It was Uruguay’s position, between Spanish and Portuguese settlements, and later between Argentina and Brazil, that helped determine its emergence as an independent state.
The banner of revolution and independence was raised in Argentina in 1819 and its soon spread when Argentine leaders broke with the military junta and headed to Uruguay. Brazil occupied Montevideo in 1820 and in 1825 Uruguay declared itself independent.
Political turmoil ensued and Great Britain helped to secure an independent buffer state between Brazil and Argentina. Until the early 20th century, Uruguay experienced many revolutions and counter-revolutions.
Social and economic problems became pressing in the 1950s and 60s. A violent Marxist urban guerrilla movement, the Tupamaros, was launched in response to this. Uruguay’s president agreed to military control of his government in 1973.
By the end of that year, the revolutionaries had been defeated but the military continued it’s hold. Civilian rule was not restored until 1985. Uruguay’s political and working conditions are amongst the freest on the South American continent.
Uruguay is also the only country in South America that lies wholly outside the tropics.
The climate is mild and fairly consistent throughout the country. There are seasonal variations, but freezing temperatures are practically unknown.
It is the second smallest country after Suriname and much of its landscape, approximately three-quarters of the country, consists of sweeping plains known as the pampas. The landscape and climate are perfect for sheep and cattle raising.
The majority of the population is found in the south and over 40% live in Montevideo.
The flag of Uruguay
Almost 90% of Uruguayans are of European descent and only a very small number of the indigenous people, the Charrua, exist today and tend to live in the north.
Spanish is the predominant language although along the Brazilian border they speak a dialect of Spanish and Portuguese.
Uruguay became the stuff of legend when, in 1972 a plane carrying a team of footballers from Uruguay crashed high in the Andes mountains.
Those that were not killed by the crash or the avalanche which quickly followed, survived the bitter cold by eating the flesh of their dead companions until they were rescued more then 70 days later.
Official name: Oriental Republic of Uruguay
Government type: Constitutional republic
Uruguay President Tabare
Population: 3,415,920 (July 2005 estimate)
Languages: Spanish, Portunol, or Brazilero (Portuguese-Spanish mix on the Brazilian frontier)
Ethnic diversity: White 88%, mestizo 8%, black 4%, Amerindian, practically nonexistent
Literacy: (15 and over can read and write in total population): 98%; male: 97.6%; female: 98.4% (2003 estimate)
Religion: Roman Roman Catholic 66% (less than half of the adult population attends church regularly), Protestant 2%, Jewish 1%, non-professing or other 31%
Political parties and leaders: Colorado Party, Jorge Batlle Ibanez; National Party or Blanco, Luis Alberto Lacalle Herrera; New Sector/Space Coalition (Nuevo Espacio), Rafael Michelini; Progressive Encounter/Broad Front Coalition (Encuentro Progresista/Frente Amplio) or EP-FA, Tabare Vazquez; Independent Party (Partido Independiente), leader NA.
Political pressure groups and leaders: Agrupacion UTE (powerful state worker’s union), Rural Association of Uruguay (rancher’s association), Uruguayan Construction League, Chamber of Uruguayan Industries (manufacturer’s association), Chemist and Pharmaceutical Association (professional organisation), Architect’s Society of Uruguay (professional organization), the Catholic Church, students.
International organisation participation includes: FAO, G-77, IADB, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICCt, ICRM, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ISO, ITU, LAES, LAIA, Mercosur, MIGA, MINURSO, MINUSTAH, MONUC, NAM (observer), OAS, ONUB, OPANAL, OPCW, PCA, RG, UN, UNAMSIL, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNFICYP, UNIDO, UNMEE, UNMOGIP, UNMOT, UNOCI, UNOMIG, UPU, WCL, WCO, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTO.
Military branches: Army, Navy (includes Naval Air Arm, Marines, Maritime Prefecture in wartime), Air Force.
Military manpower – military age: 18 years of age for voluntary compulsory military service (2001).
Military manpower – there are approximately 764,408 (2005 est) males aged 18-49 available for military service.
Location: Southern South America, bordering the South Atlantic Ocean, between Argentina and Brazil.
Area: total: 176,220sq km; land: 173,620sq km; water: 2600sq km
Land boundaries: Total: 1564 km; border countries: Argentina 579km, Brazil 985km
Coastline: 660 km
Maritime claims: Territorial sea: 12 nm; contiguous zone: 24 nm; exclusive economic zone: 200 nm; continental shelf: 200-m depth or to the depth of exploitation
Climate: Warm temperate; freezing temperatures almost unknown.
Terrain: Mostly rolling plains and low hills; fertile coastal lowland.
Natural resources: Arable land, hydropower, minor minerals, fisheries.
Volunteers battle a forest fire
Land use: Arable land: 7.43%; permanent crops: 0.23%; other: 92.34% (2001)
Natural hazards: Seasonally high winds (the pampero is a chilly and occasionally violent wind that blows north from the Argentine pampas), droughts, floods; because of the lack of mountains, which act as weather barriers, all locations are vulnerable to rapid changes in weather fronts.
Environment – current issues: Water pollution from meat packing/tannery industry; inadequate solid/hazardous waste disposal.
Environment – international agreements: Party to: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands; signed, but not ratified: Marine Dumping, Marine Life Conservation.
Economy: The economic downturn Uruguay experienced between 1999 and 2002 was a result of the economic problems of its large neighbours Argentina and Brazil.
Unemployment rose to nearly 20% in 2002 and inflation soared as the external debt doubled. Cooperation with the International Monetary Fund limited the damage and the economy grew about 10% in 2004.
Gross Domestic Product: $7857.43 per person
GDP – real growth rate: 10.2% (2004 est)
Industries: Food-processing, electrical machinery, transportation equipment, petroleum products, textiles, chemicals, beverages.
Exports: Meat, rice, leather products, wool, fish, dairy products.
Imports: machinery, chemicals, road vehicles, crude petroleum.
Labour force: 1.56 million (2004 estimate). Labour force – by occupation: Agriculture 14%, industry 16%, services 70%Unemployment rate: 13% (2004 estimate)
Currency: Uruguayan Peso
Sources: Politinfo.com, CIA world fact book, Infoplease.com, Nationmaster.com, mtholyoke.edu.