Uruguay profile

Map

Uruguay has traditionally been more affluent than other countries in South America, and is known for its advanced education and social security systems and liberal social laws.

It was the first nation in Latin America to establish a welfare state, maintained through relatively high taxes on industry, and developed a democratic tradition that earned it the sobriquet "the Switzerland of South America".

But economic and political turmoil, in particular left-wing urban guerrilla attacks in the early 1970s, led the government of the day to suspend the constitution and launch a period of repressive military rule that lasted until 1985. Uruguay is still struggling to come to terms with the legacy of those years.

Dancer at the Montevideo carnival The Montevideo Carnival is seen as Uruguay's main cultural event of the year

At a glance

  • Politics: The Broad Front coalition came to power in the 2004 elections and won a second mandate in 2009
  • Economy: Uruguay is recovering from economic upheaval in 2002, brought on by recessions in Brazil, Argentina
  • International: Relations with Argentina have been strained over a Uruguayan paper mill on the banks of a border river

Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring

Since the restoration of democratic government, successive governments have liberalised the economy. Colonial towns, beach resorts and a year-round mild climate have contributed to a growing tourist industry, and the economy has benefited from offshore banking.

But a dependence on livestock and related exports has left Uruguay vulnerable to ups and downs in world commodity prices. Recessions in Brazil and Argentina - its main export markets and sources of tourists - propelled the country into economic crisis in 2002.

Payouts from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and a restructuring of foreign debt encouraged a fragile recovery. But the recession left many Uruguayans living in poverty and prompted thousands of younger people to leave.

Most Uruguayans are of European origin - chiefly Spanish and Italian. The country has a large middle class and is largely free of serious income inequality. But the minority who are of African or mixed European-indigenous descent form a higher proportion of its poorest people.

In the 19th century Uruguay's newly-won independence was followed by a prolonged and ruinous conflict between two political factions - the land-owning Blancos (whites) and the urban Colorados (reds).

Tourist walks down a street in the old quarter of Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay The historic quarter of Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay's oldest town, is a World Heritage Site

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Latin America & Caribbean stories

RSS

Features & Analysis

Elsewhere on the BBC

Programmes

  • A person taking a photo of fireworks on a smartphoneClick Watch

    A look at the latest gadgets which could make it easier to take the perfect night-time picture

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.