Country profile: Uruguay
Uruguay has traditionally
been better off than many other countries in South America, and is
known for its advanced education and social security systems and
liberal laws governing social issues such as divorce.
among the first nations in Latin America to establish a welfare state,
maintained through relatively high taxes on industry. The system, which
had increasingly strained state finances, was reformed in the 1990s.
Colonial towns, beach resorts and a year-round mild climate have
contributed to a growing tourist industry. The economy has also
benefited from offshore banking.
But a dependence on livestock
and related exports has left Uruguay vulnerable to ups and downs in
world commodity prices. Recessions in Brazil and Argentina - its main
export markets and sources of tourists - propelled the country into
economic crisis in 2002.
Politics: The Broad Front coalition came to power in the 2004 elections and won a second mandate in 2009
Economy: Uruguay is recovering from economic upheaval in 2002, brought on by recessions in Brazil, Argentina
International: Relations with Argentina are strained over two paper mills that Uruguay is building along a border river
Payouts from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and a
restructuring of foreign debt encouraged a fragile recovery. But the
recession left many Uruguayans living in poverty and prompted thousands
of younger people to leave.
Most Uruguayans are of European
origin - chiefly Spanish and Italian. The country has a large middle
class and is largely free of serious income inequality. But the
minority who are of African or mixed European-indigenous descent form a
higher proportion of its poorest people.
In the 19th century
Uruguay's newly-won independence was followed by a prolonged and
ruinous conflict between two political factions - the land-owning
Blancos (whites) and the urban Colorados (reds).
Marxist Tupamaro urban guerrillas waged a campaign against the
establishment in the 1960s and Uruguay suffered repressive military
rule between 1973 and 1985.
Uruguay staged football's first World Cup in 1930, and has won the tournament twice.
- Full name: Oriental Republic of Uruguay
- Population: 3.4 million (UN, 2009)
- Capital: Montevideo
- Area: 176,215 sq km (68,037 sq miles)
- Major languages: Spanish, Portunol or Brazilero (Portuguese-Spanish mix)
- Major religion: Christianity
- Life expectancy: 73 years (men), 80 years (women) (UN)
- Monetary unit: 1 Uruguayan peso = 100 centesimos
- Main exports: Meat, rice, leather products, vehicles, dairy products, wool, electricity
- GNI per capita: US $8,260 (World Bank, 2008)
- Internet domain: .uy
- International dialling code: +598
Outgoing President: Tabare Vazquez
Tabare Vazquez, from the Broad Front coalition, is due to step down in March 2010.
became Uruguay's first left-wing head of state in March 2005, having
defeated the ruling Colorado Party's candidate in the presidential
Tabare Vazquez, Uruguay's first left-wing leader
His win was part of a regional trend which had seen the emergence of
left-wing governments in Brazil, Venezuela, Chile and Argentina.
Vazquez, a cancer specialist and a former mayor of Montevideo, said he
would pursue a moderate political course, with the emphasis on
On taking office he announced a $100m
emergency plan to help the poor and promised an investigation into the
disappearances of opponents of the military dictatorship in the 1970s
He also restored diplomatic ties with Cuba.
Relations had been broken after a war of words between the Cuban leader
and Mr Vazquez's predecessor, Jorge Batlle.
Public anger over
the 2002 economic crisis, and disenchantment with free-market economic
policies, were said to have contributed to Uruguay's dramatic political
The centrist Batlle government pushed through
controversial reforms, including privatisations and the outsourcing of
some public services to the private sector.
Broad Front coalition won a second mandate to govern in the October
2009 parliamentary elections. However, the coalition failed to get a
clear majority for its presidential candidate in elections held on the
same day. José Mujica will face a run-off in November against the
conservative former president, Luis Lacalle. Mr Mujica is a senator and
former leading member of the Tupamaros left-wing urban guerrillas.
Uruguayans have access to a wide range of political views via more
than 100 private daily and weekly newspapers, more than 100 radio
stations and some 20 television channels. Cable TV is widely available.
State-run radio and TV are operated by the official broadcasting
service, SODRE. Some newspapers are owned by, or linked to, the main
Freedom of speech and media are guaranteed
by the constitution, with qualifications for inciting violence or
"insulting the nation".
Rights body Reporters Without Borders
noted in 2008 that Uruguay was free from the "media polarisation" seen
across much of the continent, scoring highly in press freedom rankings.