The only inhabitants of Uruguay before European colonization of the
area were the Charrua Indians, a small tribe driven south by the Guarani
Indians of Paraguay. The Spanish discovered the territory of present-day
Uruguay in 1516, but the Indians' fierce resistance to conquest, combined
with the absence of gold and silver, limited settlement in the region during
the 16th and 17th centuries. The Spanish introduced cattle, which became
a source of wealth in the region. Spanish colonization increased as Spain
sought to limit Portugal's expansion of Brazil's frontiers.
Montevideo was founded by the Spanish in the early 18th century as a
military stronghold; its natural harbor soon developed into a commercial
center competing with Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires. Uruguay's early
19th century history was shaped by ongoing conflicts between the British,
Spanish, Portuguese, and colonial forces for dominance in the Argentina-Brazil-Uruguay
region. In 1811, Jose Gervasio Artigas, who became Uruguay´s national
hero, launched a successful revolt against Spain. In 1821, the Provincia
Oriental del Rio de la Plata, present-day Uruguay, was annexed to Brazil
by Portugal. The Provincia declared independence from Brazil in August
25, 1825 (after numerous revolts in 1821, 1823, and 1825) but decided to
adhere to a regional federation with Argentina.
The regional federation defeated Brazil after 3-year war. The 1828 Treaty
of Montevideo, fostered by the United Kingdom, gave birth to Uruguay as
an independent state. The nation's first constitution was adopted in 1830.
The remainder of the 19th century, under a series of elected and appointed
presidents, saw interventions by neighboring states, political and economic
fluctuations, and large inflows of immigrants, mostly from Europe. Jose
Batlle y Ordoñez, president from 1903 to 1907 and again from 1911
to 1915, set the pattern for Uruguay's modern political development. He
established widespread political, social, and economic reforms such as
a welfare program, government participation in many facets of the economy,
and a plural executive. Some of these reforms were continued by his successors.
By 1966, economic, political, and social difficulties led to constitutional
amendments, and a new constitution was adopted in 1967. In 1973, amid increasing
economic and political turmoil, the armed forces closed the Congress and
established a civilian-military regime, characterized by repression and
widespread human rights abuses. A new constitution drafted by the military
was rejected in a November 1980 plebiscite. Following the plebiscite, the
armed forces announced a plan for return to civilian rule. National elections
were held in 1984. Colorado Party leader Julio Maria Sanguinetti won the
presidency and served from 1985 to 1990. The first Sanguinetti administration
implemented economic reforms and consolidated democracy following the country's
years under military rule.
Sanguinetti's economic reforms, focusing on the attraction of foreign
trade and capital, achieved some success and stabilized the economy. In
order to promote national reconciliation and facilitate the return of democratic
civilian rule, Sanguinetti secured public approval by plebiscite of a controversial
general amnesty for military leaders accused of committing human rights
violations under the military regime, and sped the release of former guerrillas.
The National Party's Luis Alberto Lacalle won the 1989 presidential
election and served from 1990 to 1995. Lacalle executed major structural
economic reforms and pursued further liberalization of the trade regime.
Uruguay became a founding member of MERCOSUR in 1991 (the Southern Cone
Common Market, which includes Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay) . Despite
economic growth during Lacalle's term, adjustment and privatization efforts
provoked political opposition, and some reforms were overturned by referendum.
In the 1994 elections, former President Sanguinetti won a new term,
which ran from 1995 until March 2000. As no single party had a majority
in the General Assembly, the National Party joined with Sanguinetti's Colorado
Party in a coalition government. The Sanguinetti government continued Uruguay's
economic reforms and integration into MERCOSUR. Other important reforms
were aimed at improving the electoral system, social security, education,
and public safety. The economy grew steadily for most of Sanguinetti's
term, until low commodity prices and economic difficulties in its main
export markets caused a recession in 1999, which continued into 2003.
The 1999 national elections were held under a new electoral system established
by constitutional amendment. Primaries in April decided single presidential
candidates for each party, and national elections on October 31 determined
representation in the legislature. As no presidential candidate received
a majority in the October election, a runoff was held in November. In the
runoff, Colorado Party candidate Jorge Batlle, aided by the support of
the National Party, defeated Frente Amplio candidate Tabare Vazquez.
Batlle's 5-year term began on March 1, 2000. The Colorado Party and
National Party (Blancos) continued their legislative coalition, as neither
party by itself won as many seats in either chamber as did the Frente Amplio.
The formal coalition ended in November 2002, when the Blancos withdrew
their ministers from the cabinet, although the Blancos continued to support
the Colorados on most issues.
On June 27, 2004 the parties will hold primary elections to select their
candidates for the national elections to be held on October 31. The Frente
Amplio has already determined that Vazquez will be its candidate and the
Colorados have settled on former Interior Minister Guillermo Stirling.
Within the Blanco Party there is competition between Lacalle and Jorge
Larranaga, a former state governor and senator.
President Batlle's priorities have included promoting economic growth,
increasing international trade, attracting foreign investment, reducing
the size of government, and resolving issues related to Uruguayans who
disappeared during the military government. His coalition government also
has passed laws authorizing the initial demonopolization of the state-owned
telecommunications and energy companies, with the latter being overturned
by popular referendum in December 2003.
Uruguay History Bibliography