed domestically; most of the rice was exported. The preferred farming system for rice production was closely connected to livestock raising. Rice was grown for two years; then the land was sown as pasture for four or five years to renew the fields and provide grazing for cattle. The most common variety produced was the American "Blue Belle" type. The drought that gripped Uruguay in 1988-89 caused rice producers to lose an estimated 6 percent of their crop, worth about US$2.4 million. The hardest hit areas were in the north, in the departments of Artigas, Rivera, and Tacuarembó.

Wheat production and hectarage both declined during most of the 1980s. This decline reflected the increasing land area dedicated to livestock production and the fact that Uruguayan wheat producers could not effectively compete with wheat producers in other countries. International competition became more important after the government discontinued its subsidies for wheat farmers during the economic liberalization of the 1970s. Uruguay was no longer self-sufficient in wheat production by the mid-1980s, when about 80,000 tons per year were imported. Wheat farming was largely mechanized by the 1980s, but advanced tractor equipment acted mainly to reduce the labor requirement on farms, rather than leading to huge production increases. Most farmers made only limited use of pesticides and fertilizers. Thus, wheat production per hectare was below that of most other countries. Nevertheless, the area dedicated to wheat farming rose in 1989, and production was expected to begin increasing again. Indeed, wheat production grew to 414,000 tons in 1988.

Corn production stagnated during the 1980-88 period. Like wheat farmers, corn farmers were adversely affected by the government's freeing of agricultural prices in the late 1970s. Unlike wheat, however, corn was not an important commercial crop; farmers used it primarily to feed their animals. No longer selfsufficient , Uruguay imported almost US$2 million worth of corn in 1988. Some farmers had substituted sorghum cultivation for corn because it provided roughly the same nutrition as corn but better withstood drought conditions.

Other crops produced in Uruguay in the 1980s included barley, soybeans, oats, sunflowers, peanuts, sugarcane, potatoes, flax, and cotton. Barley, soybeans, and sunflowers were produced mainly for export; the other crops were produced on only a small scale for the domestic market. Production of sugar was uneconomical, relying on a large government subsidy. Uruguay imported cotton (US$6.6 million in 1988) for its textile industry.

Citrus farming was a bright spot on the agricultural horizon in the 1980s. Citrus and produce farms were originally established around Montevideo to supply the city with fruits and vegetables. During the 1980s, these farms expanded, allowing Uruguay to become a net exporter of citrus fruit (oranges, lemons, and grapefruit). The exported value increased from US$5 million in 1980 to US$21 million in 1986. One large-scale citrus plantation added packing facilities and a juice-and-oil plant, with at least half of its production intended for export. The government encouraged such diversification of agriculture.

Uruguay's livestock herds did not expand appreciably after 1930. In 1908 there were 8 million cattle and 26 million sheep in the country. In 1981 the number of cattle peaked at 11 million, while the number of sheep had declined to 20 million. Because the land area dedicated to livestock raising has not changed significantly, these figures illustrated the lack of progress in the sector. The single largest investment in cattle herds was complete by 1930, when Herefords were substituted for the original mixed breeds. Extensive ranching methods facilitated livestock raising because little investment was required. But these methods also limited the carrying capacity of the land and the size of the stock. By the 1970s, it took twenty-six Uruguayan cattle to yield one ton of beef, compared with about eighteen in Argentina and about thirteen in the United States or Western Europe. The production of wool and mutton per head of sheep was also low: 3.5 kilograms of wool per head, compared with over 5 kilograms per head in Australia or Argentina. In addition, both cattle and sheep herds were subject to losses because of limited efforts to prevent disease.

The vulnerability of the range-fed livestock herds was further demonstrated in the late 1980s when Uruguay experienced a severe drought. Millions of animals died or had to be slaughtered prematurely. The drought lasted longest in the center of the country, where most of the largest cattle ranches were located (the departments of Cerro Largo, Durazno, and Tacuarembó). The leading sheep-ranching departments in the northwest (Artigas and Salto) were not as severely affected.

Raising sheep for wool in Uruguay became less profitable during the 1960s. There was increasing worldwide competition from petroleum-based synthetic fibers. After the oil price increase in 1973, however, wool was once again in favor. Production surged from about 61,000 tons per year in the mid-1970s to 87,000 tons in 1986. Wool surpassed beef as Uruguay's most valuable export in the early 1980s. It also supplied the growing woolen textile and apparel industry, which earned additional foreign exchange.

Sheep, whose stock increased to almost 26 million by 1989, were also raised for lamb and mutton. The potential for Uruguay's export of sheep meat in 1989 was about 3 million head, as compared with annual exports of about 2 million head in the early 1980s. However, a severe drought in the first half of 1989 reduced the performance of this subsector by about 10 percent during that period.

Rising world beef prices stimulated the Uruguayan cattle industry in the late 1970s. At first, rising prices increased the profitability of cattle ranching but ultimately led to considerable instability in the sector. When many ranchers expanded their herds after the 1978-79 beef price increases, the price of pastureland grew almost tenfold. Because real interest rates were low or negative, ranchers were willing to borrow heavily to increase their landholdings. But beef prices soon leveled off, and many ranchers were left with large, unpayable debts. Land prices fell sharply; banks could not cover their loans even by foreclosing. As the bank crisis mounted, the Central Bank stepped in to provide refinancing in United States dollar-denominated loans. Most ranchers avoided bankruptcy but had to slaughter record numbers of cattle to service their debts. Many ranchers took the opportunity to switch to sheep ranching because wool appeared to face more stable world demand. Thus, Uruguay's cattle herds declined by 20 percent from 1981 to 1984.

Cattle ranchers rebuilt their herds during the latter half of the 1980s but were hindered by limited credit and severe drought. Damage from the prolonged drought had reached alarming proportions by the end of 1989, when the cattle stock was down to 9.4 million head. The number of cattle fell by 738,000 head between June 1988 and June 1989, the largest annual drop in fifteen years. About 2 percent of the total had died, and the rest had been killed and sold (50 percent more than usual). In the July-November 1989 period, the beef cattle herd was depleted by an additional 622,000 head. The increased slaughter rates allowed meat-packing plants to pay less for beef, decreasing ranchers' profits.

The continuing difficulty in the sector prompted the government to launch Operation Manufacture in March 1989. The program eased the ranchers' financial burden by extending them a special line of credit, lowering their tax rate by 20 percent, and providing for case-by-case assistance. The government also announced the opening of a line of credit with terms of up to eight years for herd replacement. Sheep ranchers, who suffered fewer losses from the drought, were not eligible for these government programs.

The dairy industry, based in the departments near Montevideo, expanded considerably in the 1980s. Milk production increased from 400,000 tons in 1979 to 635,000 tons in 1987. Even though many dairy farmers still relied on natural pastures, limiting the milk output per cow, Uruguay was more than self-sufficient in dairy products and exported to other Latin American countries. Most domestic milk processing and marketing was controlled by the National Dairy Products Cooperative, which distributed dairy products throughout the country.

Uruguay    Communications Back to Top

general assessment: some modern facilities domestic: most modern facilities concentrated in Montevideo; new nationwide microwave radio relay network international: satellite earth stations - 2 Intelsat (Atlantic Ocean)

Uruguay    Culture Back to Top

Uruguay was once known as the "Switzerland of South America" as a result of its relative governmental stability, advanced level of economic development, and social peace. Indeed, in the creation of a welfare state, it was far ahead of Switzerland during the first half of the twentieth century. Starting in the 1950s, however, Uruguay's economy began to stagnate, and the oncevaunted welfare state became increasingly poor. Commentators talked of the "Latin Americanization" of Uruguay as it descended from the ranks of the developed nations to the level of the Third World. Political and social unrest eventually culminated in the military coup of 1973; by then the case for seeing Uruguay as very different from the rest of Latin America was largely undermined.

During the sixty-year period from 1870 to 1930, foreign immigrants flooded into Uruguay, mainly from Spain and Italy, to improve their standard of living. A historical study of social and economic development ranked Uruguay fourth among all independent nations in the world in the 1880s. In 1990 Uruguay's levels of education and nutrition were still among the highest in Latin America, as well as its per capita ownership of radios, televisions, and telephones and its newspaper readership.

However, four decades of economic stagnation had seriously eroded Uruguay's lead in terms of per capita gross domestic product. Historically, only Argentina rivaled it in Latin America in terms of this crucial economic indicator. By the middle of the twentieth century, Uruguay had been overtaken by Venezuela in terms of per capita GDP, and in 1970 Chile had almost caught up. By 1980 so had Brazil, Costa Rica, Panama, and Mexico.

A study published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 1990 attempted to rank 130 countries of the world by their level of social (rather than purely economic) development. Switzerland was the richest nation as measured by per capita GDP, adjusted for purchasing power parities. Using the same indicator, Uruguay was ranked forty-fifth, underlining how far it had fallen economically. Nevertheless, Uruguay ranked far higher on a composite indicator of social progress dubbed by the UNDP the "Human Development Index." The index took into account life expectancy and level of literacy, as well as adjusted per capita GDP. By this measure, Uruguay ranked twenty-ninth, immediately above Hungary. Only two Latin American countries scored higher on this index: Costa Rica (ranking twenty-eighth) and Chile (ranking twenty-fourth). In comparison, the United States ranked nineteenth. Japan had the highest Human Development Index of all.

In sum, Uruguayan society in 1990 presented a contradictory picture of advanced social indicators and declining economic status. In many ways, it remained unlike other Latin American and Third World countries.

Uruguay    Defence Back to Top

Military branches: Army, Navy (includes Naval Air Arm, Coast Guard, Marines), Air Force, Police (Coracero Guard, Grenadier Guard)
Military manpower - availability: males age 15-49: 817,535 (2001 est.)
Military manpower - fit for military service: males age 15-49: 661,777 (2001 est.)

Uruguay    International Disputes Back to Top


Uruguay    Economy Back to Top

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 1998 budget figures showed $6.7 billion in revenue and $6.9 billion in expenditure.

The foundation of Uruguay's economy is said to have been laid in 1603, when a governor of Paraguay, Hernando Arias de Saavedra, shipped a number of cattle and horses downstream from Asunción. The animals were landed on the Uruguayan riverbank, where they were left to run wild. Later in the century the herds were so abundant that they attracted gauchos, who crossed the Río de la Plata from Buenos Aires and began a trade in hides. As more cattlemen arrived, boundaries had to be fixed, setting the stage for the development of the great estancias of the country.

Uruguay's economy is characterized by an export-oriented agricultural sector, a well-educated workforce, relatively even income distribution, and high levels of social spending. After averaging growth of 5% annually in 1996-98, in 1999-2000 the economy suffered from lower demand in Argentina and Brazil, which together account for about half of Uruguay's exports. Despite the severity of the trade shocks, Uruguay's financial indicators remained more stable than those of its neighbors, a reflection of its solid reputation among investors and its investment-grade sovereign bond rating - one of only two in Latin America. Challenges for the government of President Jorge BATLLE include expanding Uruguay's trade ties beyond its MERCOSUR trade partners and reducing the costs of public services. GDP fell by 1.1% in 2000 and will grow by perhaps 1.5% in 2001.

Uruguay    Education Back to Top

Uruguay had the highest literacy rate in Latin America, at 96 percent in 1985. There was no appreciable difference in literacy rates between males and females, but there were discrepancies between urban and rural rates (rural rates being demonstrably lower). Uruguay's system of universal, free, and secular education required a total of nine years of compulsory school attendance, from ages six to fourteen. The proportion of children of primary school age enrolled in school had long been virtually 100 percent. Furthermore, from 1965 to 1985 the proportion of children of secondary school age enrolled in some form of secondary school grew from 44 to 70 percent, also the highest rate in Latin America. The postsecondary education enrollment rate was about 20 percent. Coeducation was the norm, and females and males attended school in near-equal numbers at all levels. As is typical of any country, however, rates of schooling were higher in urban areas than in rural areas.

The quality of education in Uruguay was rated as high. Teaching was a socially respected profession and one that paid relatively well. Most teachers, trained in teachers' training colleges, were deemed well qualified. The main problem confronting the education system was the inadequacy of facilities, instructional materials, and teachers' aides. Rural areas often suffered from woefully insufficient facilities and supplies. Urban schools often were seriously overcrowded and were forced to resort to holding classes in multiple shifts. In addition, dropout and repetition rates, although moderate by Latin American standards, were still considered high.

Uruguay has one of the highest rates of literacy (99.3 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.

Uruguay    Government Back to Top

Government: Republic with three separate branches of government. Constitution of 1967 institutionalized strong presidency, subject to legislative and judicial checks. Executive power exercised by president (elected for five-year term by simple majority of the people through unique voting system), vice president (who served as president of bicameral General Assembly), and Council of Ministers. General Assembly consisted of thirty-member Senate and ninety-nine-member Chamber of Representatives; members of both chambers elected to five-year terms through proportional representation system. Independent judicial branch headed by Supreme Court of Justice. Country's administrative subdivisions consisted of nineteen departments, each headed by a governor, subordinate to central government and responsible for local administration. Unusual electoral system combined primaries and a general election in one event characterized by a "double simultaneous vote," allowing each party's factions to run rival lists of candidates.

Politics: Civilian government restored in 1985 after twelve years of military rule. Lacalle of conservative National Party (Partido Nacional, usually referred to as Blancos)--elected president in November 1989 in country's first free election since 1971--succeeded Sanguinetti of liberal Colorado Party (Partido Colorado) on March 1, 1990. Two-party system of these rival parties had dominated since nineteenth century but was dealt strong challenge in November 1989 elections by win of mayorship of Montevideo by Broad Front (Frente Amplio), a leftist coalition. Other parties in 1989 elections included various factions of Colorado Party and National Party and new left-of- center, social democratic coalition, New Sector (Nuevo Espacio).

International Relations: Guided historically by principles of nonintervention, respect for national sovereignty, and reliance on rule of law to settle disputes. Traditionally an active participant in international and regional organizations. During 1973-85 period of military rule, "military diplomacy" focused on national and regional subversion and geopolitical concerns. Sanguinetti renewed relations with Cuba, Nicaragua, and China and strengthened relations with Soviet Union. Excellent bilateral relations with United States during 1985-90 period. Lacalle continued traditional guidelines of Uruguayan foreign policy and placed emphasis on regional integration, especially with Argentina and Brazil. Although somewhat ambivalent toward United States policy on drug trafficking, Lacalle strongly endorsed President George H.W. Bush's free-trade Enterprise for the Americas Initiative of June 1990.

Uruguay    History Back to Top

When spaniards discovered the territory of present-day Uruguay in 1516, they found only a rolling prairie populated by groups of Indians living in primitive conditions. When confronted by the Spaniards, the Indians fiercely defended their freedom and their independent way of life. their continued ferocious resistance to Spanish conquest, combined with the absence of gold and silver, discouraged settlement in this region during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Colonization by Spain began to increase, however, when Portugal showed an interest in expanding Brazil's frontiers to the Río de la Plata Estuary in the late seventeenth century. Indeed, the early history of Uruguay is dominated by the struggle between Spain and Portugal and then between Brazil and Argentina for control of the Banda Oriental (as Uruguay was then known), the eastern side, or bank, so called because the territory lies to the east of the Río Uruguay, which forms the border with Argentina and flows into the Río de la Plata.

The conquistadors imported cattle, which were well suited to the region, with its abundant pastureland, temperate climate, and ample water supply. Cattle soon became the main source of wealth and consequently the main attraction of the region, and the territory was opened up by hardy pioneers and gauchos, or cowboys, whose wide-ranging way of life contributed in no small part to the spirit of independence that has long characterized Uruguay. Montevideo was founded by the Spanish in the early eighteenth century as a military stronghold. The Spanish fleet used its natural harbor, which soon developed into a commercial center competing with Buenos Aires, the Argentine capital established on the opposite shore of the Río de la Plata.

The move to independence began, as elsewhere in Latin America, in the early nineteenth century. Uruguay's revolt against Spain was initiated in 1811 by José Gervasio Artigas, a gaucho chieftain who became a hero of the independence movement. Artigas is known to Uruguayans as the father of Uruguayan independence, although his attempt to gain autonomy for the country within the boundaries of a regional federation was unsuccessful. Independence was not finally and formally achieved until 1828, following a war between Brazil and Uruguayan patriots supported by Argentina. British diplomatic mediation ended the conflict and resulted in the recognition of the Oriental Republic of Uruguay (República Oriental del Uruguay) as an independent state. Nevertheless, civil wars, invasions, and foreign intervention continued to disrupt the nation's development until the end of the nineteenth century.

The two political parties that have dominated Uruguayan political life since independence were born in these early years of instability, although at that time they were little more than feuding bands of gauchos. The issue that provoked the initial major confrontation was federalism versus unitary rule. In 1838 the federalist sympathies of General Manuel Oribe (president, 1835-38) led to a revolt by the forces of General José Fructoso Rivera (president, 1830-35), who again became president following the defeat of Oribe and his followers. Oribe's forces, supported by merchants, landowners, and the high clergy, became known as Blancos in reference to the white (blanco) hatbands they wore to distinguish their own men from the enemy on the field of battle. Rivera's forces, representing more liberal urban elements, were distinguished by red (colorado) hatbands and thus were designated Colorados. The political lines drawn in the 1830s evolved into two rival parties: the Colorado Party (Partido Colorado), which identified itself as the defender of Uruguayan sovereignty and as the champion of the common man and liberalism, and the National Party (Partido Nacional, usually referred to as the Blancos), which stood for order and conservatism and declared itself protector of the faith.

During the last three decades of the nineteenth century, a period that included fifteen years of military rule, there were frequent confrontations and clashes between the Colorados and the Blancos and among competing rival factions of the Colorados. A growing gulf between the capital city and the interior contributed to a solidification of the previously somewhat amorphous ideologies of the two parties as the Colorados recruited urban immigrant groups, especially laborers, and the Blancos represented more conservative rural elements.

Political stability came about in the first two decades of the twentieth century largely through the efforts of the dominant figure in the Colorado Party. José Batlle y Ordóñez (president, 1903-07, 1911-15) brilliantly promoted the social, economic, and political modernization of the country until his death in 1929, guiding a social transformation that reordered virtually every aspect of national life. His programs included the establishment of a comprehensive social welfare program, the encouragement of domestic industry, the improvement of working conditions, the expansion of education, and the separation of church and state.

Batlle y Ordóñez's Colorado successors did not uniformly or consistently share his commitment to economic and social reform, but progress toward political, social, and economic modernization nevertheless continued. Between 1946 and 1956, Luis Batlle Berres (president, 1947-51), a nephew of Batlle y Ordóñez, was the leading political figure. Espousing neo-Batllism, he attempted to further industrialize the economy, develop its agricultural sector, and expand the state apparatus, as well as to renew social progress. But the process came to a halt in the mid-1950s as a result of economic difficulties and ended with the triumph of the National Party (the Blancos) in 1958, after more than ninety years of Colorado government.

During the eight Blanco administrations (1958-67), instruments of state-directed economic policy were dismantled, relations with the International Monetary Fund became closer, and the livestock sector became increasingly important. Nevertheless, the economic crisis continued, and political and social turbulence increased. Unions formed a centralized organization in which the left had a dominant influence, and an urban guerrilla group, the National Liberation Movement-Tupamaros (Movimiento de Liberación NacionalTupamaros --MLN-T) was formed.

In 1967 the Colorados regained power, but President Jorge Pacheco Areco (1967-72) enforced a limited state of siege throughout most of his tenure. He applied a price- and wagefreeze policy to fight inflation, banned leftist groups, and called in the military to repress the Tupamaros, whose acts of urban terrorism posed a major national security threat. In 1972 Pacheco's successor, President Juan María Bordaberry Arocena (1972-76), supported by the military, declared a state of "internal war," closed the General Assembly, persecuted the opposition, banned unions and leftist parties, and curtailed civil liberties. The military dictatorship that he instituted also implemented a neoliberal, monetarist, economic policy that sought to reverse years of capital flight and economic stagnation by increasing exports and controlling inflation. Although it scored some economic successes, the military suffered a defeat in 1980 after submitting an authoritarian constitution to a plebiscite. From then on, civil political leaders returned to the political scene, and in 1984 the majority of the political parties and the military agreed to call for elections in November 1985, thus allowing for a transition to democracy.

Uruguay    Introduction Back to Top

Uruguay (in Spanish, República Oriental del Uruguay), republic in south-eastern South America, bordered on the north and east by Brazil, on the east and south by the Atlantic Ocean, on the south by the Río de la Plata, and on the west by Argentina. It is the second smallest country on the continent. 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 centre.

Official Name- Eastern Republic of Uruguay
Capital City- Montevideo
Languages- Spanish (official)
Official Currency- Uruguayan Peso
Religions- Catholic, others
Population- 3,412,000
Land Area- 174,810 sq km (67,494 sq miles)
Uruguay    Land Back to Top


Uruguay    Languages Back to Top

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.

Uruguay    Legal Back to Top

Legal system: based on Spanish civil law system; accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal and compulsory Executive branch: chief of state: President Jorge BATLLE (since 1 March 2000) and Vice President Luis HIERRO (since 1 March 2000); note - the president is both the chief of state and head of government head of government: President Jorge BATLLE (since 1 March 2000) and Vice President Luis HIERRO (since 1 March 2000); note - the president is both the chief of state and head of government cabinet: Council of Ministers appointed by the president with parliamentary approval elections: president and vice president elected on the same ticket by popular vote for five-year terms; election last held 31 October 1999 with run-off election on 28 November 1999 (next to be held NA 2004) election results: Jorge BATLLE elected president; percent of vote - Jorge BATLLE 52% in a runoff against Tabare VAZQUEZ 44% Legislative branch: bicameral General Assembly or Asamblea General consists of Chamber of Senators or Camara de Senadores (30 seats; members are elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms) and Chamber of Representatives or Camara de Representantes (99 seats; members are elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms) elections: Chamber of Senators - last held 31 October 1999 (next to be held NA 2004); Chamber of Representatives - last held 31 October 1999 (next to be held NA 2004) election results: Chamber of Senators - percent of vote by party - NA%; seats by party - Encuentro Progresista 12, Colorado Party 10, Blanco 7, New Sector/Space Coalition 1; Chamber of Representatives - percent of vote by party - NA%; seats by party - Encuentro Progresista 40, Colorado Party 33, Blanco 22, New Sector/Space Coalition 4 Judicial branch: Supreme Court (judges are nominated by the president and elected for 10-year terms by the General Assembly)

Uruguay    Life Back to Top

By the beginning of the twentieth century, the traditional pattern of patriarchy was breaking down in Uruguay. The relative emancipation of women put Uruguay far ahead of the rest of Latin America in terms of legal rights and social custom. Civil marriage became legally required in 1885, and the influence of the church declined. Divorce on the grounds of cruelty by the husband was legalized in 1907, and in 1912 women were given the right to file for divorce without a specific cause. Married women were allowed to maintain separate bank accounts as early as 1919. Women also were provided with equal access to educational opportunities at all levels early in the twentieth century, and they began to enter the professions in increasing numbers. In 1938 women voted for the first time in national elections. Nevertheless, there was a paternalistic flavor to many of the reforms, which were often seen as protecting women rather than guaranteeing their inalienable rights.

One factor that made it easier for middle-class women to go out of the home to work was the widespread availability of domestic servants willing to undertake cooking, cleaning, and taking care of children for comparatively low wages. By the 1960s, one-quarter of all adult women worked. This proportion continued to rise steadily, reaching over 45 percent in Montevideo by 1985. In 1975 one-fifth of all households were headed by women. Nuclear families made up 61.2 percent of all households, while there were almost as many single-person households (14.6 percent) as traditional extended families (17.6 percent). The average number of persons in each household was 3.4.

The small size of Uruguayan families by Latin American standards was related to the widespread practice of birth control and the middle-class aspiration to provide the best possible education for children. Families tended to be larger in rural areas, where the birth rate was much higher. In rural areas, however, there was an imbalance in the sex ratio because women had a much higher propensity to migrate to the towns in search of work, particularly as domestic servants. Poor families in rural areas were often unstable; common-law marriage and illegitimacy were widespread. Although abortion was illegal, there was no legal distinction between children born in and out of wedlock.

In rural areas, the maintenance of symbolic kinship ties remained common. When babies were baptized, they often were given a godfather (compadre) chosen from among the members of the local elite. This practice, known as compadrazgo, was intended to provide the children with useful connections in later life. It formed an important link in the pattern of interaction between rural elites and subordinate classes. Reciprocal obligations ranged from help from the godparent in finding employment to the requirement of loyalty in voting on the part of the godchild.

Relations between husbands and wives in Uruguay were relatively equal by Latin American standards. The divorce rate had grown steadily from 1 per 10,000 population in 1915 to 14 per 1,000 in 1985. In 1927 the compulsory civil marriage ceremony was amended so that the bride no longer promised obedience, but both man and woman vowed to treat each other with respect. It was not uncommon for women to keep their surnames after marriage. Often, they simply added the husband's name to theirs. Children had their father's surname followed by their mother's.

Uruguayan children, and especially girls, had a relatively high degree of freedom compared with their counterparts in many other Latin American countries. Chaperonage was rare. It was expected that women would have careers, and by 1970 almost half the total school population was female.

During the 1960s, the phenomenon known as the "generation gap" began to be acutely felt in Uruguay. Young people rebelled against their parents and adopted permissive life-styles. In many cases, they were drawn into radical politics; in fact, in 1990 youth was still one of the strongest predictors of left-voting in Uruguay.

Family ties remained strong in Uruguay despite the rebelliousness of youth. Children frequently lived in the parental home well into their thirties, in some cases even after marriage. The usual reason for staying at home was economic necessity; many couples found affordable housing hard to come by.

Despite the relative freedom of women, attitudes toward gender roles and sexuality remained traditionally stereotypical. The pattern of machismo was less pronounced than in much of Latin America, but males were expected to show "masculine" traits; "feminine" characteristics were seen as inferior. At social gatherings, women tended to congregate with other women, and men with men.

Upper-middle-class Uruguayans usually tried to escape Montevideo for the beach resorts on weekends and during the long December to January summer holidays. Family gatherings typically centered on outdoor barbecues (asados), in which large quantities of meat were consumed. Another typical custom, symbolic of family and friendship ties, was the sharing of yerba maté, a form of green tea. A hollowed-out gourd (the maté) or sometimes a china cup is packed almost full with the green tea. A metal straw is then inserted into the tea, and boiling water is poured on top. The maté is then passed around in a circle, each person adding a little more hot water. This custom was particularly significant under the military regime of 1973 to 1985, when citizens were often afraid to congregate in public squares for fear their gossip might be seen as political. An innocent maté ceremony could hardly arouse suspicions.

As in other countries, the advent of television has reduced movie and theater attendance precipitously, causing more leisure hours to be spent in the home. Uruguayans remained enthusiastic in their participation in competitive sports, however. Amateur soccer continued to thrive among the middle and lower classes, whereas the upper-middle classes preferred tennis, golf, and sailing. For the elite, membership in a country club was an important focus of leisure activity and a symbol of social status.

Uruguay    organization Back to Top
International organization Member


Uruguay    People Back to Top

In 1988 Uruguay's population was estimated at 3,081,000, up somewhat from the 2,955,241 inhabitants recorded in the 1985 census. From 1981 to 1988, the population growth rate averaged about 0.7 percent per year. In South America, only Guyana and Suriname had a lower growth rate. According to projections, the growth rate would continue in the 0.6 to 0.7 range through the year 2020, resulting in an estimated total population of 3,152,000 in 1995, 3,264,000 in 2000, and 3,679,000 in 2020.

A major factor in Uruguay's low population growth rate was its relatively low birth rate. The average birth rate for 1990 was the lowest in Latin America at just 17 per 1,000 inhabitants. Significant levels of emigration also inhibited the growth of the population. At the same time, the average life expectancy of Uruguayans (seventy years for men and seventy-six years for women in 1990) was relatively high. Together, the comparatively low birth rate, net emigration, and long life expectancy gave Uruguay an aging population with a pyramidal structure more typical of a developed country than of a Third World country.

In addition to its remarkably low population growth rate, low birth rate, high life expectancy, and aging population, Uruguay also was notable for its extremely high level of urbanization. According to the 1985 census, 87 percent of Uruguay's population could be classified as urban. Moreover, this trend was expected to continue because the urban population was continuing to grow at a faster rate than the population as a whole, while the rural population growth rate was well under that for the total population. In the 1981-88 period, Uruguay's urban population grew at a rate of 0.9 percent, while its rural population grew at a rate of only 0.3 percent (as compared with a total population growth rate of 0.7 percent).

Ethnically, Uruguay enjoyed a high level of homogeneity. Its population was estimated to be nearly 90 percent white, having descended from the original Spanish colonists as well as from the many European immigrants, chiefly from Spain and Italy, who flocked to Uruguay in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. (The remainder were primarily black and mestizo, or people of mixed Indian and European ancestry.)

The Uruguayans of today are predominantly of European origin, mostly descendants of 19th- and 20th-century immigrants from Spain and Italy and, to a lesser degree, France and Britain. Earlier settlers had migrated from Argentina and Paraguay. Few descendants of Uruguay's original population remain. Of the small number of blacks in the country, most came southward from Brazil.

Uruguay is one of the few Latin-American republics not overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. According to Uruguayan census data, about 60 percent of the people identify themselves as Roman Catholic, but, in terms of practicing communicants, there are indications of a still lower percentage. The establishment of Methodist churches in provincial cities attests to the Protestant missionary efforts of the 1920s. There are also sizable congregations of Anglicans and other Protestant groups. Jews, mostly in Montevideo, make up a very small minority group in Uruguay, but they are nevertheless one of the larger Jewish communities in South America. Mormon missionaries have become increasingly active.

Uruguayd    Politics Back to Top

Colorado Party [Jorge BATLLE]; National Party or Blanco [Alberto VOLONTE]; New Sector/Space Coalition or Nuevo Espacio [Rafael MICHELINI]; Progressive Encounter in the Broad Front or Encuentro Progresista [Tabare VAZQUEZ] Political pressure groups and leaders: NA

Uruguaya    Provinces Back to Top

19 departments (departamentos, singular - departamento); Artigas, Canelones, Cerro Largo, Colonia, Durazno, Flores, Florida, Lavalleja, Maldonado, Montevideo, Paysandu, Rio Negro, Rivera, Rocha, Salto, San Jose, Soriano, Tacuarembo, Treinta y Tres

Time and Date in Montevideo