Language: Spanish (official). Religions: Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism. Currency: Uruguayan peso. Uruguay is the only South American country lying entirely outside the tropics. Its topography consists mainly of low plateaus and low hilly regions. The principal waterway is the NEGRO RIVER; the URUGUAY RIVER forms the country's entire western border with Argentina. Mineral and energy resources are limited. Pastures, covering almost four-fifths of the land area, support large herds of livestock raised for meat, leather goods, and wool. Chief crops include wheat, corn (maize), oats, and barley. Other important economic activities are tourism, fishing, and the manufacture of textiles, chemicals, and transportation equipment. Uruguay is a republic with two legislative houses; its head of state and government is the president. Prior to European settlement, Uruguay was inhabited mainly by the Charrtua Indians.
The Spanish navigator Juan Diaz de Solis sailed into the Rio de la PLATA estuary in 1516. The Portuguese established Colonia in 1680. Subsequently, the Spanish established Montevideo in 1726, driving the Portuguese from their settlement; 50 years later Uruguay became part of the Viceroyalty of Rio DE LA PLATA. It gained independence from Spain in 1811.
The Portuguese regained it in 1821, incorporating it into Brazil as a province. A revolt against Brazil in 1825 led to its being recognized as an independent country in 1828. It sided with Brazil and Argentina against Paraguay in the War of the TRIPLE ALLIANCE (1864, 1865-70).
Until the twentieth century, Uruguay was torn internally by policial strife. Unification was achieved under Jose Battle, who moved the country from agrarian feudalism to a democratic state. In succeeding years Uruguay progressively has socialized its economy and society. As part of the socialization process, liberal retirement benefits and pensions were set up for everyone including rural workers. Family allowances, unemployment insurance, sick leave benefits, and guaranteed annual vacations became available to all. High taxes were levied to support these programs, and as long as the economy grew,, the system worked. Unfortunately, the price of Uruguay's exports has risen but slowly, while those of its imports have climbed steadily. Since Uruguay possesses no minerals of significance, trade is vital and manufacturing confined basically to agricultural processing, As the economy has faltered, governmental revenues have not kept pace with the demands to pay benefits to which the population by law is entitled.
The economy benefited from a demand for raw material during World War 11 (1938-45) and the Korean War (1950-53). The office of the president was abolished in 1951 and replaced with a nine-member council. The country adopted a new constitution and restored the presidential system in 1966. A military coup occurred in 1973, but the country returned to civilian rule in 1985. The 1990s brought a general upturn in the economy.
Uruguay is more upscale with less poverty and strife than its neighbors. Montevideo seems safer than other South American capitals. The old city, Ciudad Vieja, has many colonial buildings that are now museums, art galleries, antique shops and restaurants. For nature lovers, the Eastern Wetlands contain swamps, lagoons, marshes, and streams with hundreds of bird species. UNESCO has declared the area a biosphere reserve. There are plenty of canoeing and fishing opportunities in both Uruguay and Negro River.
A land of gentle oiling grasslands and wild Atlantic coastline, Uruguay is South America's second smallest country. Visitors are drawn to the old smuggling town of Colonia, the capital city of Montevideo and Atlantic beach resorts. Towns along the Rio Uruguay are also pleasant and the hilly interior is gaucho country.
The narrow streets of Montevideo's Ciudad Vieja (Old City) have colonial charm. In addition to sophisticated resorts and broad sandy beaches, the Atlantic coast also has scenic headlands. Up the estuary of the Rfo de In Plata, the colonial contraband port of Colonia is one of the continent's lesser known treasures.
Uruguay's main attraction is its beaches, so most visitors come during the summer. Along the Rio Uruguay littoral, summer temperatures can be oppressive' but the hilly interior is cooler, especially at night, so dress accordingly.