Uruguay (10/05)

For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.

Flag of Uruguay is nine equal horizontal stripes of white (top and bottom) alternating with blue; there is a white square in the upper hoist-side corner with a yellow sun bearing a human face known as the Sun of May and 16 rays alternately triangular and wavy.


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 (2004): 3.2 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%, non-professing or other 30%.
Language: Spanish.
Education: Literacy (2004)--97%.
Health: Life expectancy (2004)--75.4 yrs. (79.2 yrs females; 71.3 yrs. males). Infant mortality rate--15/1,000 (2003).
Work force (1.3 million, 2004): Manufacturing--13.5%; agriculture--4.0%; services--75%.

Type: Republic.
Independence: 1825.
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, Encuentro Progresista-Frente Amplio, Nuevo Espacio.
Suffrage: Universal at 18.

Economy (2004 unless noted)
Gross domestic product (GDP): $13.2 billion; $11.2 billion (2003)
Annual growth rate: 12.3%; +2.5% (2003); -11.0% (2002); -3.4% (2001).
Per capita GDP: $4,078; $3,309 (2003).
Natural resources: Arable land, pastures, hydroelectric power, granite, marble.
Agriculture (13% of GDP): Products--beef, wool, rice, wheat, barley, corn.
Industry (31.7% of GDP): Types--meat processing, wool, textiles, leather, leather apparel, beverages and tobacco, chemicals, cement, petroleum refining.
Services: 55% of GDP.
Trade: Exports (f.o.b.)--$2.9 billion: meat, wool, hides, leather, wool products, fish, rice, furs. Major markets--United States (19.8%), Brazil (16.3%), Argentina (7.6%), Germany (5.1%), Mexico (4.0%), China (3.9%). Imports (c.i.f.)--$3.1 billion: machinery, chemicals, fuel, vehicles. Major suppliers--Brazil and Argentina (25.7% each), United States (9.0%), China (7.1%), Germany (3.4%).

Uruguayans share a Spanish linguistic and cultural background, even though about one-quarter of the population is of Italian origin. Most are nominally Roman Catholic although the majority of Uruguayans do not actively practice a religion. 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 Spain. Emigration to the United States also rose significantly. As a result of the low birth rate, high life expectancy, 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 conflicts 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 successful revolt against Spain. In 1821, the Provincia Oriental del Rio de la Plata, present-day Uruguay, was annexed to Brazil by Portugal. The Provincia declared independence from Brazil in August 25, 1825 (after numerous revolts in 1821, 1823, and 1825) but decided to adhere to a regional federation with Argentina.

The regional federation defeated Brazil after 3-year war. The 1828 Treaty of Montevideo, fostered by the United Kingdom, gave birth to Uruguay as an independent state. 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 neighboring states, political and economic fluctuations, and large inflows of immigrants, mostly from Europe. Jose Batlle y Ordo�ez, 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, characterized by repression and widespread human rights abuses. 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 democracy 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. Lacalle executed major structural economic reforms and pursued further liberalization of the trade regime. Uruguay became a founding member of MERCOSUR in 1991 (the Southern Cone Common Market, which includes Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay). 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 2003.

The 1999 national elections were held under a new electoral system established by 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 Frente Amplio candidate Tabar� V�zquez.

The legislative coalition of the Colorado and National parties that held during most of Batlle�s administration ended in November 2002, when the Blancos withdrew their ministers from the cabinet. Throughout most of his administration, President Batlle had to handle Uruguay�s largest economic crisis in recent history, which impacted on poverty and led to increased emigration. Aside from successfully addressing the crisis, Batlle increased international trade, attracted foreign investment and tried to resolve issues related to Uruguayans who disappeared during the military government.

On June 27, 2004 the parties held primary elections to select their candidates for the national elections to be held on October 31. The Frente Amplio had already determined that V�zquez would be its candidate, the Colorados settled on former Interior Minister Guillermo Stirling, and the Blanco Party chose Jorge Larranaga, a former state governor and senator. V�zquez won the national election in the first round with a majority of the popular vote (50.7%) and was sworn in as President on March 1, 2005.

Uruguay's 1967 constitution institutionalizes a strong presidency, subject to legislative and judicial checks. The president's term is 5 years. Thirteen cabinet ministers, appointed by the president, head executive departments. The constitution 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 the October 2004 general elections, the Frente Amplio won the presidency in the first round with 50.7% and a majority of the seats in each chamber. The National (Blanco) Party won 34.1%, the Colorado Party 10.3%, and the Independent Party 1.8%.

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.

Principal Government Officials
President--Tabar� Ram�n V�zquez Rosas
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Reinaldo Apolo Gargano Ostuni
Ambassador to the United States--Carlos Alberto Gianelli Derois
Ambassador to the United Nations--Alejandro Artucio Rodriguez
Ambassador to the OAS--vacant

Uruguay maintains an Embassy in the United States at 1913 "I" Street NW, Washington, DC 20006 (tel. 202-331-1313, fax 202-331-8142). Uruguay maintains consulates in Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, and New York.

Uruguay's economy remains dependent on agriculture. Agricultural production, which accounts for only 12% of GDP, and the industrial sector (18% of GDP), based on the transformation of agricultural products, make up more than half of the country's exports. Leading economic sectors include meat processing, agribusiness, wood, wool, leather production and apparel, textiles, and chemicals. Though still relatively small, the software industry is growing rapidly.

In 2003, Uruguay went through the steepest economic and financial crisis in recent history, which developed mostly from external factors. Devaluation in Brazil in 1999 made Uruguayan goods less competitive, and an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001 curtailed beef exports to North America. Starting in late 2001, an economic crisis in Argentina undermined Uruguay's economy, with exports to Argentina and tourist revenues falling dramatically. In mid-2002 Argentine withdrawals from Uruguayan banks started a bank run that was overcome only by massive borrowing from international financial institutions. This, in turn, led to serious debt sustainability problems. A successful debt swap helped restore confidence and significantly reduced country risk. Uruguay's economy resumed growth in 2003, with a 2.5% rise in GDP. GDP grew about 12% in 2004 and 5.0%-6.0% growth is expected for 2005.

Uruguay's spectacular recovery over the past couple of years has been based on increased exports, especially to North America. The U.S. became Uruguay's largest export market in 2004, thanks in large part to meat exports. Uruguay enjoys a positive investment climate, with a strong legal system and open financial markets. It grants equal treatment to national and foreign investors and, aside from very few sectors, there is neither de jure nor de facto discrimination toward investment by source or origin.

Uruguay has traditionally favored substantial state involvement in the economy, and privatization is still widely opposed. Recent governments have carried out cautious programs of economic liberalization similar to those in many other Latin American countries. They included lowering tariffs, controlling deficit spending, reducing inflation, and cutting the size of government.

The Lacalle administration implemented a 1991 state company reform law, though privatization was stalled when voters rejected the sale of the state telephone company, ANTEL, in a 1992 referendum. Long-distance calls and data transmission were opened to competition in 2001, but basic telephony still remains a state monopoly. Other former state sectors have been partially liberalized, including insurance, mortgages, road construction and repair, piped-gas distribution, energy generation, water sanitation and distribution, cellular telephony, and airline transportation. Another law, passed in 2000, demonopolized oil refining activities and allowed the state energy company to associate with foreign partners, while still remaining under government control. However, the law was repealed in a popular referendum.

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 2003, Uruguay had 1,754 soldiers deployed in 11 UN peacekeeping missions. The largest groups were in the Congo, where 1,549 Uruguayan troops controlled one sector of the country, and the Sinai, where 60 troops were stationed.

Uruguay traditionally has had strong political and cultural links with its neighbors and Europe. With globalization and regional economic problems, its links to North America have strengthened. Uruguay is a strong advocate of constitutional democracy, political pluralism, and individual liberties. Its international relations historically have been guided by the principles of non-intervention, multilateralism, respect for national sovereignty, and reliance on the rule of law to settle disputes. Uruguay's international relations also reflect its drive to seek export markets and foreign investment. It is a founding member of MERCOSUR.

Uruguay is a member of the Rio Group, an association of Latin American states that deals with multilateral security issues (under the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance). Uruguay's location between Argentina and Brazil makes close relations with these two larger neighbors and MERCOSUR associate members Chile and Bolivia particularly important. Usually considered a neutral country and blessed with a professional diplomatic corps, Uruguay is often called on to preside over international bodies. Uruguay is a member of the Latin American Integration Association (ALADI), a trade association based in Montevideo that includes 10 South American countries plus Mexico and Cuba.

U.S.-Uruguayan relations traditionally have been based on a common outlook and emphasis on democratic ideals. In 2002, Uruguay and the U.S. created a Joint Commission on Trade and Investment (JCTI) to exchange ideas on a variety of economic topics. In March 2003, the JCTI identified six areas of concentration until the eventual signing of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) in 2005: customs issues, intellectual property protection, investment, labor, environment, and trade in goods. In 2004, Uruguay and the U.S. signed a Bilateral Investment Treaty, and ratified an Open Skies Agreement in 2005. More than 80 U.S.-owned companies operate in Uruguay, and many more market U.S. goods and services.

Uruguay cooperates with the U.S. on law enforcement matters such as regional efforts to fight drug trafficking and terrorism. It has also been very active in human rights issues.

From 1999 through early 2003 Uruguayan citizens were exempted from visas when entering the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. This exemption was withdrawn on April 16, 2003, based on the high overstay rates for Uruguayans and worldwide national security concerns.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Deputy Chief of Mission--James D. Nealon (Charg� d'affaires, a.i.)
Political/Economic Counselor--Peter Harding
Economic/Commercial Section Chief--James Perez
Consul--Blossom Perry
Chief, Management Section--Theresa Stewart
Public Affairs Officer--Linda Gonz�lez
Defense Attach�--LTC Frank Wagdalt, USA
Chief, Office of Defense Cooperation--Col. Maria Cordero, USAF

The U.S. Embassy in Uruguay is located at Lauro Muller 1776, Montevideo (tel: 598-2 418-7777; fax: 598-2-410-0022). The mailing address for the embassy is UNIT 4500, APO AA 34035. The Embassy also has an Internet web page at http://montevideo.usembassy.gov/

Other Contact Information
U.S. Department of Commerce
Trade Information Center
International Trade Administration
14th and Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20230
Tel: 800-USA-TRADE
Home page: http://www.export.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
Home page: http://www.ccuruguayusa.com/
E-mail: info@ccuruguayusa.com