History of Uruguay

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The history of Uruguay comprises different periods: the pre-Columbian time or early history (up to the sixteenth century), the colonial period (1516–1811), the period of nation-building (1811–1830), and the history of Uruguay as an independent country (from around 1830).


Uruguayan Indians Drawing from Hendrick Ottsen journal, 1603 CE.
Monument to Charruas in Montevideo.

The earliest traces of human presence are about 10,000 years old, and belong to the hunter-gatherer cultures of Catalanense and Cuareim cultures which are extensions of cultures originating in Brazil. The earliest discovered bolas is about 7,000 years old. Examples of ancient rock art have been found at Chamangá. About 4,000 years ago Charrúa and Guarani people arrived here. During pre-colonial times Uruguayan territory was inhabited by small tribes of nomadic Charrúa, Chaná, Arachán and Guarani peoples who survived by hunting and fishing and probably never reached more than 10,000 to 20,000 people. It is estimated that there were about 9,000 Charrúa and 6,000 Chaná and Guaraní at the time of first contact with Europeans in the 1500s. The native peoples had almost disappeared by the time of Uruguay's independence as a result of European diseases and constant warfare.[1]

European genocide culminated on April 11, 1831 with the Massacre of Salsipuedes, when most of the Charrúa men were killed by the Uruguayan army on the orders of President Fructuoso Rivera. The remaining 300 Charrúa women and children were divided as household slaves and servants among Europeans.[citation needed]


Spanish and Portuguese control of South America in 1754 CE.

During the colonial era, the present-day territory of Uruguay was known as Banda Oriental (east bank of River Uruguay) and was a buffer territory between the competing colonial pretensions of Portuguese Brazil and the Spanish Empire. The Portuguese first explored the region of present-day Uruguay in 1512–1513.[2]

The first European explorer to land there was Juan Díaz de Solís in 1516, but he was killed by natives. Ferdinand Magellan anchored at the future site of Montevideo in 1520. Sebastian Cabot in 1526 explored Río de la Plata but no permanent settlements were established at that time. The absence of gold and silver limited settlement of the region during the 16th and 17th centuries. In 1603 cattle and horses were introduced by the order of Hernando Arias de Saavedra and by the mid-17th century their number had greatly multiplied. The first permanent settlement on the territory of present-day Uruguay was founded by Spanish Jesuits in 1624 at Villa Soriano on the Río Negro, where they tried to establish a Misiones Orientales system for the Charrúas.[citation needed]

In 1680, Portuguese colonists established Colônia do Sacramento on the northern bank of La Plata river, on the opposite coast from Buenos Aires. Spanish colonial activity increased as Spain sought to limit Portugal's expansion of Brazil's frontiers. In 1726, the Spanish established San Felipe de Montevideo on the northern bank and its natural harbour soon developed into a commercial centre competing with Buenos Aires. They also moved to capture Côlonia del Sacramento. The 1750 Treaty of Madrid secured Spanish control over Banda Oriental, settlers were given land here and a local cabildo was created.[citation needed]

In 1776, the new Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata was established with its capital at Buenos Aires and it included territory of Banda Oriental. By this time the land had been divided among cattle ranchers and beef was becoming a major product. By 1800, more than 10,000 people lived in Montevideo and another 20,000 in the rest of the province. Out of these, about 30% were African slaves.[3]

Uruguay's early 19th century history was shaped by ongoing conflict between the British, Spanish, Portuguese and local colonial forces for dominance of the La Plata basin. In 1806 and 1807, during the Anglo-Spanish War (1796–1808), the British launched invasions. Buenos Aires was taken in 1806, and then liberated by forces from Montevideo led by Santiago de Liniers. In a new and stronger British attack in 1807, Montevideo was occupied by a 10,000-strong British force. The British forces were unable to invade Buenos Aires for the second time, however, and Liniers demanded the liberation of Montevideo in the terms of capitulation. The British gave up their attacks when the Peninsular War turned Great Britain and Spain into allies against Napoleon.[citation needed]

Struggle for independence, 1811–28[edit]

Provincial freedom under Artigas[edit]

Flag of Artigas
José Gervasio Artigas, as depicted by Juan Manuel Blanes.
Provincial political allegiances in 1816 CE.

The May Revolution of 1810 in Buenos Aires marked the end of Spanish rule in the Vice-royalty and the establishment of the United Provinces of Rio de la Plata. The Revolution divided the inhabitants of Montevideo, many of whom remained royalists, loyal to the Spanish crown and revolutionaries who supported independence of the provinces from Spain. This soon led to the First Banda Oriental campaign between Buenos Aires and the Spanish viceroy.[citation needed]

Local patriots under José Gervasio Artigas issued the Proclamation of 26 February 1811 which called for a war against the Spanish rule. With the help from Buenos Aires, Artigas defeated Spaniards on May 18, 1811 at the Battle of Las Piedras and began Siege of Montevideo. At this point Spanish viceroy invited Portuguese from Brazil to launch a military invasion of Banda Oriental. Afraid to lose this province to the Portuguese, Buenos Aires made peace with the Spanish viceroy. British pressure persuaded the Portuguese to withdraw in late 1811, leaving the royalists in control of Montevideo. Angered by this betrayal by Buenos Aires, Artigas with some 4000 supporters retreated to Entre Ríos Province. During the Second Banda Oriental campaign in 1813, Artigas joined José Rondeau's army from Buenos Aires and started the second siege of Montevideo, resulting in its surrender to Río de la Plata.[citation needed]

Artigas participated in the formation of the League of the Free People, which united several provinces that wanted to be free from the dominance of Buenos Aires and create a centralised state as envisaged by the Congress of Tucumán. Artigas was proclaimed Protector of this League. Guided by his political ideas (Artiguism) he launched a land reform, dividing land to small farmers.[citation needed]

Brazilian province[edit]

The steady growth of the influence and prestige of the Liga Federal frightened the Portuguese government, which did not want the League's republicanism to spread to the adjoining Portuguese colony of Brazil. In August 1816, forces from Brazil invaded and began the Portuguese conquest of the Banda Oriental with the intention of destroying Artigas and his revolution. The Portuguese forces included a fully armed force of disciplined Portuguese European veterans of the Napoleonic Wars with local Brazilian troops. This army, with more military experience and material superiority, occupied Montevideo on January 20, 1817. In 1820, Artigas' forces were finally defeated in the Battle of Tacuarembó after which Banda Oriental was incorporated into Brazil as its Cisplatina province. During the War of Independence of Brazil in 1823–24, another siege of Montevideo occurred.[citation needed]

The Thirty-Three[edit]

Proclamation of Constitution of 1830 CE.
Oath of the Thirty-Three.
Flag of the Thirty-Three.

On 19 April 1825, with the support of Buenos Aires, the Thirty-Three Orientals led by Juan Antonio Lavalleja landed in Cisplatina. They reached Montevideo on 20 May. On 14 June, in La Florida, a provisional government was formed. On 25 August the newly elected provincial assembly declared the secession of Cisplatina province from Empire of Brazil, and allegiance to the United Provinces of Río de la Plata. In response Brazil launched the Cisplatine War.[citation needed]

This war ended on 27 August 1828 when Treaty of Montevideo was signed. After mediation by Viscount Ponsonby, a British diplomat, Brazil and Argentina agreed to recognise an independent Uruguay as a buffer state between them. As with Paraguay, however, Uruguayan independence was not completely guaranteed and only the Paraguayan War secured Uruguayan independence from the territorial ambitions of its larger neighbours.[citation needed] The Constitution of 1830 was approved in September 1829 and adapted on 18 July 1830.[4]

The "Guerra Grande", 1839–52[edit]

Manuel Oribe.
Fructuoso Rivera.
Joaquín Suárez monument in Montevideo

Soon after achieving independence, the political scene in Uruguay became split between two new parties, both splinters of the former Thirty-Three, the conservative Blancos ("Whites") and the liberal Colorados ("Reds"). The Colorados were led by the first President Fructuoso Rivera and represented the business interests of Montevideo; the Blancos were headed by the second President Manuel Oribe, who looked after the agricultural interests of the countryside and promoted protectionism.[citation needed]

Both parties took their informal names from the colour of the armbands that their supporters wore. Initially the Colorados wore blue, but when it faded in the sun, they replaced it with red. The parties became associated with warring political factions in neighbouring Argentina. The Colorados favoured the exiled Argentinian liberal Unitarios, many of whom had taken refuge in Montevideo, while the Blanco president Manuel Oribe was a close friend of the Argentine ruler Juan Manuel de Rosas.[citation needed]

Oribe took Rosas' side when the French navy blockaded Buenos Aires in 1838. This led the Colorados and the exiled Unitarios to seek French backing against Oribe and, on 15 June 1838, an army led by the Colorado leader Rivera overthrew Oribe who fled to Argentina. The Argentinian Unitarios then formed a government-in-exile in Montevideo and, with secret French encouragement, Rivera declared war on Rosas in 1839. The conflict would last thirteen years and become known as the Guerra Grande (the Great War).[citation needed]

In 1840, an army of exiled Unitarios attempted to invade northern Argentina from Uruguay but had little success. In 1842 the Argentinian army overran Uruguay on Oribe's behalf. They seized most of the country but failed to take the capital. The Great Siege of Montevideo, which began in February 1843, lasted nine years. The besieged Uruguayans called on resident foreigners for help. French and Italian legions were formed. The latter was led by the exiled Giuseppe Garibaldi, who was working as a mathematics teacher in Montevideo when the war broke out. Garibaldi was also made head of the Uruguayan navy.[citation needed]

During this siege Uruguay had two parallel governments:

The Argentinian blockade of Montevideo was ineffective as Rosas generally tried not to interfere with international shipping on the River Plate but, in 1845, when access to Paraguay was blocked, Great Britain and France allied against Rosas, seized his fleet and began a blockade of Buenos Aires, while Brazil joined in the war against Argentina. Rosas reached peace deals with Great Britain and France in 1849 and 1850 respectively. The French agreed to withdraw their legion if Rosas evacuated Argentinian troops from Uruguay. Oribe still maintained a loose siege of the capital. In 1851, the Argentinian provincial strongman Justo José de Urquiza turned against Rosas and signed a pact with the exiled Unitarios, the Uruguayan Colorados and Brazil against him. Urquiza crossed into Uruguay, defeated Oribe and lifted the siege of Montevideo. He then overthrew Rosas at the Battle of Caseros on 3 February 1852. With Rosas's defeat and exile, the "Guerra Grande" finally came to an end. Slavery was officially abolished in 1852.[citation needed] A ruling triumvirate consisting of Rivera, Lavalleja and Venancio Flores was established, but Lavalleja died in 1853, Rivera in 1854 and Flores was overthrown in 1855.[5]

Foreign relations[edit]

The government of Montevideo rewarded Brazil's financial and military support by signing five treaties in 1851 that provided for perpetual alliance between the two countries. Montevideo confirmed Brazil's right to intervene in Uruguay's internal affairs. Uruguay also renounced its territorial claims north of the Río Cuareim, thereby reducing its area to about 176,000 square kilometers, and recognised Brazil's exclusive right of navigation in the Laguna Merin and the Rio Yaguaron, the natural border between the countries.[citation needed]

In accordance with the 1851 treaties, Brazil intervened militarily in Uruguay as often as it deemed necessary.[6] In 1865, the Treaty of the Triple Alliance was signed by the Emperor of Brazil, the President of Argentina, and the Colorado general Venancio Flores, the Uruguayan head of government whom they had both helped to gain power. The Triple Alliance was created to wage a war against the Paraguayan leader Francisco Solano López.[6] The resulting Paraguayan War ended with the invasion of Paraguay and its defeat by the armies of the three countries. Montevideo, which was used as a supply station by the Brazilian navy, experienced a period of prosperity and relative calm during this war.[6]

The Uruguayan War, 1864–65[edit]

Uruguayan war, 1864–65

The Uruguayan War was fought between the governing Blancos and an alliance of the Empire of Brazil with the Colorados who were supported by Argentina. In 1863, the Colorado leader Venancio Flores launched the Liberating Crusade aimed at toppling President Bernardo Berro and his Colorado–Blanco coalition (Fusionist) government. Flores was aided by Argentina's President Bartolomé Mitre. The Fusionist coalition collapsed as Colorados joined Flores' ranks.[citation needed]

The Uruguayan civil war developed into a crisis of international scope that destabilised the entire region. Even before the Colorado rebellion, the Blancos had sought an alliance with Paraguayan dictator Francisco Solano López. Berro's now purely Blanco government also received support from Argentine Federalists, who opposed Mitre and his Unitarians. The situation deteriorated as the Empire of Brazil was drawn into the conflict. Brazil decided to intervene to re-establish the security of its southern frontiers and its influence over regional affairs. In a combined offensive against Blanco strongholds, the Brazilian–Colorado troops advanced through Uruguayan territory, eventually surrounding Montevideo. Faced with certain defeat, the Blanco government capitulated on 20 February 1865.[7]

The short-lived war would have been regarded as an outstanding success for Brazilian and Argentine interests, had Paraguayan intervention in support of the Blancos (with attacks upon Brazilian and Argentine provinces) not led to the long and costly Paraguayan War. In February 1868, former Presidents Bernardo Berro and Venancio Flores were assassinated.[citation needed]

Social and economic developments up to 1900[edit]

Montevideo in 1865

Colorado rule[edit]

The Colorados ruled without interruption from 1865 until 1958 despite internal conflicts, conflicts with neighbouring states, political and economic fluctuations, and a wave of mass immigration from Europe.[citation needed][8]

1872 power-sharing agreement[edit]

Blanco soldiers during 1897 Revolution
Government artillery unit during the Blanco uprising of 1904
National guards during the Blanco uprising of 1904

The government of General Lorenzo Batlle y Grau (1868–1872) suppressed the Revolution of the Lances with started in September 1872 under the leadership of Blancos leader Timoteo Aparacio.[9] After two years of struggle, a peace agreement was signed on 6 April 1872 when a power-sharing agreement was signed giving the Blancos control over four out of the thirteen departments of UruguayCanelones, San Jose, Florida and Cerro Largo – and a guaranteed, if limited representation in Parliament.[9] This establishment of the policy of co-participation represented the search for a new formula of compromise, based on the co-existence of the party in power and the party in opposition.[9]

Despite this agreement, Colorado rule was threatened by the failed Tricolor Revolution in 1875 and the Revolution of the Quebracho in 1886. The Colorado effort to reduce the Blancos to only three departments caused a Blanco uprising of 1897, that ended with the creation of 16 departments, of which the Blancos now had control over six. The Blancos were given one third of the seats in Congress.[10] This division of power lasted until President Jose Batlle y Ordonez instituted his political reforms which caused the last uprising by the Blancos in 1904 which ended with the Battle of Masoller and the death of Blanco leader Aparicio Saravia.[citation needed]

Military in power, 1875–90[edit]

Maximo Santos after assassination attempt

The power-sharing agreement of 1872 split the Colorados into two factions – the principistas, who were open to co-operation with the Blancos, and the netos, who were against it. In the 1873 Presidential election, the netos supported election of José Eugenio Ellauri, who was a surprise candidate with no political power-base. Five days of rioting in Montevideo between the two Colorado factions led to a military coup on 15 January 1875. Ellauri was exiled and neto representative Pedro Varela assumed the Presidency.[11]

In May 1875 the principistas began the Tricolor Revolution, which was defeated later in the year by an unexpected coalition of Blanco leader Aparicio Saravia and the Army under the command of Lorenzo Latorre. Between 1875 and 1890, the military became the centre of political power.[12] The Presidency was controlled by colonels Latorre, Santos and Tajes. This period lasted through the Presidencies of Pedro Varela (January 1875 – March 1876), Lorenzo Latorre (March 1876 – March 1880), Francisco Antonino Vidal (March 1880 – March 1882), Maximo Santos (March 1882 – March 1886), Francisco Antonino Vidal (March 1886 – May 1886), Maximo Santos (May 1886 – November 1886) and Maximo Tajes (November 1886 – March 1890).[citation needed]

In 1876, Colonel Latorre overthrew the Varela government and established a strong executive Presidency. The economy was stabilised and exports, mainly of Hereford beef and Merino wool, increased. Fray Bentos corned beef production started. Power of regional caudillos (mostly Blancos) was reduced and a modern state apparatus established.[citation needed] Latorre was followed by Vidal and Santos, during whose rule rebels from Argentina invaded on 28 March 1886, but they were soon defeated by Tajes. On 17 August 1886, in a failed assassination attempt, President Santos was shot in the jaw. Faced with mounting health and economic problems, he resigned on 18 November 1886 and Tajes was then elected president.[11]

During this authoritarian period, the government took steps towards the organisation of the country as a modern state, encouraging its economic and social transformation. Pressure groups (consisting mainly of businessmen, hacendados, and industrialists) were organised and had a strong influence on government.[12] In a transition period during the Tajes Presidency, politicians began recovering lost ground and some civilian participation in government occurred.[12]


After the "Guerra Grande" there was a steady increase in the number of immigrants, which led to the creation of large Italian Uruguayan and Spanish Uruguayan communities. Within a few decades the population of Uruguay doubled and Montevideo's tripled as most of the recent immigrants settled there. The number of immigrants rose from 48% of the population in 1860 to 68% in 1868. In the 1870s, a further 100,000 Europeans arrived, so that by 1879 about 438,000 people were living in Uruguay, a quarter of them in Montevideo.[13] Due to immigration, Uruguay's population reached 1 million in the early 20th century.[14]


The economy saw a steep upswing after the "Guerra Grande", above all in livestock raising and export. Between 1860 and 1868, the number of sheep rose from three to seventeen million. The reason for this increase lay above all in the improved methods of husbandry introduced by European immigrants. [15]

In 1857, the first bank was opened, Montevideo's Banco Comercial;[16] three years later a canal system was begun, the first telegraph line was set up, and rail links were built between the capital and the countryside.[citation needed] The Italians set up the Camera di Commercio Italiana di Montevideo (Italian Chamber of Commerce of Montevideo) which played a strategic role in trade with Italy and building up the Italian middle class in the city. [17] In 1896 the state bank, Banco de la Republica was established. [18] [19]

Montevideo became a major economic centre of the region. Thanks to its natural harbour, it became an entrepôt, or distribution hub, for goods from Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. The towns of Paysandú and Salto, both on the River Uruguay, also experienced similar development.[20]

Batlle era, 1903–33[edit]

Poster of President Batlle after victory over Blancos in 1904
Estado Centenario, the main stadium of the 1930 World Cup

José Batlle y Ordóñez, President from 1903 to 1907 and again from 1911 to 1915, set the pattern for Uruguay's modern political development and dominated the political scene until his death in 1929. Batlle was opposed to the co-participation agreement because he considered division of departments among the parties to be undemocratic. The Blancos feared loss of their power if a proportional election system was introduced and started their last revolt in 1904, which ended with the Colorado victory at the Battle of Masoller.[21]

After victory over the Blancos, Batlle introduced widespread political, social and economic reforms such as a welfare program, government participation in many facets of the economy and a new constitution. Batlle introduced universal male suffrage, nationalised foreign-owned companies and created a modern social welfare system. Under Batlle the electorate was increased from 46,000 to 188,000. Income tax for lower incomes was abolished in 1905, secondary schools were established in every city (1906), the right of divorce was given to women (1907) and the telephone network was nationalised (1915)[1] Unemployment benefits were introduced in 1914 and an eight-hour working day was introduced in 1915. In 1917, Uruguay proclaimed a secular republic.[22]

In 1913, in an attempt to prevent future Presidential dictatorships, Batlle proposed a collective Presidency (colegiado) based on the Swiss Federal Council model. The proposal was defeated in a 1916 referendum, but Batlle then managed to get support from the Blancos and the Second Constitution was approved by referendum on 25 November 1917. Under the new Constitution a split executive was created but the President continued to control the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Interior and Defence. The new nine-man National Council of Administration, which consisted of six Colorados and three Blancos, controlled the ministries of Education, Finances, Economy and Health.[citation needed] Claudio Williman, who served between Batlle's two terms, was his supporter and continued all his reforms, as did the next President Baltasar Brum (1919–1923).[citation needed]

Around 1900, infant mortality rates (IMR) in Uruguay were among the world's lowest, indicating a very healthy population. By 1910, however, the IMR leveled off, while it continued to drop in other countries. The leading causes of death – diarrheal and respiratory diseases – did not decline, indicating a growing public health problem.[23]

In 1930 Uruguay hosted the first FIFA World Cup. Although relatively few countries took part, the event provided national pride when the home team won the tournament over their neighbours Argentina. [24]

The coup of 1933[edit]

Batlle's split executive model lasted until 1933, when during the economic crisis of the Great Depression, President Gabriel Terra assumed dictatorial powers.[10]

The new welfare state was hit hard by the Great Depression, which also caused a growing political crisis. Terra blamed the ineffective collective leadership model and after securing agreement from the Blanco leader Luis Alberto de Herrera in March 1933 suspended the Congress, abolished the collective executive, established a dictatorial regime and introduced a new Constitution in 1934. The former President Brum committed suicide in protest against the coup.[25] In 1938 Terra was succeeded by his close political follower and brother-in-law General Alfredo Baldomir. During this time state retained large control over nation's economy and commerce, while pursuing free-market policies. After the new Constitution of 1942 was introduced, political freedoms were restored.[26]

World War II[edit]

Admiral Graf Spee[edit]

On 13 December 1939, the Battle of the River Plate was fought a day's sailing northeast of Uruguay between three British cruisers and the German "pocket battleship" Admiral Graf Spee. After a three-day layover in the port of Montevideo the captain of Admiral Graf Spee, believing he was hopelessly outnumbered, ordered the ship scuttled on 17th. Most of the surviving crew of 1,150 were interned in Uruguay and Argentina and many remained after the war. A German Embassy official in Uruguay has said that his government sent an official letter[when?] claiming ownership of the vessel.[citation needed] Any German claim would be invalid because, early in 1940, the Nazi government sold salvaging rights of the vessel to a Uruguayan businessman who was acting on behalf of the British government, and any salvaging rights would have expired under Uruguayan law.[27]

In June 1940, Germany threatened to break off diplomatic relations with Uruguay.[28] In December, Germany protested that Uruguay gave safe harbour to HMS Carnarvon Castle after it was attacked by a Nazi raider.[29] The ship was repaired with steel plate reportedly salvaged from Admiral Graf Spee.[30]

International relations[edit]

Senor Montero de Bustamante, Uruguayan Chargé d'Affaires in the United Kingdom, speaking at a 1943 ceremony to name a Royal Air Force Spitfire fighter funded by Uruguayan donations.

On 25 January 1942, Uruguay terminated its diplomatic relations with Nazi Germany, as did 21 other Latin American nations (Argentina did not).[31] In February 1945, Uruguay signed the Declaration by United Nations and subsequently declared war on the Axis powers but did not participate in any actual fighting.[citation needed]

Collapse of the Uruguayan miracle[edit]

Uruguay reached the peak of its economic prosperity thanks to the Second World War and the Korean War, when it reached the highest per capita income in Latin America. The country supplied beef, wool and leather to the Allied armies. In 1946 a Batlle loyalist, Tomás Berreta was elected to Presidency, and after his sudden death, Batlle's nephew Luis Batlle Berres became the President. In 1949, to cover the British debt for the beef deliveries during WWII, British owned railroads and water companies were nationalised. The 1951 constitutional referendum created the Constitution of 1952 which returned to the collective executive model and the National Council of Government was created.

The end of the large global military conflicts by mid-1950s caused troubles for the country. Because of a decrease in demand in the world market for agricultural products, Uruguay began having economic problems, which included inflation, mass unemployment, and a steep drop in the standard of living for the workers. This led to student militancy and labour unrest. The collective ruling council was unable to agree on harsh measures that were required to stabilise the economy. As the demand for Uruguay's export products plummeted, the collective leadership tried to avoid budget cuts by spending Uruguay's currency reserves and then began taking foreign loans. The Uruguayan peso was devalued, inflation reached 60% and the economy was in deep crisis.

The Blancos won the 1958 elections and became the ruling party in the Council. They struggled to improve the economy and advocated a return to strong Presidency. After a constitutional referendum, the Council was replaced by a single Presidency under the new Constitution of 1967. The elections of 1967 returned the Colorados to power, and they became increasingly repressive in the face of growing popular protests and Tupamaros insurgency.

The Tupamaros were an urban guerrilla movement formed in the early 1960s. They began by robbing banks and distributing food and money in poor neighbourhoods, then undertaking political kidnappings and attacks on security forces. They occupied a city near Montevideo, in an operation known as the Taking of Pando. Their efforts succeeded in first embarrassing, and then destabilising, the government. The US Office of Public Safety (OPS) began operating in Uruguay in 1965. The US OPS trained Uruguayan police and intelligence in policing and interrogation techniques. The Uruguayan Chief of Police Intelligence, Alejandro Otero, told a Brazilian newspaper in 1970 that the OPS, especially the head of the OPS in Uruguay, Dan Mitrione, had instructed the Uruguayan police how to torture suspects, especially with electrical implements.

Military dictatorship, 1973–1985[edit]

President Jorge Pacheco declared a state of emergency in 1968, and this was followed by a further suspension of civil liberties in 1972 by his successor, President Juan María Bordaberry. President Bordaberry brought the Army in to combat the guerrillas of the Tupamaros Movement of National Liberation (MLN), which was led by Raúl Sendic. After defeating the Tupamaros, the military seized power in 1973. Torture was effectively used to gather information needed to break up the MLN and also against trade union officers, members of the Communist Party and even regular citizens. Torture practices extended until the end of Uruguayan dictatorship in 1985. Uruguay soon had the highest per capita percentage of political prisoners in the world. The MLN heads were isolated in improvised prisons and subjected to repeated acts of torture. Emigration from Uruguay rose drastically, as large numbers of Uruguayans looked for political asylum throughout the world.

Bordaberry was finally removed from his "president charge" in 1976. He was first succeeded by Alberto Demicheli. Subsequently a national council chosen by the military government elected Aparicio Méndez. In 1980, in order to legitimize their position, the armed forces proposed a change in the constitution, to be subjected to a popular vote by a referendum. The "No" votes against the constitutional changes totalled 57.2% of the turnout, showing the unpopularity of the de facto government, that was later accelerated by an economic crisis.

In 1981, General Gregorio Álvarez assumed the presidency. Massive protests against the dictatorship broke out in 1984. After a 24-hour general strike, talks began and the armed forces announced a plan for return to civilian rule. National elections were held later in 1984. Colorado Party leader Julio María Sanguinetti won the presidency and, following the brief interim Presidency of Rafael Addiego Bruno, served from 1985 to 1990. The first Sanguinetti administration implemented economic reforms and consolidated democratization following the country's years under military rule. Nonetheless, Sanguinetti never supported the human rights violations accusations, and his government did not prosecute the military officials who engaged in repression and torture against either the Tupamaros or the MLN. Instead, he opted for signing an amnesty treaty called in Spanish "Ley de Amnistia."

Around 180 Uruguayans are known to have been killed during the 12-year military rule from 1973 to 1985.[32] Most were killed in Argentina and other neighbouring countries, with only 36 of them having been killed in Uruguay.[33] A large number of those killed, were never found and the missing people have been referred to as the "disappeared", or "desaparecidos" in Spanish.

Recent history[edit]

Modern Montevideo

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. President Lacalle executed major economic structural reforms and pursued further liberalization of trade regimes, including Uruguay's inclusion in the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) in 1991. 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 2002.

The 1999 national elections were held under a new electoral system established by a 1996 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 Broad Front candidate Tabaré Vázquez.[34]

The Colorado and National Parties continued their legislative coalition, as neither party by itself won as many seats as the 40% of each house won by the Broad Front coalition. The formal coalition ended in November 2002, when the Blancos withdrew their ministers from the cabinet, although the Blancos continued to support the Colorados on most issues.

Batlle's five-year term was marked by economic recession and uncertainty, first with the 1999 devaluation of the Brazilian real, then with the outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease (aftosa) in Uruguay's key beef sector in 2001, and finally with the political and economic collapse of Argentina. Unemployment rose to close to twenty percent, real wages fell, the peso was devalued and the percentage of Uruguayans in poverty reached almost forty percent.

These worsening economic conditions played a part in turning public opinion against the free market economic policies adopted by the Batlle administration and its predecessors, leading to popular rejection through plebiscites of proposals for privatization of the state petroleum company in 2003 and of the state water company in 2004. In 2004 Uruguayans elected Tabaré Vázquez as president, while giving the Broad Front coalition a majority in both houses of parliament. [35]The newly elected government, while pledging to continue payments on Uruguay's external debt, has also promised to undertake a crash jobs programs to attack the widespread problems of poverty and unemployment.

In 2009, former Tupamaro and agriculture minister José Mujica, was elected president, subsequently succeeding Vázquez on March 1, 2010.[36]

The number of trade union activists has quadrupled since 2003, from 110,000 to over 400,000 in 2015 for a working population of 1.5 million people. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, Uruguay has become the most advanced country in the Americas in terms of respect for "fundamental labour rights, in particular freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining and the right to strike.

In November 2014, former president Tabaré Vázquez defeated center-right opposition candidate Luis Lacalle Pou in the presidential election.[37] On 1 March 2015, Tabare Vazquez was sworn in as the new President of Uruguay to succeed president José Mujica.[38]

In November 2019, conservative Luis Lacalle Pou won the election, bringing the end to 15 years of leftist rule of Broad Front. On 1 March 2020, Luis Lacalle Pou, the son of former president Luis Alberto Lacalle, was sworn in as the new President of Uruguay.[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Jermyn, pp. 17–31.
  2. ^ Bethell, Leslie (1984). The Cambridge History of Latin America, Volume 1, Colonial Latin America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 257.
  3. ^ Ciferri, Alberto (2019). An Overview of Historical and Socio-economic Evolution in the Americas. United Kingdom: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. p. 483. ISBN 978-1-5275-3513-8.
  4. ^ Burford, p. 17.
  5. ^ Burford, p. 18.
  6. ^ a b c Rex A. Hudson; Sandra W. Meditz, eds. (1990). "The Struggle for Survival, 1852–1875 (Chapter 7)". Uruguay: A Country Study. Washington DC: Library of Congress Country Studies. Retrieved 23 February 2011.
  7. ^ "Caudillos and Political Stability". Country Studies US. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  8. ^ The New York Times. (2004, July 15). Uruguay. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/15/travel/uruguay.html.
  9. ^ a b c Rex A. Hudson; Sandra W. Meditz, eds. (1990). "Caudillos and Political Stability (Chapter 9)". Uruguay: A Country Study. Washington DC: Library of Congress Country Studies. Retrieved 23 February 2011.
  10. ^ a b Lewis, Paul H. (2005). Authoritarian Regimes in Latin America: Dictators, Despots, and Tyrants. London: Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 84–87. ISBN 978-07425-37392.
  11. ^ a b Scheina, ch. 25.
  12. ^ a b c Rex A. Hudson; Sandra W. Meditz, eds. (1990). "Modern Uruguay, 1875–1903 (Chapter 10)". Uruguay: A Country Study. Washington DC: Library of Congress Country Studies. Retrieved 23 February 2011.
  13. ^ Goebel, pp. 191–229.
  14. ^ Hudson, Rex (1992). Uruguay: A Country Study. Washington D.C: Federal Research Division. pp. 65. ISBN 0844407372.
  15. ^ Johan Martin Gerard Kleinpenning, Peopling the Purple Land: A Historical Geography of Rural Uruguay, 1500-1915 (Amsterdam: Centrum voor Studie en Documentatie van Latijns Amerika, 1965/1995) https://books.google.com/books?id=Yf4DAQAAIAAJ
  16. ^ New York's International Banking Directory (1922), 872; available at https://books.google.com/books?id=1s8oAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA872
  17. ^ See A. Beretta Curi (2002), La Camera di Commercio Italiana di Montevideo 1883–1933. Montevideo: Camera de Commercio Italiana. Some translated to English (2009) as essay, The contribution of Italian emigration to the formation of urban entrepreneurship in Uruguay: The creation of the Camera di Commercio Italiana di Montevideo, 1883-1933; available at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/298654806_The_contribution_of_Italian_emigration_to_the_formation_of_urban_entrepreneurship_in_Uruguay_The_creation_of_the_Camera_di_Commercio_Italiana_di_Montevideo_1883-1933
  18. ^ Banco de la República Oriental del Uruguay, Sinopsis económica y financiera del Uruguay (Montevideo: Impresara Uruguaya, 1933); and Simon G. Hanson, Utopia in Uruguay: Chapters in the Economic History of Uruguay (Oxford University Press, 1938).
  19. ^ Discussed more recently in Ronn F. Pineo, Cities Of Hope: People, Protests, And Progress In Urbanizing Latin America, 1870-1930 (London: Routledge, 2018). https://books.google.com/books?id=E8mWDwAAQBAJ ISBN 9780429970191
  20. ^ Raúl A. Molina (1948, 151-64) emphasizes the centrality of early-17th c. colonialist explorer Hernandarias de Saavedra in his choice of settlements, up to the present day. Discussed more recently in Gustavo Verdesio, Forgotten Conquests: Rereading New World History from the Margins (Phila. PA: Temple University Press, 2001), ch. 3, "The Pacific Penetration." https://books.google.com/books?id=tnw7GmI2ZCgC ISBN 9781566398343
  21. ^ Wade C. Roof, ed., Race and Residence in American Cities (Ann Arbor MI: American Academy of Political and Social Science, 1979), 145. ISBN 9780877612377
  22. ^ Juan Rial, "The Social Imaginary: Utopian Political Myths in Uruguay (Change and Permanence during and after the Dictatorship)", in Saúl Sosnowski and Louise B. Popkin, eds., Repression, Exile, and Democracy: Uruguayan Culture (Durham NC: Duke University Press, 1993), 59-82. ISBN 9780822312680
  23. ^ Birn, Anne-Emanuelle (2010). "The infant mortality conundrum in Uruguay during the first half of the twentieth century: an analysis according to causes of death". Continuity & Change. Cambridge University Press. 25 (3): 435–461. doi:10.1017/S0268416010000263. S2CID 145495121.
  24. ^ Eduardo Galeano, trans. Mark Fried, Soccer in Sun and Shadow (NY: Open Road Media, 2014) ISBN 9781497639041
  25. ^ Burford, p. 19.
  26. ^ Alisky, Marvin H.; Weinstein, Martin; Vanger, Milton I.; James, Preston E. (October 4, 2019). "Uruguay". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved December 4, 2019.
  27. ^ Rohter, Larry (25 August 2006). "A Swastika, 60 Years Submerged, Still Inflames Debate". New York Times. Retrieved 19 May 2008. For more than 60 years, the scuttled wreck of the Graf Spee rested undisturbed in 65 feet of murky water just outside the harbor here. But now that fragments of the vessel, once the pride of the Nazi fleet, are being recovered, a new battle has broken out over who owns those spoils and what should be done with them.
  28. ^ White, John W. (20 June 1940). "Minister Ready to Ask for His Passports if Any Local Nazi Leaders Are Deported". New York Times. Retrieved 22 May 2009. Germany has now begun to exert tremendous political and economic pressure on the Uruguayan Government to halt what Berlin calls an unfriendly anti-German campaign here. The Reich has threatened to break off diplomatic relations if any Nazi leaders are deported.
  29. ^ White, John W. (10 December 1940). "Nazis Protest Aid to Raider's Victim. Object in Uruguay to Giving Carnarvon Castle 72 Hours to Mend Battle Scars". New York Times. Retrieved 22 May 2009. The German Government, through its Minister in Montevideo, Otto Langmann, made a formal diplomatic protest this afternoon against...
  30. ^ "Search For Raider". New York Times. 9 December 1940. Retrieved 22 May 2009. The British auxiliary cruiser Carnarvon Castle, hit twenty-two times in a battle with a German sea raider, was being repaired tonight with steel plates reportedly taken from the scuttled German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee.
  31. ^ Hulen, Bertram D. (22 January 1942). "Actual Rupture is left to Congress of each Signatory". New York Times. Retrieved 22 May 2009. Unanimous agreement by the twenty-one American republics on a resolution for severance of relations with the Axis powers was reached late today at a three-hour consultation in the office of Foreign Minister Oswaldo Aranha of Brazil, who is chairman of the Inter-American Conference.
  32. ^ "New find in Uruguay 'missing' dig". BBC News. BBC. 3 December 2005. Retrieved 4 February 2011.
  33. ^ "Uruguay dig finds 'disappeared'". BBC News. BBC. 30 November 2005. Retrieved 4 February 2011.
  34. ^ "Battle wins Uruguay election".
  35. ^ Rohter, Larry (November 2004). "Uruguay's Left Makes History by Winning Presidential Vote". The New York Times.
  36. ^ Moffett, Matt (2009-11-30). "In Uruguay, Ex-Militant Mujica Is Elected". The Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2021-04-02.
  37. ^ Farat, Malena Castaldi (30 November 2014). "Uruguayan ruling party's Vazquez wins presidential election". Reuters.
  38. ^ "Tabare Vazquez sworn in as Uruguay's new president".
  39. ^ https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2020-03-01/uruguay-presidential-inauguration-sees-latin-pink-tide-recede-further


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