U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Uruguay, December 1995
Bureau of Public Affairs
Official Name: Oriental Republic of Uruguay
Area: 176,000 sq. km. (68,000 sq. mi.); slightly smaller than
Cities: Capital--Montevideo (est. pop. 1.4 million).
Terrain: Plains and low hills, 84% agricultural.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Uruguayan(s).
Population (1994): 3.2 million.
Annual growth rate: 0.6%.
Ethnic groups (est.): European descent 90%, mestizo 7%, African
Religions: Roman Catholic 66%, Protestant 2%, Jewish 2%, non-
professing or other 30%.
Health: Life expectancy-- 75 yrs. (female); 69 yrs. (male). Infant
Work force (1994): 1.4 million. Manufacturing--21%. Government--
19%. Commerce--19%. Utilities, construction, transport, and
communications--14%. Agriculture--12%. Banking and finance--8%.
Constitution: February 1967.
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
Administrative subdivisions: 19 departments with limited autonomy.
Political parties/coalitions: Colorado Party, Blanco (National Party),
Progressive Encounter Party, New Sector Coalition.
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
GDP: $15.5 billion.
Annual growth rate: 5.1%.
Per capita GDP: $4,900.
Natural resources: Arable land, hydroelectric potential, gold, granite,
Agriculture (11% of GDP): Products--beef, wool, grains, fruits,
Industry (21% of GDP): Types--meat processing, wool and hides,
textiles, shoes, handbags, leather apparel, tires, cement, fishing, food
and beverages, petroleum refining.
Trade: Exports--$1.9 billion: meat, wool, hides, leather and wool
products, fish, rice, furs. Major markets--Southern Cone Common
Market (MERCOSUR) 47% (Argentina 20%, Brazil 26%, Paraguay
1%); EU 20% (Germany 6%); U.S. 7%. Imports--$2.8 billion: fuels,
chemicals, machinery, metals, vehicles. Major suppliers--
MERCOSUR 50% (Argentina 24%, Brazil 26%, Paraguay less than
1%); EU 19% (Italy 5%); U.S. 9%.
Exchange rate (1995): 6.44 Uruguayan pesos = U.S. $1.
Uruguayans share a Spanish linguistic and cultural background, even
though 25% 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 and large urban middle class.
The overall drop in real income since the 1960s has increased poverty,
but the average Uruguayan standard of living still 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
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 colonists 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 new 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, including from
Jose Batlle y Ordonez, 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 an extensive 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 general amnesty for military
leaders accused of committing human rights violations under the
The National Party's Luis Alberto Lacalle de Herrera won the 1989
presidential election. President Lacalle executed major economic
structural reforms--designed to reduce inflation and government
spending--as well as social reform programs. Lacalle also 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 with the
administration and further political polarization by 1992. The result
was the overturn of some Lacalle reforms by referendum. In
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.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
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
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.
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.
Following the 1994 elections, no single party had a majority in the
General Assembly. Distribution of seats was as follows: Colorado
Party 33%, National Party 33%, Progressive Encounter Party 30%, and
New Sector Coalition 4%. As a result, the National Party joined with
the Colorado Party in a coalition government. Working with this
coalition during his first six months in office, President Sanguinetti
secured important reforms aimed at improving the electoral system,
education, social security, and public safety.
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
16,100 for the army, 4,200 for the navy, and 3,400 for the air force.
Uruguay has about 1,000 soldiers deployed in UN peacekeeping
missions in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. The largest group
currently is in Angola.
Principal Government Officials
President--Julio Maria Sanguinetti
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Alvaro Ramos
Ambassador to the United States--Alvaro Diez de Medina
Ambassador to the United Nations--Jorge Perez
Ambassador to the OAS--Julio Cesar Jauregui
Uruguay maintains an embassy in the United States at 1919 F Street,
NW, Washington, DC 20006 (tel. 202-331-1313). Consulates also are
located in Miami, Los Angeles, and New York.
Uruguay's economy remains dependent on agriculture. Although
agricultural production accounts for 11% of the gross domestic product
(GDP), it comprises more than 50% of exports. The industrial sector,
which produces 21% of GDP, is largely based on the transformation of
agricultural products. Leading industrial sectors include meat
processing, leather production, textiles, leather footwear, handbags, and
The country's strategy to stimulate growth and meet its debt service
obligations is based on exports. The bulk of its trade is with its
neighbors and partners in MERCOSUR. 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
devaluation rate of about 2% per month.
Although it has the best-educated work force in Latin America and a
long tradition of social and political stability, Uruguay has endured
decades-long economic stagnation. Excessive bureaucracy, inefficient
state monopolies, persistent inflation, and frequent labor unrest have
led to an overall drop in real income since the 1960s and a low level of
The government has tried to carry out a program of economic
liberalization similar to that of many other Latin American countries
but with only partial success. The program has included lowering
tariffs, eliminating deficit spending, controlling inflation--reduced from
129% in 1990 to an estimated 1995 rate of 40%--and reducing the size
of government. But weak public support, the conservative nature of
the Uruguayan people, and the fragmented political system--which has
stymied the government's efforts--suggest continued slow
The Lacalle administration failed to reform completely the bloated and
inefficient public sector. Privatization stalled when voters rejected by
72% sale of the telephone company, ANTEL, in a December 1992
referendum. However, the government continued implementation of
those parts of the 1991 state enterprise reform law not overturned in the
Port services were privatized, improving efficiency and reducing
prices. In May 1994, the state relinquished its monopoly on
automobile insurance. Other activities were transferred to the private
sector either under contract, concession, or sale, including: ground
services and operation of the cargo terminal at Montevideo's Carrasco
International Airport, domestic air service, construction and operation
of the sewage and water supply systems for the zone east of Punta del
Este, and operation of a mobile telephone system. The Sanguinetti
administration has continued with these reforms and has taken
preliminary steps to privatize the social security system.
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 non-intervention, respect for national sovereignty, and reliance on
the rule of law to settle disputes.
The government seeks export markets and financial support. Uruguay
is a member of the Rio Group, an informal group of Latin American
states which deals with multilateral regional issues. It is a party to the
Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (Rio Treaty), the
World Trade Organization (formerly the General Agreement on Tariffs
and Trade), and the Latin American Nuclear Free Zone.
Uruguay's location between Argentina and Brazil makes close relations
with these two larger neighbors particularly desirable. The three
countries have been working closely on integrating their economic
systems and improving relations. Uruguay also has been working with
Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Bolivia--under terms of the River
Plate Basin Treaty--on an economic integration plan whose centerpiece
is the development of the River Plate basin as a major shipping and
commercial transportation link known as Hidrovia.
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. Seventy
U.S.-owned companies operate in Uruguay, and many more market
U.S. goods and services.
An early proponent of the Enterprise for the Americas Initiative,
Uruguay also is a leader in the follow-up process to the 1994 Summit
of the Americas. It serves as a "Responsible Coordinator" for two
summit action items: tourism and invigorating society. Uruguay
hosted an Organization of American States seminar on corruption in
The Uruguayan Government cooperates with the United States on law
enforcement matters, such as regional efforts to reduce drug trafficking
and to limit the exploitation of Uruguay's strict bank secrecy
regulations for money laundering.
The country supported the international coalitions in Operations Desert
Shield and Desert Storm and, as noted, has provided troops to several
UN peacekeeping missions. Also in the UN, Uruguay assisted in
overturning that body's resolution equating Zionism with racism and
voted with the U.S. at the UN Human Rights Commission in March
1992 to name a special rapporteur on Cuba.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Thomas J. Dodd
Deputy Chief of Mission--Nancy M. Mason
Political/Economic Counselor--John A. Ritchie
Commercial Attache--Daniel A. Vernon
Labor Counselor--Glenda Gaye Maris
Consul--Daniel D. Darrach
Chief, Administrative Section--Robert D. Goldberg
Public Affairs Officer (USIS)--Cynthia F. Johnson
Chief, Office of Defense Cooperation--Col. William A. Jordan, USAF
The U.S. embassy in Uruguay is located at Lauro Muller 1776,
Montevideo (tel: 598-2-23-60-61 or 598-2-48-77-77; fax: 598-2-
488611). The mailing address for the embassy is APO AA 34035.
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides
Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings
are issued when the Department of State recommends that Americans
avoid travel to a certain country. Consular Information Sheets exist for
all countries and include information on immigration practices,
currency regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and
security information, political disturbances, and the addresses of the
U.S. embassies and consulates in the subject country. They can be
obtained by telephone at (202) 647-5225 or by fax at (202) 647-3000.
To access the Consular Affairs Bulletin Board by computer, dial (202)
647-9225, via a modem with standard settings. Bureau of Consular
Affairs' publications on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip
abroad are available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S.
Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may
be obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202)
While planning a trip, travelers can check the latest information on
health requirements and conditions with the U.S. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at (404) 332-
4559 provides telephonic or fax information on 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-94-8280, price $7.00) is available from the
Superintendent of Documents, 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).
Upon their arrival in a country, U.S. citizens are encouraged to register
with the U.S. embassy (see "Principal U.S. Embassy Officials" listing
in this publication). Such information might assist family members in
making contact en route in case of an emergency.
Further Electronic Information:
Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB). Available by modem, the
CABB provides Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings, and
helpful information for travelers. Access at (202) 647-9225 is free of
charge to anyone with a personal computer, modem,
telecommunications software, and telephone line.
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; Dispatch, the official weekly magazine of U.S.
foreign policy; daily press briefings; directories of key officers of
foreign service posts; etc. DOSFAN is accessible three ways on the
U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on a quarterly
basis by the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on
the Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an
array of official foreign policy information from 1990 to the present.
Priced at $80 ($100 foreign), one-year subscriptions include four discs
(MSDOS and Macintosh compatible) and are available from the
Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O.
Box 37194, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800
or fax (202) 512-2250.
Federal Bulletin Board (BBS). A broad range of foreign policy
information also is carried on the BBS, operated by the U.S.
Government Printing Office (GPO). By modem, dial (202) 512-1387.
For general BBS information, call (202) 512-1530.
National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department
of Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related
information, including Country Commercial Guides. 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.
Background Notes Series -- Published by the United States
Department of State -- Bureau of Public Affairs -- Office of Public
Communication -- Washington, DC -- Series Editor: Marilyn J.
Uruguay -- Department of State Publication 7857 -- December 1995
This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without
permission; citation of this source is appreciated. For sale by the
Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office,
Washington, DC 20402.
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