When the Spanish sailors landed on the coast of what is now Uruguay from 1515, there were sometimes nomadic Indian tribes living there. The largest group among them were the Charrua, who lived as hunters and gatherers. The first Spaniard to explore the estuary of the R¨ªo de la Plata was the navigator Juan D¨ªaz de Solis. Like the Spanish and Portuguese conquerors who followed him, he encountered fierce resistance from the Indians, who were initially able to successfully prevent foreign settlement in the area. The area north of the R¨ªo de la Plata and east of the Uruguay River was then called “Banda Oriental de Uruguay”.
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From the beginning of the 17th century, the areas of today’s Uruguay were settled, with the Spaniards mainly spreading in the south and the Portuguese in the north. The indigenous peoples were driven out or exterminated within a few decades. In 1724 the Spaniards founded the city of Montevideo, today’s capital of Uruguay.
Until the second half of the 18th century, the area between the two colonial powers Spain and Portugal remained controversial due to its strategically important location. It was not until 1777 that the Portuguese ceded their territory to the Kingdom of Spain, whereupon the country became part of the newly created Spanish Viceroyalty R¨ªo de la Plata.
Way to independence
At the beginning of the 19th century, the fight for independence against the Spanish colonial power began in Uruguay. The neighboring country of Argentina became independent in 1810, and in the same year the struggle for freedom against Spanish domination began under the leadership of Jos¨¦ Gervasio G. Artigas in what is now Uruguay. In May 1811, he and his troops defeated the Spanish soldiers at the Battle of Las Piedras. In 1814 the governor general of Spain had to flee Montevideo.
In the following decades, the area of what is now Uruguay became a bone of contention between Argentina and the formerly Portuguese-occupied Brazil, which gained its independence in 1822. It became a Brazilian province (Provincia Cisplatina) for a short time before the supporters of the independence movement, with the help of Argentine troops, managed to drive the Brazilian troops out of the country in 1825. According to AbbreviationFinder, three years later, the “Rep¨²blica Oriental del Uruguay” (Republic east of Uruguay) was launched in Uruguay, which was subsequently recognized by both Argentina and Brazil.
Civil war and subsequent stabilization
In the following decades, two different groups fought for power within Uruguay: on the one hand the social-liberal “Colorados” (the “Reds”, named after the color of their hat bands), on the other the “Blancos” (Partido Nacional) as a representative of the conservative large landowners. Around the same time, the approximately one-century immigration wave of Europeans, especially Spaniards, Italians, Germans and Englishmen, settled in the country, which offered the best conditions for both agriculture and animal husbandry.
In 1837, civil war broke out between the two hostile groups, with the “Colorados” being supported by Brazilian, the “Blancos” by Argentine. The social-liberal Colorado were able to assert themselves and from 1865 until the early 1960s became the government of the country. The country was characterized by domestic stability and a rapid economic upswing. In terms of foreign policy, Uruguay had to fight against Paraguay’s efforts to expand alongside Argentina and Brazil (1865-70).
At the beginning of the 20th century, Uruguay had become one of the richest countries in South America. From 1903, the head of state and government Jos¨¦ Batlle y Ord¨®ñez (who ruled in 1903-07 and 1911-17) led to a series of economic and social reforms. These included the introduction of the eight-hour Daily and minimum wages, unemployment and pension insurance and a free school system. The government system was also reformed: the power of the President was restricted in favor of a say in parliament (collegial system).
Economic crises and political turmoil
The world economic crisis in 1929 hit Uruguay, which was dependent on exports, particularly hard. The economic collapse also had an impact on domestic politics: in 1933 the parliament and the National Council were dissolved and a dictatorial style of leadership was established.
Uruguay’s economy recovered during the Second World War due to the strong demand for wool and meat products, but after the end of the Korean War in the mid-1950s and the subsequent fall in prices on the world market for agricultural products, there was a further slump. In 1958 the conservative Partido Nacional (“Blancos”) succeeded in gaining government power (until 1966). When the domestic political situation was marked by social tensions and dissatisfaction of the population with the conservative government, the left-wing extremist movement of the “Tupamaros” (after the last Inca king T¨²pac Amar¨²), who carried out terrorist attacks as so-called “city guerrillas”, formed.
In 1967, the constitutional system was replaced by the presidential system for the third time due to a constitutional change. Jorge Pacheco Areco became the new President. A year later, due to the activities of the Tupamaros, a state of emergency was declared (until 1972), the country was on the verge of a civil war.
In 1973, the incumbent President Juan Mar¨ªa Bordaberry dissolved the parliament with the help of the military and banned the political parties. The leaders of the left-wing groups were persecuted and executed. The new government, which consisted of civilians and the military, also failed to improve the country’s persistently poor economic situation. In two years alone, over a million Uruguayans left the country.
In 1976 the military finally took power in Uruguay and overthrew the elected president. The economy began to recover at the end of the 1970s. In 1980, the people of Uruguay prevented a constitutional amendment that would have given the military further powers. Uprisings and riots led to military presidents trying to reintroduce democracy.
The renewed democracy
Political parties were re-admitted in 1982 and free parliamentary elections were held in November 1984. The social-liberal “Colorado” party won it and, with Julio Mar¨ªa Sanguinetti Cairolo, became the country’s new head of state and government. He managed to boost Uruguay’s economy again despite high foreign debt and inflation.
In 1990 the government changed and Luis Alberto Lacalle de Herrera from the Partido Nacional became the new head of state (until 1995), but essentially continued the policies of his predecessor. A currency reform in 1993 introduced the peso Uruguay into the country as a new currency.
In 1995, a coalition between the Colorado Party and Partida Nacional took control of the country, for the second time Julio Mar¨ªa Sanguinetti Cairolo became head of state. This legislative period was characterized by domestic political stability and economic and social reforms, which included modernizing state-owned companies, increasing the mineral oil tax and implementing a pension reform. In 1999, the center-left alliance Encuentro Progesista-Frente Amplio (EP-FA) became the strongest party in the parliamentary elections, but its presidential candidate Tabar¨¦ Ram¨®n V¨¢zquez could not stand against the representative of the Colorado party in runoff elections for the head of state and government, Jorge Luis Battle Ib¨¢ñez, who was sworn in in 2000.
The poor economic situation in Argentina and Brazil also led to a financial crisis in Uruguay. On July 30, 2002, the Uruguayan central bank forced the banks to close after the peso lost significant value against the US dollar after being released.
The victory of Frente Amplio with its presidential candidate V¨¢zquez in 2004 brought about a historic turnaround with the end of the 170-year rule of traditional parties; the new center-left government was sworn in in March 2005. Immediately after the government took office, it adopted a social aid program to alleviate the consequences of the economic crisis for the poorest citizens. The economy has been recovering ever since. Together with the other eleven independent states of South America, Uruguay founded the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) in 2008, modeled on the European Union. Since March 2010, the former guerrilla Jos¨¦ Mujica Cordano has been president of the ruling Frente Amplio.