Facts about Uruguay

World Facts Index

Montevideo, UruguayMontevideo, founded by the Spanish in 1726 as a military stronghold, soon took advantage of its natural harbor to become an important commercial center. Claimed by Argentina but annexed by Brazil in 1821, Uruguay declared its independence four years later and secured its freedom in 1828 after a three-year struggle. The administrations of President Jose BATLLE in the early 20th century established widespread political, social, and economic reforms that established a statist tradition. A violent Marxist urban guerrilla movement named the Tupamaros, launched in the late 1960s, led Uruguay's president to cede control of the government to the military in 1973. By yearend, the rebels had been crushed, but the military continued to expand its hold over the government. Civilian rule was not restored until 1985. In 2004, the left-of-center Frente Amplio Coalition won national elections that effectively ended 170 years of political control previously held by the Colorado and Blanco parties. Uruguay's political and labor conditions are among the freest on the continent.

Geography of Uruguay

Southern South America, bordering the South Atlantic Ocean, between Argentina and Brazil
33 00 S, 56 00 W
total: 176,220 sq km
land: 173,620 sq km
water: 2,600 sq km
Area comparative:
slightly smaller than the state of Washington
Land boundaries:
total: 1,564 km
border countries: Argentina 579 km, Brazil 985 km
660 km
Maritime claims:
contiguous zone: 24 NM
territorial sea: 12 NM
continental shelf: 200-m depth or to the depth of exploitation
exclusive economic zone: 200 NM
warm temperate; freezing temperatures almost unknown
mostly rolling plains and low hills; fertile coastal lowland
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m
highest point: Cerro Catedral 514 m
Natural resources:
arable land, hydropower, minor minerals, fisheries
Natural hazards:
seasonally high winds (the pampero is a chilly and occasional violent wind which blows north from the Argentine pampas), droughts, floods; because of the absence of mountains, which act as weather barriers, all locations are particularly vulnerable to rapid changes from weather fronts
Environment current issues:
water pollution from meat packing/tannery industry; inadequate solid/hazardous waste disposal
Geography - note:
second-smallest South American country (after Suriname); most of the low-lying landscape (three-quarters of the country) is grassland, ideal for cattle and sheep raising

Population of Uruguay

3,477,778 (July 2008 est.)
Age structure:
0-14 years: 22.9% (male 399,409/female 386,136)
15-64 years: 63.9% (male 1,087,180/female 1,104,465)
65 years and over: 13.3% (male 185,251/female 269,491)
Median age:
32.7 years
Growth rate:
Infant mortality:
11.61 deaths/1,000 live births
Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 76.33 years
male: 73.12 years
female: 79.65 years
Fertility rate:
1.89 children born/woman
noun: Uruguayan(s)
adjective: Uruguayan
Ethnic groups:
white 88%, mestizo 8%, black 4%, Amerindian, practically nonexistent
Roman Catholic 66% (less than half of the adult population attends church regularly), Protestant 2%, Jewish 1%, nonprofessing or other 31%
Spanish, Portunol, or Brazilero (Portuguese-Spanish mix on the Brazilian frontier)
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 98%
male: 97.6%
female: 98.4%


Country name:
conventional long form: Oriental Republic of Uruguay
former: Banda Oriental, Cisplatine Province
local long form: Republica Oriental del Uruguay
Government type:
constitutional republic
Administrative divisions:
19 departments (departamentos, singular - departamento); Artigas, Canelones, Cerro Largo, Colonia, Durazno, Flores, Florida, Lavalleja, Maldonado, Montevideo, Paysandu, Rio Negro, Rivera, Rocha, Salto, San Jose, Soriano, Tacuarembo, Treinta y Tres
25 August 1825 (from Brazil)
National holiday:
Independence Day, 25 August (1825)
27 November 1966, effective February 1967, suspended 27 June 1973, new constitution rejected by referendum 30 November 1980; two constitutional reforms approved by plebiscite 26 November 1989 and 7 January 1997
Legal system:
based on Spanish civil law system; accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction
18 years of age; universal and compulsory
Executive branch:
chief of state: President Tabare VAZQUEZ Rosas and Vice President Rodolfo NIN NOVOA; note - the president is both the chief of state and head of government
cabinet: Council of Ministers appointed by the president with parliamentary approval
elections: president and vice president elected on the same ticket by popular vote for five-year terms (may not serve consecutive terms)
Legislative branch:
bicameral General Assembly or Asamblea General consists of Chamber of Senators or Camara de Senadores (30 seats; members are elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms; vice president has one vote in the Senate) and Chamber of Representatives or Camara de Representantes (99 seats; members are elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms)
Judicial branch:
Supreme Court (judges are nominated by the president and elected for 10-year terms by the General Assembly)


Uruguay's economy is characterized by an export-oriented agricultural sector, a well-educated work force, and high levels of social spending. After averaging growth of 5% annually during 1996-98, in 1999-2002 the economy suffered a major downturn, stemming largely from the spillover effects of the economic problems of its large neighbors, Argentina and Brazil. For instance, in 2001-02 Argentina made massive withdrawals of dollars deposited in Uruguayan banks, which led to a plunge in the Uruguayan peso and a massive rise in unemployment. Total GDP in these four years dropped by nearly 20%, with 2002 the worst year due to the banking crisis. The unemployment rate rose to nearly 20% in 2002, inflation surged, and the burden of external debt doubled. Cooperation with the IMF helped stem the damage. Uruguay in 2007 improved its debt profile by paying off $1.1 billion in IMF debt, and continues to follow the orthodox economic plan set by the Fund in 2005. The construction of a pulp mill in Fray Bentos, which represents the largest foreign direct investment in Uruguay's history at $1.2 billion, came online in November 2007 and is expected to add 1.6% to GDP and boost already rising exports. The economy has grown strongly since 2004 as a result of high commodity prices for Uruguayan exports, a strong peso, growth in the region, and low international interest rates.

$37.5 billion (2007 est.)
GDP growth rate:
GDP per capita:
GDP composition by sector:
agriculture: 9.3%
industry: 31.1%
services: 59.6%
Inflation rate:
Labor force:
1.52 million
Labor force - by occupation:
agriculture 14%, industry 16%, services 70%
revenues: $4.468 billion
expenditures: $4.845 billion
Electricity production by source:
fossil fuel: 0.7%
hydro: 99.1%
other: 0.3%
nuclear: 0%
food processing, electrical machinery, transportation equipment, petroleum products, textiles, chemicals, beverages
rice, wheat, corn, barley; livestock; fish
meat, rice, leather products, wool, fish, dairy products
Export partners:
US 19.5%, Brazil 17%, Argentina 6.6%, Mexico 4.4%, Spain 4.3%, Germany 4.2%
machinery, chemicals, road vehicles, crude petroleum
Import partners:
Argentina 19.2%, Brazil 18.8%, Paraguay 14%, US 8.4%, China 6%, Russia 4.4%
Uruguayan peso (UYU)

SOURCES: The CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State, Area Handbook of the US Library of Congress

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