Uruguay History - History

Uruguay History - History

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In colonial times, Portugal controlled much of Uruguay, although the Spanish had ben the first European explorers. By 1828, the Uruguayans has successfully expelled the Portuguese. Though a constitution was drafted, the country soon fell into civil war which continued for several decades. From 1865 to 1958 the Colorado party was the dominant force in Uruguay. During the early part of this period, Europeans settled in the country so enthusiastically that by 1880, newcomers constituted about fifty percent of the population. Still, civil war threatened with the last eruption occurring in 1904. Though a military coup succeeded in 1933, by 1951 the people were calling for a return to a plural system. Over the next decades, political tensions continued and the country witnessed the rise of the Tupamaros (the National Liberation Movement) in 1967 which further served to destabilize the country. In 1973, the military again took control in a repressive and brutal regime and it was not until over a decade later that a civilian presidential election was held.

Settlement patterns

When Uruguay became independent in 1828, its national territory was used almost exclusively for grazing herds of cattle on unfenced ranges there were few permanent settlements outside of Montevideo, Colonia del Sacramento, and villages along the Uruguay River. The grazing lands along the eastern shore of the river constituted a kind of no-man’s-land between the Portuguese Brazilians and the Spanish Argentines.

After independence, Uruguay received a small influx of immigrants, chiefly from Italy and Spain. They entered through Montevideo and settled southern Uruguay in a zone along the Río de la Plata and Uruguay River. But from the early 1850s the European immigrants to the Plata region went largely to Argentina, and agriculture in Uruguay remained static. Livestock grazing thrived in the sparsely populated north, but crop farming was mostly limited to the south. By the early 20th century, rail lines and roads had extended throughout much of the country, and the area devoted to farming had grown markedly, notably with the introduction of sheep herds and pastures enclosed with barbed wire. Sheep far outnumber cattle in the northwest, but cattle are of major importance south of the Negro River. Ranches (estancias), some larger than 25,000 acres (10,000 hectares), are still common in the pastoral region.

More than nine-tenths of Uruguayans now live in urban areas. Montevideo, the country’s dominant urban centre, has a virtual monopoly on commerce, manufacturing, and government services. Other, much smaller cities include Salto and Paysandú, both on the Uruguay River, Artigas and Rivera in the north, Melo in the east, and the southern cities of Maldonado, Minas, and Las Piedras.

Economic Performance in the Long Run

Despite its precarious beginnings, Uruguay’s per capita gross domestic product (GDP) growth from 1870 to 2002 shows an amazing persistence, with the long-run rate averaging around one percent per year. However, this apparent stability hides some important shifts. As shown in Figure 1, both GDP and population grew much faster before the 1930s from 1930 to 1960 immigration vanished and population grew much more slowly, while decades of GDP stagnation and fast growth alternated after the 1960s Uruguay became a net-emigration country, with low natural growth rates and a still spasmodic GDP growth.

GDP growth shows a pattern featured by Kuznets-like swings (Bértola and Lorenzo 2004), with extremely destructive downward phases, as shown in Table 1. This cyclical pattern is correlated with movements of the terms of trade (the relative price of exports versus imports), world demand and international capital flows. In the expansive phases exports performed well, due to increased demand and/or positive terms of trade shocks (1880s, 1900s, 1920s, 1940s and even during the Mercosur years from 1991 to 1998). Capital flows would sometimes follow these booms and prolong the cycle, or even be a decisive force to set the cycle up, as were financial flows in the 1970s and 1990s. The usual outcome, however, has been an overvalued currency, which blurred the debt problem and threatened the balance of trade by overpricing exports. Crises have been the result of a combination of changing trade conditions, devaluation and over-indebtedness, as in the 1880s, early 1910s, late 1920s, 1950s, early 1980s and late 1990s.

Table 1: Swings in the Uruguayan Economy, 1870-2003

Per capita GDP fall (%) Length of recession (years) Time to pre-crisis levels (years) Time to next crisis (years)
1872-1875 26 3 15 16
1888-1890 21 2 19 25
1912-1915 30 3 15 19
1930-1933 36 3 17 24-27
1954/57-59 9 2-5 18-21 27-24
1981-1984 17 3 11 17
1998-2003 21 5

Besides its cyclical movement, the terms of trade showed a sharp positive trend in 1870-1913, a strongly fluctuating pattern around similar levels in 1913-1960 and a deteriorating trend since then. While the volume of exports grew quickly up to the 1920s, it stagnated in 1930-1960 and started to grow again after 1970. As a result, the purchasing power of exports grew fourfold in 1870-1913, fluctuated along with the terms of trade in 1930-1960, and exhibited a moderate growth in 1970-2002.

The Uruguayan economy was very open to trade in the period up to 1913, featuring high export shares, which naturally declined as the rapidly growing population filled in rather empty areas. In 1930-1960 the economy was increasingly and markedly closed to international trade, but since the 1970s the economy opened up to trade again. Nevertheless, exports, which earlier were mainly directed to Europe (beef, wool, leather, linseed, etc.), were increasingly oriented to Argentina and Brazil, in the context of bilateral trade agreements in the 1970s and 1980s and of Mercosur (the trading zone encompassing Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) in the 1990s.

While industrial output kept pace with agrarian export-led growth during the first globalization boom before World War I, the industrial share in GDP increased in 1930-54, and was mainly domestic-market orientated. Deindustrialization has been profound since the mid-1980s. The service sector was always large: focusing on commerce, transport and traditional state bureaucracy during the first globalization boom focusing on health care, education and social services, during the import-substituting industrialization (ISI) period in the middle of the twentieth century and focusing on military expenditure, tourism and finance since the 1970s.

The income distribution changed markedly over time. During the first globalization boom before World War I, an already uneven distribution of income and wealth seems to have worsened, due to massive immigration and increasing demand for land, both rural and urban. However, by the 1920s the relative prices of land and labor changed their previous trend, reducing income inequality. The trend later favored industrialization policies, democratization, introduction of wage councils, and the expansion of the welfare state based on an egalitarian ideology. Inequality diminished in many respects: between sectors, within sectors, between genders and between workers and pensioners. While the military dictatorship and the liberal economic policy implemented since the 1970s initiated a drastic reversal of the trend toward economic equality, the globalizing movements of the 1980s and 1990s under democratic rule didn’t increase equality. Thus, inequality remains at the higher levels reached during the period of dictatorship (1973-85).

A Brief History of the Uruguayan Candombe

The heart and soul of Uruguayan culture, today candombe is one of the country’s most well-known exports. From humble origins, it has grown into a drumming and dance spectacular, that’s celebrated every January with a month-long fiesta in the streets of Montevideo. We take a look at the history of this enchanting, affecting performance.

Candombe is a rhythm – a style of drumming and dance that first surfaced among young people of African slave descent in the late 18 th century. Then, around a quarter of the country’s population had arrived on the shores of the nation from all corners of Africa. It was a lively community, with an intricate array of ethnicities and cultures – dance halls, schools and clandestine meetings sprang up all over Uruguay as people flocked to share candombe with each other.

With strong Bantu roots, the first candombe drummers called their instruments tangó. The Uruguayan authorities caught wind of this “defiant”, “immoral” candombe during the fight for independence from Argentina and Brazil and sought to stamp it out. The governor of Montevideo pushed drummers and dancers further underground, until slavery was abolished in 1842 and these secret dance meetings spilled out onto the streets. From that moment on, candombe became a defining feature of Uruguay’s national identity.

To Uruguayans, candombe means so much more than just a performance: it’s a gathering of like-minded people and a fusion of distinct traditions. Every January, residents and tourists come out to Barrio Sur and Palermo to join in Las Llamadas. The unmistakable candombe rhythm is created by three drums: tambor piano, tambor chico and tambor repique. Telling the story of the profound impact African cultures have had on Uruguay and its people, this arresting rhythm is today accompanied by a complex, energetic dance and bird-of-paradise-like costumes in tablados, or nightly shows. Powerful, emotional and invigorating, it’s truly a sight and sound to behold.

Carnival 2017: from 8.30pm, 19 th January for 40 nights. Various locations in Barrio Sur and Palermo.

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 ]

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 ]

Provincial freedom under Artigas Edit

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 ]

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]

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:

    in Montevideo, led by Joaquín Suárez (1843–1852). [citation needed] (with headquarters at Cerrito de la Victoria neighborhood), ruling the rest of the country, led by Manuel Oribe (1843–1851). [citation needed]

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 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 ]

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 ]

1872 power-sharing agreement Edit

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. [8] 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 Uruguay – Canelones, San Jose, Florida and Cerro Largo – and a guaranteed, if limited representation in Parliament. [8] 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. [8]

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. [9] 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

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. [10]

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. [11] 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. [10]

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. [11] In a transition period during the Tajes Presidency, politicians began recovering lost ground and some civilian participation in government occurred. [11]

Immigration Edit

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. [12] Due to immigration, Uruguay's population reached 1 million in the early 20th century. [13]

Economy Edit

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. [14]

In 1857, the first bank was opened, Montevideo's Banco Comercial [15] 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. [16] In 1896 the state bank, Banco de la Republica was established. [17] [18]

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. [19]

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. [20]

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. [21]

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. [22]

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. [23]

Batlle's split executive model lasted until 1933, when during the economic crisis of the Great Depression, President Gabriel Terra assumed dictatorial powers. [9]

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. [24] 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. [25]

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. [26]

In June 1940, Germany threatened to break off diplomatic relations with Uruguay. [27] In December, Germany protested that Uruguay gave safe harbour to HMS Carnarvon Castle after it was attacked by a Nazi raider. [28] The ship was repaired with steel plate reportedly salvaged from Admiral Graf Spee. [29]

International relations Edit

On 25 January 1942, Uruguay terminated its diplomatic relations with Nazi Germany, as did 21 other Latin American nations (Argentina did not). [30] 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 ]

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.

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. [31] Most were killed in Argentina and other neighbouring countries, with only 36 of them having been killed in Uruguay. [32] A large number of those killed, were never found and the missing people have been referred to as the "disappeared", or "desaparecidos" in Spanish.

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. [33]

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. [34] 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. [35]

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. [36] On 1 March 2015, Tabare Vazquez was sworn in as the new President of Uruguay to succeed president José Mujica. [37]

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. [38]

Uruguay Culture

Religion in Uruguay

Roman Catholic is the predominant religion (47%), followed by Protestantism (11%). Other religious minorities, including Judaism, account for less than 2% of the population. 40% of Uruguayans claim no religious affiliation.

Social Conventions in Uruguay

Shaking hands is the normal form of greeting. Uruguayans are very hospitable and like to entertain both at home and in restaurants. Normal courtesies should be observed. Smoking is not allowed in public spaces, including restaurants, cinemas, theatres and public transport.

Uruguay History

The only inhabitants of Uruguay before European colonization of the area were the Charrua Indians, a small tribe driven south by the Guarani Indians of Paraguay. The Spanish discovered the territory of present-day Uruguay in 1516, but the Indians' fierce resistance to conquest, combined with the absence of gold and silver, limited settlement in the region during the 16th and 17th centuries. The Spanish introduced cattle, which became a source of wealth in the region. Spanish colonization increased as Spain sought to limit Portugal's expansion of Brazil's frontiers. Montevideo was founded by the Spanish in the early 18th century as a military stronghold its natural harbor soon developed into a commercial center competing with Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires.

Uruguay's early-19th century history was shaped by ongoing fights between the British, Spanish, Portuguese, and colonial forces for dominance in the Argentina-Brazil-Uruguay region. In 1811, Jose Gervasio Artigas--who became Uruguay's national hero--launched a revolt against Spain which resulted in the formation of a regional federation with Argentina. In 1821, Uruguay was annexed to Brazil by Portugal, but Uruguayan patriots declared independence from Brazil in 1825. With the support of Argentine troops and after three years of fighting, they defeated Brazilian forces.

The 1828 Treaty of Montevideo brought Uruguay independence, and the nation's first constitution was adopted in 1830. The remainder of the 19th century under a series of elected and appointed presidents saw interventions by, and conflicts with, neighboring states, political and economic fluctuations, and large inflows of immigrants, mostly from Europe.

Jose Batlle y Ordoñez, president from 1903 to 1907 and again from 1911 to 1915, set the pattern for Uruguay's modern political development. He established widespread political, social, and economic reforms, such as a welfare program, government participation in many facets of the economy, and a plural executive. Some of these reforms were continued by his successors.

By 1966, economic, political, and social difficulties led to constitutional amendments, and a new constitution was adopted in 1967. In 1973, amid increasing economic and political turmoil, the armed forces closed the Congress and established a civilian-military regime. A new constitution drafted by the military was rejected in a November 1980 plebiscite. Following the plebiscite, the armed forces announced a plan for return to civilian rule. National elections were held in 1984 Colorado Party leader Julio Maria Sanguinetti won the presidency and took office in 1985.

The Sanguinetti Administration implemented economic reforms and consolidated democratization following the country's years under military rule. 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 popular approval of a controversial plebiscite which granted 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 de Herrera won the 1989 presidential election. President Lacalle executed major economic structural reforms and pursued further liberalization of trade regimes, including Uruguay's inclusion in the Southern Cone Common Market (MERCOSUR) in 1991. However, economic adjustment and privatization efforts provoked political opposition. Thus, while the country achieved economic growth under the Lacalle Administration, social problems and austerity measures combined to foster increasing popular discontent and further political polarization by 1992. The result was the overturn of some reforms by referendum. In the November 1994 presidential and legislative elections, Colorado Party candidate and former President Sanguinetti won a new term of office which he began on March 1, 1995. President Sanguinetti has used his second term to consolidate Uruguay's economic reforms and integration into MERCOSUR, increasing economic growth and reducing inflation.

Famous Birthdays

    Jose Gervasio Artigas, Uruguayan revolutionary leader and national hero who is regarded as the father of Uruguayan independence, born in Montevideo (d. 1850) Francisco Acuña de Figueroa, Uruguayan poet (Toraidas), born in Montevideo, Uruguay (d. 1862) Manuel Oribe, Uruguayan political figure (d. 1857) Comte de Lautréamont, French writer (Les Chants de Maldoror), born in Montevideo, Uruguay (d. 1870) Eduardo Acevedo Díaz, Uruguayan writer (Ismael, Grito de Gloria), born in Uruguay, Montevideo (d. 1921) José Batlle y Ordóñez, President of Uruguay (1899, 1903-7, 1911-15), born in Montevideo, Urguay (d. 1929) Jules Laforgue, French poet (Les Complaintas), born in Montevideo, Uruguay (d. 1887) Florencio Sánchez, Uruguayan dramatist (d. 1910) Agustín Pedro Justo, President of Argentina (1932-38) during the Infamous Decade, born in Concepción del Uruguay, Entre Ríos (d. 1943) Alfonso Broqua, Uruguayan composer, born in Montevideo, Uruguay (d. 1946) Horacio Quiroga, Uruguayan playwright, poet, and short story writer (Anaconda, El Crimen del Otro), born in Salto, Uruguay (d. 1937) Manuel Pérez y Curis, Uruguayan poet (d. 1920) Delmira Agustini, Uruguayan poet (El Libro Blanco), born in Montevideo, Uruguay (d. 1914) Héctor Scarone, Uruguayan footballer, born in Montevideo, Uruguay (d. 1967) Enrique Amorim, Uruguayan author (La victoria no viene sola), born in Salto, Uruguay (d. 1960) José Nasazzi, Uruguayan footballer (Uruguay national team captain for FIFA 1930), born in Montevideo, Uruguay (d. 1968) Wilson Ferreira Aldunate, Uruguayan politician/human rights worker Mario Benedetti, Uruguayan journalist, novelist and poet, born in Paso de los Toros, Uruguay (d. 2009) Rafael Addiego Bruno, Uruguayan politician Héctor Tosar, Uruguayan pianist and composer, born in Montevideo, Uruguay (d. 2002) Gregorio Alvarez, Uruguayan Dictator, President of Uruguay (1981-85), born in Montevideo (d. 2016) Patricia Hutchinson, British ambassador (Uruguay) Jorge Batlle Ibáñez, Uruguayan politician, President of Uruguay (2000-2005), born in Montevideo (d. 2016) José Santamaría, Uruguayan soccer defender (Uruguay 20, Spain 16 caps Real Madrid), born in Montevideo, Uruguay

José Mujica

1935-05-20 José Mujica, 40th President of Uruguay (2010-2015), champion of the poor and former urban guerrilla with the Tupamaros, born in Montevideo, Uruguay

    Julio Maria Sanguinetti Cairolo, Uruguayan politician (President, 1985-90, 1995-2000), born in Montevideo, Uruguay Alfredo Zitarrosa, Uruguayan Vocals and journalist (d. 1989) Antonio Mastrogiovanni, Uruguayan composer, born in Montevideo, Uruguay (d. 2010) Tabaré Vázque, Uruguayan politician and President of Uruguay (2015-present), born in Montevideo, Uruguay José Serebrier, Uruguayan conductor and composer (Star Wagon Passacaglia and Perpetuum Mobile), born in Montevideo, Uruguay Eduardo Galeano, Uruguayan journalist and writer, born in Montevideo Sergio Cervetti, composer, born in Dolores, Uruguay Taiguara [Chalar da Silva], Brazilian singer and songwriter, born in Montevideo, Uruguay (d. 1996) Nando Parrado, Uruguayan survivor of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 (crashed in the Andes mountains on 13 October 1972), born in Montevideo, Uruguay Enzo Francescoli, Uruguayan footballer Jorge Drexler, Uruguayan pop singer and composer, born in Montevideo, Uruguay Marcelo Filippini, Uruguay, tennis star Gustavo Poyet, Uruguayan footballer Nicolas Pereira, Salto Uruguay, tennis pro Santiago de Tezanos, Uruguayan architect, born in Montevideo, Uruguay Gonzalo Rodríguez, Uruguayan racing driver, born in Montevideo, Uruguay (d. 1999) Darío Silva, Uruguayan soccer striker (49 caps, 14 goals Málaga, Cagliari), born in Treinta y Tres, Uruguay Erwin Schrott, Uruguayan opera singer, born in Montevideo, Uruguay Ricardo López, Uruguayan-born stalker of Björk, born in Uruguay (d. 1996) Martin Sastre, Uruguayan artist, born in Montevideo, Uruguay Álvaro Recoba, Uruguayan footballer Walter Pandiani, Uruguayan footballer, born in Montevideo, Uruguay José Cancela, Uruguayan footballer, born in Santa Lucía, Uruguay Gonzalo de los Santos, Uruguayan footballer Federico Magallanes, Uruguayan footballer, born in Montevideo, Uruguay Sebastián Abreu, Uruguayan footballer Pablo García, Uruguayan footballer Martin Mendez, Uruguayan-born bassist (Opeth) Gustavo Varela, Uruguayan footballer Natalia Cigliuti, Uruguayan-American actress (Lindsay-Saved By Bell: New Class), born in Montevideo, Uruguay Marcelo Zalayeta, Uruguayan footballer (Juventus), born in Montevideo, Uruguay Pablo Pallante, Uruguayan footballer, born in Montevideo, Uruguay Diego Forlán, Uruguayan footballer Gonzalo Sorondo, Uruguayan footballer (Defensor), born in Montevideo, Uruguay Gabe Saporta, Uruguayan-born American musician (Cobra Starship, Midtown), born in Montevideo, Uruguay Fabián Carini, Uruguayan footballer, born in Montevideo, Uruguay Carlos Diogo, Uruguayan footballer Pablo Granoche, Uruguayan footballer, born in Montevideo, Uruguay Nery Castillo, Mexican-Uruguayan footballer Walter López, Uruguayan footballer Fernando Muslera, Uruguayan footballer

Luis Suárez

1987-01-24 Luis Suárez, Uruguayan football player (Barcelona, Uruguay national team), born in Salto, Uruguay

Uruguay — History and Culture

Due to Uruguay’s location on the east coast of the continent and proximity to the Rio de la Plata, the country was strongly contested by warring colonial forces and eventually fell under Spanish rule. Prior to colonization, Uruguay was inhabited by a small indigenous tribe, but nowadays the culture is primarily influenced by the European immigrants and neighboring Argentina and Brazil.


Although it remains unknown how long the territory was occupied prior to the arrival of Europeans, a small tribe known as the Charrua was believed to be modern-day Uruguay’s only inhabitants. Unlike its neighboring countries, Uruguay lacked natural resources, most notably gold and silver, thus delaying Spanish colonization until the turn of the 17th century. By this time, the Portuguese were attempting to expand their regional influence past Brazil and British forces continued to attack Spanish interests in the area, leading to the emergence of Montevideo as a significant port and harbor. As the century progressed, the Spanish managed to tentatively control Montevideo and modern-day Uruguay until cries for revolution broke out in 1811.

During the age of enlightenment and instability of the Spanish monarchy, many South American colonies embraced the ideas of republicanism, seeking independence from the Spanish crown, with Uruguay being no exception. Led by revolutionary Jose Gervasio Artigas, fondly referred to as the father of Uruguayan independence, local forces ousted the Spanish in 1811 and the Liga Federal (Federal League) was created. However, Brazil’s wary Portuguese government invaded the new state and eventually annexed it in 1821. Another seven years of fighting ensued, including the Cisplatine War, until the Treaty of Montevideo was drawn up in 1828, creating modern-day Uruguay.

Over the next decade, the country’s political scene became divided between conservative Partido Blancos (whites) and liberal Partido Colorados (reds) parties. Both were supported by factions in Argentina and, in the case of the Colorados, French backing led to the toppling of the Blancos president Manuel Oribe, a close ally of Argentinean leader Juan Manuel de Rosas. Civil war broke out and fighting continued for the next 13 years. In 1843, Argentinean forces on behalf of Oribe, invaded the country, but were unable to capture Montevideo.

Although the Argentinean army tried to avoid upsetting shipping routes on the River Plate, the blockade of Paraguay resulted in British and French, and later Brazilian, intervention in the conflict, which saw Rosas sign peace treaties with the nations and eventually remove Argentinean troops completely in 1852. Fighting between the two major parties simmered for the next decade, resulting in the ousting of the Blancos government by Colorado General Venancio Flores, who had acquired the support of both Argentina and Brazil. As a result, Paraguay, who was allied with the Blancos government, declared war on Uruguay.

The five-year conflict ended in victory for Flores and the Colorado forces, but success was short lived, with Flores and his rival Berro assassinated on the same day in 1868. While political tensions continued, by the turn of the 20th century relative stability was introduced to the nation, which started to experience an economic and social upturn.

In the run up to the 20th century, European immigration soared particularly from Italy, and the economy prospered due to the commercial success of Montevideo and the export and raising of livestock. Most of the reforms that benefited Uruguay were implemented during the two presidential terms of Jose Batlle y Ordonez. While Uruguay didn’t play a significant role in either of the two world wars, it did break diplomatic relations with Germany on both occasions and was one of the founding members of the United Nations in 1945. The country was subjected to economic woes throughout the 1950’s, spilling over into the 1960’s, during which time civil unrest was common and guerrilla movements, including the Tupamaros, formed.

A state of emergency was declared by the president Jorge Pacheco in 1968 and was followed by years of army-backed dictatorship. By the end of the autocratic rule in 1985, Uruguay had the largest number of political prisoners per capita anywhere. The Colorado party was once again ushered into power under the presidential rule of Julio Maria Sanguinetti. The reformist Colorado leader, who led the country from 1985 to 1990 and again from 1995 to 2000, oversaw economic growth and social improvements. While conditions in Uruguay continue to gradually improve as they emerged from the regional economic woes experienced in the early 2000s’, the country is still trying to combat widespread poverty and unemployment today.


Uruguayan culture is heavily influenced by European immigrants, mainly hailing from Spain, and later Italy, who settled the country in the 17th century. There also remains an element of African culture introduced by the slaves brought by the Europeans. Similar to Argentina, gaucho traditions are predominant in the music and art of Uruguay, while the country proudly boasts some of the world’s finest performers and composers of tango music.

Uruguayans, like most of their South American counterparts, are generally considered warm and hospitable people, and a common pastime is sitting around the many street stalls, sipping the national drink, mate, a South American infused tea.

Afro-Uruguay: A Brief History

AFRICANGLOBE – When we think of the great nations of the African diaspora—Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, the United States—the South American republic of Uruguay is not one of the first names to come to mind. To the contrary: the recipient of almost 600,000 European immigrants between 1880 and 1930, Uruguay has long presented itself to the world as one of the two “White republics” of South America (its neighbor Argentina is the other). In the national household survey of 1996, 93 percent of its citizens classified themselves as White, a figure significantly higher than in the United States (where 75 percent of the population classified itself as White in the 2000 census).

Yet in common with other Latin American countries, during the last 25 years Uruguay has experienced a significant upsurge in Black civic and political mobilization. Organizations such as Mundo Afro (Afro World), the Asociación Cultural y Social Uruguay Negro, the Centro Cultural por la Paz y la Integración, Africanía, and others have pressed the nation to acknowledge its Black past and present and to work toward the full integration of its Black and indigenous minorities into national life.

These recent organizations are the latest chapter in a long history of Black mobilization that began in the early 1800s with the salas de nación, mutual aid societies organized on the basis of members’ African origins. Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo, was a required port of call for slave ships bringing Africans to the Río de la Plata region. Most of those Africans continued on to Argentina, but during the late 1700s and early 1800s some 20,000 disembarked in Montevideo and remained in Uruguay. By 1800 the national population was an estimated 25 percent African and Afro-Uruguayan.

A list from the 1830s of thirteen salas de nación in Montevideo shows six from West Africa, five from the Congo and Angola, and two from East Africa. The salas bought or rented plots of land outside the city walls, on which they built headquarters to house their religious observances and meetings. They collected money for emancipation funds to buy the freedom of slave members, lobbied public officials, and provided assistance in disputes and conflicts between enslaved Africans and their captors.

Free and enslaved Africans and Afro-Uruguayans served in large numbers in the independence wars of the 1810s and 20s and in the civil wars of the 1830s, 1840s, and the second half of the 1800s. Slave military service was rewarded first by the Free Womb law of 1825 (under which children of slave mothers were born free, though obligated to serve their mother’s master until they reached the age of majority) and then the final abolition of slavery in 1842.

Once free, Africans and Afro-Uruguayans demanded the full civic and legal equality guaranteed by the Constitution of 1830. In theory, these rights applied equally to all citizens but in practice, Afro-Uruguayans faced pervasive discrimination and racial prejudice. In response, Afro-Uruguayans created the most active (on a per capita basis) Black press anywhere in Latin America. Between 1870 and 1950 Black journalists and intellectuals published at least twenty-five newspapers and magazines in Montevideo and other cities. This compares to between forty and fifty Black-oriented periodicals during the same period in Brazil, where the Black population is today some 400 times larger than Uruguay’s and fourteen in Cuba (Black population twenty times larger than Uruguay’s).

This flourishing of Afro-Uruguayan journalism was at least in part a reflection of the country’s economic and educational achievements during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Exports of meat and wool formed the basis of one of South America’s most successful national economies. By 1913, Uruguay had the highest per capita GNP and tax receipts, the lowest birth and death rates, and the highest rates of literacy and newspaper readership, anywhere in Latin America. National educational reforms in the 1870s and early 1900s made Uruguay a regional leader in educational achievement under these conditions, Afro-Uruguayans were far more literate than their counterparts in, for example, Brazil.

Relatively high educational achievement in Uruguay provided favorable conditions for an active Black press, as well as for Afro-Uruguayan social and civic organizations more generally. Afro-Uruguayans formed social clubs, political clubs, dancing and recreational groups, literary and drama societies, civic organizations, and in 1936 a Black political party, the Partido Autóctono Negro (PAN). The PAN was one of three such parties in Latin America, the other two being in Cuba (the Partido Independiente de Color, 1908-12) and Brazil (the Frente Negra Brasileira, 1931-38). The PIC and FNB were both eventually outlawed by their respective national governments the PAN, by contrast, was permitted to function freely but never succeeded in attracting significant electoral support. During the 1800s and most of the 1900s, Uruguayan politics was dominated by two main parties, the Blancos and Colorados. Afro-Uruguayan voters split their allegiances between those parties, with most favoring the Colorados. Unable to make any inroads into that two-party system, the PAN disbanded in 1944.

During the 1940s and 1950s Uruguay experienced its most intense period of economic growth and expansion. Exports to the Allies during World War II, to a shattered Europe in the years after the war, and to the US during the Korean War, sustained a boom period remembered today as a golden age, the years of “como Uruguay no hay” (there’s no place like Uruguay), a semi-official slogan at the time. Those years should have provided ideal conditions for Black upward mobility but prejudice and discrimination continued to obstruct Black advancement. A celebrated case of discrimination in 1956, in which an Afro-Uruguayan schoolteacher suffered blatant harassment from two principals at schools to which she was assigned, provoked a national debate on racial conditions in the country. A journalist investigating employment conditions in Montevideo at that time found that of 15,000 service workers (hairdressers, waiters, hotel chambermaids, bus drivers, etc.) in the city, only eleven were Afro-Uruguayan—less than one per thousand in a city that was probably 5-6 percent Afro-Uruguayan. The country’s leading university, the publicly funded Universidad de la República, was found to have awarded degrees to only five Afro-Uruguayans between 1900 and 1950.

Conditions had apparently changed little by 1980, when a Uruguayan writer reported that in the downtown commercial districts of Montevideo, “in dozens and dozens of shops, the total number of Black employees does not reach ten… There are no Black hairdressers… Except for very low-class bars, there are no Black waiters, nor in hotels, restaurants, or cafes.” During the 1980s and 90s, however, Uruguay experienced the same wave of Black civic mobilization that swept over much of Latin America at that time. In Brazil, Colombia, Panama, Peru, and other countries, Afro-Latin Americans organized to combat racism and discrimination. The most important such group in Uruguay was Mundo Afro, founded in 1988.

Demanding that Uruguay recognize its Black minority as an equal member of the national community, Mundo Afro successfully lobbied the national government to gather racial data (for the first time since 1852) in the national household surveys of 1996 and 2006. Those surveys showed Afro-Uruguayans constituting either 6 percent (1996) or 9 percent (2006) of the national population (3.3 million in 2006). And as in Brazil and the United States, where racial data are routinely included in national censuses, the two surveys left no doubt concerning levels of racial inequality in the country. Afro-Uruguayan incomes are on average 60 percent of White earnings Whites are twice as likely as Blacks to have a university degree Black poverty rates are double those of Whites Black unemployment rates are 50 percent higher and so on.

In the face of such conclusive data, and in preparation for the 2001 U.N. Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, and Xenophobia, held in South Africa, Uruguay’s government committed itself to policies aimed at combating racial discrimination and inequality. In 2003 the municipal government of Montevideo created an advisory Unit for Afro-Descendent Rights at the national level, President Tabaré Vázquez (2005-10) appointed a presidential advisor for Afro-Uruguayan affairs and created programs for Afro-Uruguayan women and Afro-Uruguayan youth in the Ministry of Social Development.

Paralleling and at times converging with the history of Afro-Uruguayan civic mobilization is the history of Afro-Uruguayans’ role in creating Uruguayan popular culture. To summarize very briefly, one of the principal functions carried out by the African salas de nación in the first half of the 1800s was to hold candombes, public dances for their members. In the 1860s and 1870s, the Africans’ Uruguayan-born children and grandchildren combined African musical elements (particularly the use of African drums and other percussion instruments) with instruments, chords, and rhythms from Europe and the Caribbean (especially Cuba) to create a new musical form called both tango and candombe.

This new, syncopated music proved wildly popular—so popular that young White attempted to steal the culture, creating their own tangos and candombes. The vehicle through which they did so were the comparsas: musical groups that paraded in Carnival each February and March, playing music composed especially for those events. Seeking to copy their Black models, the White comparsas paraded in blackface make-up and “African” costumes. The result was a “troubling hall of mirrors,” to quote historian John Chasteen, in which White performers imitated Blacks while Black performers in turn imitated Whites’ imitation of Blacks.

By 1900, previously segregated Black and White comparsas had fused into racially integrated groups that in most cases were, and are today, majority White in composition. They present themselves to the Montevideo public as sociedades de negros, “Black” drummers, singers, and dancers performing the “Black” music of candombe. In so doing, they have become the most popular and applauded element of Montevideo’s Carnival. But the images of Black life that they present hark back a century or more to racial stereotypes dating from the late 1800s. Blackness is presented in highly sexualized ways and as having a special relationship to primitive powers of rhythm, dance, magic, and sex.

The worlds of politics and candombe have often intersected. Some of the best-known comparsas have been closely tied to the Colorado party in the 1960s groups of candombe drummers appeared with Afro-Uruguayan Senator Alba Roballo in her electoral campaigns. In 2006, Afro-Uruguayan Congressman Edgardo Ortuño proposed the creation of a national holiday, the Day of Candombe, Afro-Uruguayan Culture, and Racial Equality. Conceived as a Uruguayan version of similar commemorations in the United States (Martin Luther King Day) and Brazil (Black Consciousness Day), the Day of Candombe (celebrated on December 3) is intended to provide space for a day of reflection on racial conditions in Uruguay and the road remaining to be traveled to achieve true racial equality. Whether the holiday will serve that purpose remains to be seen but certainly it provides clear evidence, if any were needed, of the centrality of candombe and Afro-Uruguayan culture in Uruguayan national life.

By: George Reid Andrews

Mr. Andrews is author of ‘Blackness in the White Nation: A History of Afro-Uruguay’ (University of North Carolina Press, 2010) and Afro-Latin America, 1800-2000 (Oxford University Press, 2004).

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