The Oriental Republic of Uruguay, also known as the Eastern Republic of Uruguay (Spanish: República Oriental del Uruguay), is a South American country that shares borders with Argentina to the west and southwest, Brazil to the north and northeast, the Río de la Plata to the south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the southeast. It covers an area of approximately 181,034 square kilometers (69,898 sq mi) and has an estimated population of 3,507,384, with around 2 million living in the metropolitan area of its capital and largest city, Montevideo. Uruguay is part of the Southern Cone region of South America.
Uruguay was first inhabited by hunter-gatherer groups 13,000 years ago, with the predominant tribe at the time of European arrival being the Charrúa people. Uruguay was colonized by Europeans later than neighboring countries, with the Portuguese establishing Colónia do Sacramento in 1680 and the Spanish founding Montevideo as a military stronghold in the early 18th century due to competing claims over the region. Uruguay won its independence between 1811 and 1828, following a four-way struggle between Portugal, Spain, Argentina, and Brazil. Throughout the 19th century, Uruguay remained subject to foreign influence and intervention, with the military playing a recurring role in domestic politics. The late 1960s and early 1970s saw a series of economic crises and political repression against left-wing guerrilla activity, which ultimately led to the 1973 coup d’état and the establishment of a civic-military dictatorship. The military government persecuted leftists, socialists, and political opponents, resulting in deaths and numerous instances of torture. The military relinquished power to a civilian government in 1985, and today Uruguay is a democratic constitutional republic with a president who serves as both head of state and head of government.
Uruguay is known for its high rankings in democracy, peace, low perception of corruption, and e-government. It ranks second in South America for economic freedom, income equality, per-capita income, and inflows of FDI. Uruguay is also regarded as one of the most socially progressive countries in Latin America, ranking high on global measures of personal rights, tolerance, and inclusion issues, including its acceptance of the LGBT community. The country has legalized cannabis, same-sex marriage, prostitution, and abortion. Uruguay is a founding member of the United Nations, OAS, and Mercosur.
The country of Uruguay is named after the namesake Río Uruguay, derived from the Indigenous Guaraní language. There are several interpretations of its origin, including “bird-river” (as “the river of the uru”, via Charruan, urú being a common noun of any wild fowl, or the river snail called uruguá (Pomella megastoma) that was once abundant in the region.
Renowned Uruguayan poet Juan Zorrilla de San Martín proposed one of the most popular interpretations of the name, “the river of painted birds, although its validity is questionable, it still holds cultural significance in the country.
During Spanish colonial times and after independence, Uruguay and some neighboring territories were referred to as Banda Oriental [del Uruguay] (“Eastern Bank [of the Uruguay River]”) and later as the “Eastern Province”. Since gaining independence, the country is officially known as the “Oriental Republic of Uruguay”, which translates to “Republic East of the Uruguay [River]”.