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.
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%.
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%.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
OTHER CONTACT INFORMATION:
U.S. Department of Commerce
Trade Information Center
International Trade Administration
14th and Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20230
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
Home Page: http://www.zfm.com/amchamuru
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 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
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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