About Uruguay

Ara Rosa

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]”.


Uruguay has a long history of human habitation, with evidence of hunter-gatherers dating back to around 13,000 years ago.[11] At the time of first contact with Europeans in the 16th century, it is estimated that there were approximately 9,000 Charrúa people, 6,000 Chaná people, and some Guaraní island-settlements.

The eastern part of the country has an extensive collection of man-made tumuli called “Cerritos de Indios,” some of which date back to 5,000 years ago. Although little is known about the people who built them since they left no written record, evidence of pre-Columbian agriculture and extinct pre-Columbian dogs has been found in the area.

In 1831, the first Constitutional Government of Uruguay authorized the capture of various ethnic groups, mainly the Charrúas, who were committing murder, robbery, and kidnapping in rural areas. This included the Minuanes and Guaranis, who had been at war with the Charrúas for centuries. The capture took place in Salsipuedes, and casualties were reported on both sides. For more information, see Lincoln Maiztegui Casas’ “Historia de los Orientales.”

Early colonization

The region of present-day Uruguay was first explored by the Portuguese in 1512, followed by the arrival of the Spanish in 1516. However, due to the indigenous peoples’ strong resistance and lack of valuable resources, European settlement was limited in the region during the 16th and 17th centuries, and Uruguay became a disputed territory between the Spanish and Portuguese empires. In 1603, the Spanish introduced cattle to the region, which eventually became a source of wealth. The first permanent Spanish settlement was founded in 1624 in Soriano, along the Río Negro. In 1669–71, the Portuguese established a fort at Colonia del Sacramento (Colônia do Sacramento).

Montevideo was established by the Spanish in the early 18th century as a military stronghold. Its natural harbor quickly became a commercial hub, competing with Buenos Aires, the capital of the Río de la Plata region. During the early 19th century, Uruguay’s history was marked by conflicts for dominance in the region, involving British, Spanish, Portuguese, and other colonial forces. In 1806 and 1807, the British army attempted to seize Buenos Aires and Montevideo as part of the Napoleonic Wars. Montevideo was occupied by British forces from February to September 1807.

Independence struggle:

In 1811, Uruguay’s national hero, José Gervasio Artigas, led a successful revolt against the Spanish authorities, defeating them on 18 May at the Battle of Las Piedras.

In 1813, Artigas emerged as a champion of federalism, demanding political and economic autonomy for each area, and for the Banda Oriental in particular, at the constituent assembly in Buenos Aires. However, the assembly refused to seat the delegates from the Banda Oriental and pursued a system based on unitary centralism.

As a result, Artigas broke with Buenos Aires and besieged Montevideo, taking the city in early 1815.[32] After the troops from Buenos Aires withdrew, the Banda Oriental appointed its first autonomous government and Artigas organized the Federal League under his protection, consisting of six provinces, four of which later became part of Argentina.

In 1816, a force of 10,000 Portuguese troops invaded the Banda Oriental from Brazil, and they took Montevideo in January 1817.[32] After nearly four more years of struggle, the Portuguese Kingdom of Brazil annexed the Banda Oriental as a province under the name of “Cisplatina”. The Brazilian Empire became independent of Portugal in 1822.

In response to the annexation, the Thirty-Three Orientals, led by Juan Antonio Lavalleja, declared independence on 25 August 1825, supported by the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata (present-day Argentina).[31] This led to the 500-day-long Cisplatine War. Neither side gained the upper hand, and in 1828 the Treaty of Montevideo, fostered by the United Kingdom through the diplomatic efforts of Viscount John Ponsonby, gave birth to Uruguay as an independent state. Independence Day is celebrated on 25 August, a national holiday. The nation’s first constitution was adopted on 18 July 1830.

19th century: 

At the time of Uruguay’s independence, the country had an estimated population of just under 75,000. However, political turmoil soon arose as the country’s political scene became split between two parties. The conservative Blancos (Whites), headed by the second President Manuel Oribe, represented the agricultural interests of the countryside, while the liberal Colorados (Reds), led by the first President Fructuoso Rivera, represented the business interests of Montevideo. The Uruguayan parties received support from warring political factions in neighboring Argentina, which became involved in Uruguayan affairs.

The Colorados favored the exiled Argentine liberal Unitarios, many of whom had taken refuge in Montevideo, while the Blanco President Manuel Oribe was a close friend of the Argentine ruler Manuel de Rosas. On 15 June 1838, an army led by the Colorado leader Rivera overthrew President Oribe, who fled to Argentina. Rivera declared war on Rosas in 1839, beginning a conflict that would last 13 years and become known as the Guerra Grande (the Great War).

In 1843, an Argentine army overran Uruguay on Oribe’s behalf but failed to take the capital. The siege of Montevideo, which began in February 1843, would last nine years. The besieged Uruguayans called on resident foreigners for help, which led to the formation of a French and an Italian legion, the latter of which was led by the exiled Giuseppe Garibaldi.

In 1845, Britain and France intervened against Rosas to restore commerce to normal levels in the region, but their efforts proved ineffective. By 1849, both countries withdrew after signing a treaty favorable to Rosas.[35] It seemed that Montevideo was on the verge of falling to Rosas when an uprising against him began, led by Justo José de Urquiza, the governor of Argentina’s Entre Ríos Province. The Brazilian intervention in May 1851, on behalf of the Colorados, along with the uprising, turned the tide of the conflict, and Oribe was defeated. The siege of Montevideo was lifted, and the Guerra Grande finally came to an end. In recognition of Brazil’s support, Montevideo signed treaties that confirmed Brazil’s right to intervene in Uruguay’s internal affairs.

As per the 1851 treaties, Brazil intervened militarily in Uruguay whenever it deemed necessary. In 1865, the emperor of Brazil, the president of Argentina, and the Colorado general Venancio Flores, the Uruguayan head of government whom they both had helped to gain power, formed the Triple Alliance. The Triple Alliance declared war on the Paraguayan leader Francisco Solano López, and the resulting Paraguayan War ended with the invasion of Paraguay and its defeat by the armies of the three countries. During the war, Montevideo, which was used as a supply station by the Brazilian navy, experienced a period of prosperity and relative calm.

Uruguay’s first railway line was constructed in 1867, consisting of a horse-drawn train. Today, the State Railways Administration of Uruguay maintains an extendable railway network of 2,900 km.

The constitutional government of General Lorenzo Batlle y Grau (1868–72) suppressed the Blancos’ Revolution of the Lances. After two years of struggle, a peace agreement was signed in 1872 that gave the Blancos a share in the emoluments and functions of government, with control of four of Uruguay’s departments.


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