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  U.S. Department of State, May 2000
Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs

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Background Notes:

Official Name:
Oriental Republic of Uruguay



Area 176,000 sq. km. (68,000 sq. mi.); slightly smaller than Oklahoma.
Cities: Capital--Montevideo (est. pop. 1.4 million).
Terrain: Plains and low hills; 84% agricultural.
Climate: Temperate.


Nationality: Noun and adjective--Uruguayan(s).
Population (1999): 3.3 million.
Annual growth rate: 0.6%.
Ethnic groups (est.): European descent 93%, African descent 5%, mestizo 1%.
Religions: Roman Catholic 52%, Protestant and other Christian 16%, Jewish 2%, nonprofessing or other 30%.
Language: Spanish.
Education: Literacy--97%.
Health: Life expectancy--73.8 years (77 yrs. for females; 69.9 yrs. for males). Infant mortality rate--18.9/1,000.
Work force (1999): 1.47 million. manufacturing--16%; commerce--8%; services (except banking)--48%; banking--6%; construction--8%; transportation and communications--6%; agriculture--4%; other--4%.


Type: Republic.
Independence: 1828.
Constitution: first 1830, current 1967, most recently amended December 1996.
Branches: Executive--President (chief of state and head of government). Legislative--General Assembly consisting of a 99-seat Chamber of Deputies and a 30-seat Senate. Judicial--Supreme Court of Justice.
Administrative subdivisions: 19 departments with limited autonomy.
Political parties/coalitions: Colorado Party, Blanco (National) Party, Frente Amplio (Broad Front coalition), New Space Party.
Suffrage: Universal at 18.

Economy (1999 unless noted)

GDP: $21 billion (1998 est.).
Annual growth rate: 1999, -3.4%; 1998, +4.5%.
Per capita GDP: $6,350.
Natural resources: Arable land, hydroelectric potential, granite, and marble.
Agriculture (7% of GDP): Products--beef, wool, grains, fruits, vegetables.
Industry (19% of GDP): Types--meat processing, wool and hides, textiles, shoes, handbags, leather apparel, tires, cement, fishing, food and beverages, petroleum refining.
Services (60% of GDP).
Trade: Exports--$2.2 billion: meat, wool, hides, leather and wool products, fish, rice, furs. Major markets--MERCOSUR Southern Cone Common Market 45% (Brazil 25%, Argentina 16%, Paraguay 4%); EU 20% (Germany 5%); U.S. 7%. Imports--$3.2 billion: fuels, chemicals, machinery, metals, vehicles. Major suppliers--MERCOSUR 44% (Argentina 24%, Brazil 19%); EU 19%; U.S. 11%.


Uruguayans share a Spanish linguistic and cultural background, even though approximately one-quarter of the population is of Italian origin. Most are Roman Catholic. Church and state are officially separated. Uruguay is distinguished by its high literacy rate, large urban middle class, and relatively even income distribution. The average Uruguayan standard of living compares favorably with that of most other Latin Americans. Metropolitan Montevideo, with about 1.4 million inhabitants, is the only large city. The rest of the urban population lives in about 20 towns. During the past two decades, an estimated 500,000 Uruguayans have emigrated, principally to Argentina and Brazil. As a result of the low birth rate and relatively high rate of emigration of younger people, Uruguay's population is quite mature.


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 that 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 3 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 served from 1985 to 1990.

The first 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 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 Cone 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.

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 Tabare Vazquez. Batlle's 5-year term began on March 1, 2000. 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.

In his first weeks in office, President Batlle indicated that his priorities would include promoting economic growth, increasing international trade, attracting foreign investment, reducing the size of government, and resolving issues related to Uruguayans who disappeared during the military government.


Uruguay's 1967 constitution institutionalizes a strong presidency, subject to legislative and judicial checks. The president's term is five years. Twelve cabinet ministers, appointed by the president, head executive departments.

The Constitution also provides for a bicameral General Assembly responsible for enacting laws and regulating the administration of justice. The General Assembly consists of a 30-member Senate, presided over by the vice president of the republic, and a 99-member Chamber of Deputies. In each house, the Broad Front has 40% of seats, the Colorado Party 33%, the National Party 22%, and New Space 4%.

The highest court is the Supreme Court; below it are appellate and lower courts and justices of the peace. In addition, there are electoral and administrative ("contentious") courts, an accounts court, and a military judicial system.

National Security

The armed forces are constitutionally subordinate to the president through the Minister of Defense. By offering early retirement incentives, the government has trimmed the armed forces to about 14,500 for the army, 6,000 for the navy, and 3,000 for the air force. As of February 2000, Uruguay has about 46 soldiers deployed in UN peacekeeping missions, with the largest groups in the Western Sahara (13) and Sierra Leone (11).

Principal Government Officials

President--Jorge Luis Batlle Ibañez
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Didier Opertti
Ambassador to the United States--Hugo Fernandez Faingold
Ambassador to the United Nations--Felipe Paolillo
Ambassador to OAS--Juan Enrique Fisher

Uruguay maintains an embassy in the United States at 2715 M Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007 (tel. 202-331-1313, fax 202-331-8142). Uruguayan maintains consulates in Miami, Los Angeles, and New York.


Uruguay's economy remains dependent on agriculture. Although agricultural production accounts for 7% of the gross domestic product (GDP), agricultural-related products make up more than half of the country's exports. The industrial sector, which produces 19% of GDP, is largely based on the transformation of agricultural products. Leading industrial sectors include meat processing, agribusiness, leather production, textiles, leather footwear, handbags, and leather apparel.

The government's strategy to stimulate growth and meet its debt service obligations is based on exports. Much of Uruguay's trade is with its fellow MERCOSUR members. Uruguay is committed to an open financial system and maintains a floating exchange rate; the government intervenes in the exchange market to maintain a peso/dollar devaluation rate of about 1% per month.

Recent governments have carried out a cautious program of economic liberalization similar to that of many other Latin American countries. The program has included lowering tariffs, eliminating deficit spending, controlling inflation--reduced from 129% in 1990 to around 4% in 1999--and reducing the size of the once-bloated and inefficient government. The Lacalle government implemented a 1991 state reform law, though such efforts were partially stalled when voters rejected the sale of the state telephone company, ANTEL, in a 1992 referendum. Activities and assets that have been transferred to the private sector in the last decade--either under contract, concession, or sale--include the national airline PLUNA, the provision of automobile insurance, gas distribution, road construction and maintenance, mobile telephony, and the social security system. Lukewarm public support for these policies, the Uruguayan public's traditional caution, and the fragmented political system suggest that such reform efforts will continue at a slow pace.


Uruguay has strong political and cultural links with the democratic countries of the Americas and Europe. Uruguay supports constitutional democracy, political pluralism, and individual liberties. Its international relations historically have been guided by the principles of nonintervention, respect for national sovereignty, and reliance on the rule of law to settle disputes.

The government seeks export markets and foreign investment. Uruguay is a member of the Southern Cone Common Market (MERCOSUR) with Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. It is an active proponent of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) process and is coordinator of the FTAA e-commerce group and subcoordinator of the agricultural subsidies group. Uruguay also is a member of the Rio Group, an informal group of Latin American states that deals with multilateral regional issues. It is a party to the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (Rio Treaty), the World Trade Organization, and the Latin American Nuclear-Free Zone. Uruguay's location between Argentina and Brazil makes close relations with these two larger neighbors and fellow MERCOSUR members particularly important.

An early proponent of the Enterprise for the Americas Initiative, Uruguay has participated in the follow-up process to the 1994 and 1998 Summits of the Americas. Uruguay is currently the responsible coordinator of the Strengthening Judicial Systems Initiative and a co-coordinator of the Science and Technology Initiative.


U.S.-Uruguayan relations traditionally have been based on a common outlook and emphasis on democratic ideals. Uruguay works with the United States bilaterally and internationally to foster economic and political cooperation and to improve regional cooperation. More than 100 U.S.-owned companies operate in Uruguay, and many more market U.S. goods and services.

The Uruguayan Government cooperates with the United States on law enforcement matters such as regional efforts to reduce drug trafficking.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

Ambassador--Christopher C. Ashby
Deputy Chief of Mission--Jonathan D. Farrar
Political/Economic Counselor--Paul Belmont
Commercial Attache--Stephen K. Keat
Consul--Denise A. Boland
Chief, Administrative Section--Michael St. Clair
Public Affairs Officer--Peter M. Brennan
Defense Attache--LTC Albert Leftwich, USA
Chief, Office of Defense Cooperation--Col. Randy James, USAF

The U.S. Embassy in Uruguay is located at Lauro Muller 1776, Montevideo (tel: 598-2-203-6061 or 598-2 408-7777; fax: 598-2--408-8611). The mailing address for the embassy is UNIT 4500, APO AA 34035. The embassy also has an Internet web page at http://www.embeeuu.gub.uy/.


U.S. Department of Commerce
Trade Information Center
International Trade Administration
14th and Constitution Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20230
Tel: 800-USA-TRADE
Home page: http://www.ita.doc.gov

American Chamber of Commerce in Uruguay
Plaza Independencia 831, Oficina 209
Edificio Plaza Mayor
11100 Montevideo, Uruguay
Tel: (5982) 908-9186
Fax: (5982) 908-9187
E-Mail: amcham@zfm.com
Home Page: http://www.zfm.com/amchamuru


The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings, and Public Announcements. Consular Information Sheets exist for all countries and include information on entry requirements, currency regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in the country. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to a certain country. Public Announcements are issued as a means to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas which pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Free copies of this information are available by calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-on-demand system: 202-647-3000. Consular Information Sheets and Travel Warnings also are available on the Consular Affairs Internet home page: http://travel.state.gov. Consular Affairs Tips for Travelers publication series, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad are on the internet and hard copies can be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 202-512-2250.

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays, call 202-647-4000.

Passport information can be obtained by calling the National Passport Information Center's automated system ($.35 per minute) or live operators 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday-Friday ($1.05 per minute). The number is 1-900-225-5674 (TDD: 1-900-225-7778). Major credit card users (for a flat rate of $4.95) may call 1-888-362-8668 (TDD: 1-888-498-3648). It also is available on the internet.

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled Health Information for International Travel (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.

Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see "Principal Government Officials" listing in this publication).

U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling in dangerous areas are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy upon arrival in a country (see "Principal U.S. Embassy Officials" listing in this publication). This may help family members contact you in case of an emergency.

Further Electronic Information

Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet, DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; daily press briefings; Country Commercial Guides; directories of key officers of Foreign Service posts; etc. DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at http://1997-2001.state.gov.

National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information. It is available on the Internet (www.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-1986 for more information.

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