U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Uruguay, March 1998
Official Name: Oriental Republic of Uruguay


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


Nationality: Noun and adjective--Uruguayan(s).
Population (1996): 3.15 million.
Annual growth rate: 0.6%.
Ethnic groups (est.): European descent 88%, mestizo 8%, African descent 
Religions: Roman Catholic 66%, Protestant 2%, Jewish 2%, non-professing 
or other 30%.
Language: Spanish.
Education: Literacy--96%.
Health: Life expectancy--72.4 yrs. (75 yrs. female; 69 yrs. male). 
Infant mortality rate--18.9/1,000.
Work force (1996, 1.33 million): Manufacturing--19%. Commerce--19%. 
Services (except banking)--35%. Banking--6%. Construction--7%. 
Transportation & communications--6%. Agriculture--4%. Other--4%.


Type: Republic. 
Independence: 1828. 
Constitution: 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), New Space Party. 
Suffrage: Universal at 18.

Economy (1996)

GDP: $19 billion. 
Annual growth rate (1997): 6.3%. 
Per capita GDP: $6,000.
Natural resources: Arable land, hydroelectric potential, granite, and 
Agriculture (10% of GDP): Products--beef, wool, grains, fruits, 
Industry (18% of GDP): Types--meat processing, wool and hides, textiles, 
shoes, handbags, leather apparel, tires, cement, fishing, food and 
beverages, petroleum refining.
Services: (47% of GDP) 
Trade: Exports--$2.4 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--$3.3 billion: fuels, chemicals, machinery, 
metals, vehicles. Major suppliers--MERCOSUR 50% (Argentina 24%, Brazil 
26%, Paraguay less than 1%); EU 19%; U.S. 12%.
Exchange rate (March 1998): 10.14 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, large urban middle class, and 
relatively even distribution of income. 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 

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 

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. 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 

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. 


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 

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%, Frente Amplio (Broad Front) 30%, and New Space 
Party 4%. As a result, the National Party joined with the Colorado Party 
in a coalition government. Working with this coalition, President 
Sanguinetti secured important reforms aimed at improving the electoral 
system, education, social security, and public safety.

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 16,100 
for the army, 4,200 for the navy, and 3,400 for the air force. As of 
November 1997, Uruguay has about 105 soldiers deployed in UN 
peacekeeping missions, with the largest group (around 60) in the Sinai 

Principal Government Officials

President--Julio Maria Sanguinetti
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Didier Opertti
Ambassador to the United States--Alvaro Diez de Medina
Ambassador to the United Nations--Jorge Perez
Ambassador to OAS--Antonio Mercader

Uruguay maintains an embassy in the United States at 1919 F Street, NW, 
Washington, DC 20006 (tel. 202-331-1313). Consulates are also located in 
Miami, Los Angeles, and New York.


Uruguay's economy remains dependent on agriculture. Although 
agricultural production accounts for 10% of the gross domestic product 
(GDP), it comprises more than 50% of exports. The industrial sector, 
which produces 18% 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 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 1% per month.

The government has 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 an estimated 1997 
rate of 15%--and reducing the size of government. But weak public 
support, the conservative nature of the Uruguayan people, and the 
fragmented political system suggest continued slow modernization.

The Lacalle Administration failed to reform completely the bloated and 
inefficient public sector. Privatization stalled when 72% of voters 
rejected the sale of the state 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 1992 referendum.

Port services were privatized, improving efficiency and reducing prices. 
In May 1994, the state relinquished its monopoly on automobile 
insurance. Other activities which have been transferred to the private 
sector either under contract, concession, or sale, include: ground 
services and operation of the cargo terminal at Montevideo's Carrasco 
International Airport, the national airline (PLUNA), gas distribution, 
road construction and maintenance, 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 deepened reforms, including partial privatization of 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 Southern Cone Common Market (MERCOSUR) with Argentina, 
Brazil, and Paraguay. Uruguay also 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. More than 90 U.S.-owned 
companies operate in Uruguay, and many more market U.S. goods and 

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 
actions: tourism and invigorating civil society. 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--Nancy M. Mason
Political/Economic Counselor--Jonathan D. Farrar
Commercial Attache--Stephen K. Keat
Consul--Denise A. Boland
Chief, Administrative Section--Robert D. Goldberg
Public Affairs Officer (USIS)--Peter M. Brennan
Chief, Office of Defense Cooperation--Col. Mario K. DiPrimo, 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 www.embeeuu.gub.uy.


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.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 
Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are 
issued when the State Department 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, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in 
the 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. Travel Warnings and Consular Information 
Sheets also are available on the Consular Affairs Internet home page:  
and the Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB). To access CABB, dial the 
modem number: (301-946-4400 (it will accommodate up to 33,600 bps), set 
terminal communications program to N-8-1 (no parity, 8 bits, 1 stop 
bit); and terminal emulation to VT100. The login is travel and the 
password is info (Note: Lower case is required). The CABB also carries 
international security information from the Overseas Security Advisory 
Council and Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Consular Affairs 
Trips for Travelers publication series, which contain information on 
obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, can be purchased 
from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, 
P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954; telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 

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-

Passport Services information can be obtained by calling the 24-hour, 7-
day a week 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).

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers 
for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 
(404) 332-4559 gives 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). 
Registering with the embassy may help you to replace lost identity 
documents or 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; Dispatch, 
the official magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press briefings; 
Country Commercial Guides; directories of key officers of foreign 
service posts; etc. DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at 

U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on an annual 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. Contact 
the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. 
Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or 
fax (202) 512-2250. 

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.


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