y´rgw, gw, Span. rgwi´, rw´, officially Oriental Republic of Uruguay, republic (2005 est. pop. 3,416,000), 68,536 sq mi (177,508 sq km), SE South America. The second smallest country (after Suriname) in South America, Uruguay extends from a short Atlantic coastline along the north bank of the Río de la Plata to the Uruguay River, which separates it on the west from Argentina. To the north is Brazil. The capital and largest city is Montevideo.
The land is an area of topographical transition from the humid Argentine Pampa to the uplands of S Brazil. North of the alluvial plain, known as the Banda Oriental [Span.,=east bank, i.e., of the Uruguay and the Río de la Plata], Uruguay generally has long, sweeping slopes and grasslands, wooded valleys with slow-moving rivers, and long ranges of low hills, with some huge granite blocks that stand out against the horizon. Although Uruguay is within the temperate zone, climatic variations are moderate; generally the climate is warm, with rainfall evenly distributed through the seasons, but in some years there are severe droughts.
Most of the population is concentrated in the south; over 40% live in Montevideo. Almost 90% of Uruguay's people are of European descent, Spanish and Italian predominating; there are few pure indigenous Uruguayans. The original inhabitants, the Charrúa, were absorbed into the Spanish and Portuguese populations after long resistance; today the mestizo element (less than 10% of the total population) is found principally in N Uruguay. Spanish is the official language, but a dialect containing elements of Spanish and Portuguese is spoken along the Brazilian frontier. The majority of the population is nominally Roman Catholic. The nation has long been remarkable for its contributions to literature and the arts (see Spanish American literature). The Univ. of the Republic is in Montevideo.
Uruguay's greatest natural resource is its rich agricultural land, almost 90% of which is devoted to livestock raising. Cattle, sheep, horses, and pigs are the major livestock animals. Grains for cattle fattening and human consumption make up the bulk of the harvested crops. Rice is the major food crop, followed by wheat and sugarcane. Corn is the principal feed concentrate. Barley, oats, and grain sorghums are also grown, and oil crops (flaxseed and sunflower seed) and sugar beets are important. In the vicinity of Salto there are many orchards and vineyards.
Despite Uruguay's basically agricultural-pastoral economy, its dependence upon imports for most raw materials, and its lack of fuel resources, there is considerable industrialization. The processing of agricultural and animal products accounts for about half of the manufacturing activity; Fray Bentos and Paysandú are noted for their meatpacking plants. Other industries manufacture electrical machinery, transportation equipment, petroleum products, textiles, and chemicals. A large refinery near Montevideo processes imported crude oil. Mineral resources include marble, stone, granite, and bauxite. There are important hydroelectric plants on the Uruguay and Negro rivers. Fishing and forestry add to the country's economy.
Uruguay's magnificent beaches, such as those at Punta del Este, are great economic assets; tourists, chiefly from Argentina, contribute much to the national income. The country's transportation facilities are extensively developed. Meat, wool, and hides and skins constitute the majority of Uruguay's exports; rice, fish, and dairy products are also exported. Machinery, chemicals, and vehicles are imported. Brazil, the United States, Argentina, and Russia are the main trading partners. Uruguay is a member of Mercosur.
Uruguay operates under the constitution of 1967 as amended. Executive power is held by the president, who is popularly elected for a five-year term and may not serve consecutive terms. The bicameral legislature consists of a 30-seat Chamber of Senators and a 99-seat Chamber of Representatives; its members are also elected for five-year terms. Administratively, Uruguay is divided into 19 departments.
Although the Río de la Plata was explored as early as 1515, it was not until 1624 that the Spanish established the first permanent settlement, at Soriano in SW Uruguay. The Portuguese founded (1680) a short-lived settlement at Colonia, and in 1717 they fortified a hill on the site of Montevideo. Fearing encroachment and competition, the Spanish drove them out (1724) and from then until the wars of independence controlled the Banda Oriental. Uruguay's position between Spanish and Portuguese settlements, and later between Argentina and Brazil, helped determine the emergence of Uruguay as an independent state. On the pampas stock raising spread; gradually the unbounded range gave way to huge estancias (cattle ranches) and small settlements concentrated about the ranch buildings.
It was the rough and hardy gaucho who fought for independence, and the traditions, personal loyalties, and rivalries of the gauchos helped to keep the nation in almost continual strife for three quarters of a century after independence was won. When the revolutionary banner was raised in the Argentine in 1810, the leaders of the Banda Oriental, notably Artigas, accepted the cause, but in 1814 Artigas broke with the military junta of Buenos Aires and began a struggle for Uruguayan independence that lasted until the Brazilian occupation of Montevideo in 1820. Five years later a small group, known as the Thirty-three Immortals, under the guidance of Lavalleja, declared Uruguay independent.
In 1827 at Ituzaingó Brazil was defeated. Great Britain, opposing Brazilian expansion south to the Río de la Plata, helped ultimately to create an independent Uruguay as a buffer state between Argentina and Brazil. The peace (1828) stipulated that the new Uruguayan constitution should be acceptable to both the larger nations. When it was adopted in 1830, Fructuoso Rivera was chosen as president. He was promptly faced with revolts led by his old rival, Lavalleja, and when he was succeeded in office by Manuel Oribe, he himself revolted against Oribe, who was in sympathy with Juan Manuel de Rosas of Argentina. In the long fratricidal struggle that ensued, the two dominant political parties of Uruguay emerged, Rivera's Colorados [reds] and Oribe's Blancos [whites].
Oribe was driven out in 1838, but later with the aid of Rosas returned to begin the long siege of Montevideo. The Italian patriot Garibaldi fought in the Uruguayan wars from 1842 to 1846. In 1851 the Argentine general Urquiza drove out Rosas and brought an end to the Uruguayan civil war. When in 1864 Brazil presented a claim for damages to property and nationals during the civil wars, Uruguay refused to accept it. Brazil invaded and, aided by the Uruguayan general Vanancio Flores (a Colorado), overthrew the Blanco president. Paraguay, under Francisco Solano López, came to the assistance of the Blancos, whereupon Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay formed a tripartite alliance against Paraguay (see Triple Alliance, War of the). During the 19th and 20th cent. waves of immigration, chiefly from Europe, augmented the Uruguayan population.
Until the rise of José Batlle y OrdóÑez early in the 20th cent., Uruguay experienced many revolutions and counterrevolutions. In Batlle's second term as president (1911–15), however, began the social and material progress that made Uruguay one of the more stable and prosperous nations of Latin America. By a coup in 1933, Gabriel Terra suspended the constitution of 1919, and his rule was strongly personalistic. Yet, under Terra's rule, which ended in 1938, the socialistic measures for public welfare were not reversed but forwarded; the labor code was broadened, social benefits increased, and industry further nationalized.
Batlle's influence on Uruguayan political practice did not end with his death; concerned lest the country again fall prey to dictatorial caudillos, he had advocated the creation of an executive governing council. This reform, inspired by the Swiss multiple-executive system of government, was adopted in 1951; the office of president was abolished and replaced by a nine-man council with a president, chosen from the majority party, to act as titular head of state. The plural executive, however, proved ineffectual; factionalism and apathy within the council hindered action on social and economic problems, which became pressing in the mid-1950s and acute during the 60s.
The increasing use of synthetics and the steadily declining price of wool cut deeply into Uruguay's exports of wool and leather. Inflation and unemployment grew, and the vast, inefficient bureaucracy became a burden to the economy. In 1958 the Colorados, who had been in power for over 93 years, were overwhelmingly defeated by the conservative Blancos, who won again in 1962 by a narrower margin. Throughout the 1960s and early 70s the economic decline continued, intensified by droughts and floods and accompanied by massive social unrest—riots, paralyzing strikes, and the emergence of a terrorist Marxist guerrilla group, the well-organized Tupamaro National Liberation Front (see Tupamaros).
In 1967 a new constitution abolished the plural executive and reinstated a powerful president. That same year the Colorado party returned to power, with Oscar Gestido as president. Gestido died after several months in office and was succeeded by his vice president, Jorge Pacheco. Pacheco and his hand-picked successor, José María Bordaberry (who was elected in 1972), ruled with increasingly dictatorial powers. As the Tupamaros increased their terrorist activities, kidnapping foreign diplomats and assassinating high officials, the army assumed tremendous power, even pressuring President Bordaberry (June, 1973) to dissolve the congress. The military, which made Aparicio Méndez president in 1976, ruled Uruguay with brutal force, regularly disregarding human rights by kidnapping, imprisoning, torturing, or murdering citizens.
The government's repressive tactics caused a massive emigration of Uruguayans, mostly to Argentina. After a 1980 plebiscite to continue de facto military rule was voted down by the populace, the military government steadily lost power. In 1985, Julio María Sanguinetti of the centrist Colorado party became president, restoring civilian government but also granting amnesty (1986) to former leaders accused of human-rights violations. Luis Alberto Lacalle Herrera of the conservative National (Blanco) party became president in 1990. He was forced to form a coalition government in order to secure a parliamentary majority, and his attempts to introduce free-market reforms were obstructed.
Sanguinetti was returned to the presidency by a slim margin in the 1994 elections, and also had to form a coalition; he sought cutbacks in Uruguay's bankrupt social security program and modest amounts of privatization. In 1999, Jorge Batlle IbaÑez, also of the Colorado party, was elected president; during the election, he faced a strong challenge on the left from the Broad Front's Tabaré Vázquez, the former mayor of Montevideo. Since the late 1990s the country's economy has been hurt by crises in the economies of Brazil and Argentina, its principal trade partners, resulting in several years of recession that became particularly severe in 2002. In 2003, Batlle IbaÑez announced that the government would compensate families of victims of the 1976–85 military dictatorship and of the guerrilla groups that opposed it.
Uruguay's economic difficulties enabled Tabaré Vázquez to win the presidency without a runoff in 2004; his Broad Front coalition also won majorities in both legislative houses. Vázquez became the first leftist to be elected president in Uruguay. The building in Uruguay of two pulp mills on the Uruguay River along the Argentina border led to tensions between the two nations throughout 2006; fearful of possible pollution from the mills, Argentinians blockaded several bridges between the nations. The International Court of Justice agreed to hear Argentina's contention that the mills violated a treaty on the use of the river but allowed construction to proceed while the court considered the case; it also refused to order Argentina to stop the protests. Also in 2006, former president Bordaberry was charged and arrested in connection for involvement in the political murders of dissidents and others in 1976.