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Country Facts

Full country name: Oriental Republic of Uruguay
Area: 176,220 sq km (72,930 sq miles)
Population: 3.4 million (2009)
Capital city: Montevideo (population: 1.7 million)
People: 88% European descent, 6% African descent, 6% miscellaneous
Language(s): Spanish
Religion(s): Roman Catholic 47.1%, Non-catholic Christians 11.1%, Afro beliefs 0.6%, Jewish 0.3%, Atheist or Agnostic 17.2%, Non-confessional 23.2%, Others 0.4%.
Currency: Peso Uruguayo ($)
Major political parties: Frente Amplio (FA); Colorado Party; National Party (aka Blanco), Partido Independiente. Other minor parties: Partido Liberal, Unión Cívica, Partido Intransigente, Partido de los Trabajadores.
Government: Constitutional Republic
President: Sr. José Mujica
Foreign Minister: Dr. Luis Almagro
Membership of international groupings/organisations: Antarctic Treaty, Cairns Group, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), G-11, G–20, G-77, International Labour Organisation (ILO), International Maritime Organisation (IMO), International Monetary Fund (IMF), Interpol, Mercosur, Non Aligned Movement (Observer), Organisation of American States (OAS), United Nations (UN), World Bank, World Health Organisation (WHO), World Trade Organisation (WTO), Convention on the Conservation of Living Marine Resources (CCMLAR), ALADI.

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Uruguayans are generally healthy and benefit from a well-established and professional public health care system. Life expectancy at birth is 76 years (2009) and infant mortality rate is 11 (2009). HIV/AIDS is an increasing problem, but the rate of infected people (4 in 1,000 15-49 year olds) is still low. In Uruguay, HIV/AIDS control is the responsibility of the National AIDS Programme of the Ministry of Health. This office has registered a drop in the speed of growth of the disease since 1996 but an increase in the percentage of women infected. Infection through blood transfusion is almost non-existent due to tight controls. In Uruguay blood banks are free of HIV. Pregnancy control (there is a compulsory HIV test for pregnant women) has made infection from mother to child decrease considerably to the extent that no cases were registered in 2004. The first case of autochthonous Dengue Fever was reported in Uruguay on 20 March 2007. The Uruguayan authorities have launched a campaign to fight the mosquito Aedes aegypti and avoid the spread of the disease.

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Basic Economic Facts (2007)

GDP: US$ 40 bn
GDP per head (PPP): US$ 15,121 (2011 est)
Annual Growth: 8.5% (2010), 6% (2011)
Inflation: 8.6% (June 2011)
Major exports: Meat, cereals, fruit, dairy products, wood
Major trading partners: Brazil, Argentina, China, United States, Venezuela
Exchange rate: £1 = $ 29 (June 2011)
Uruguay’s economy has performed well since the economic crisis of 2002. When the global economy collapsed in 2009, Uruguay escaped recession by some margin and in 2010 it grew by 8.5%. The growth is due to be sustained. Economists expect Uruguay to grow over 6% this year and around 5% in the next few years.

The greatest achievement of Uruguay has been the attraction of foreign investment, as it provides a combination of good business climate and opportunities. It is not just the paper mills (the largest foreign investment ever). Argentine investments in farming have made a revolution with harvests multiplying by 4 in less than a decade. Real estate, timber and possibly iron ore are some other good examples. In 2010 Uruguay attracted USD 1.6 billion in FDI, the third largest in South America in terms of GDP and the second on per capita basis.

Uruguay is a small open economy with two big neighbours: Brazil and Argentina. So when this pair does well, Uruguay’s economy booms. Uruguay counts on Argentine and Brazilian tourists for the summer season and Mercosur is the main destination for Uruguayan exports. Europe is the second trade partner after Mercosur and Asia (3rd) is growing fast. Although Uruguay’s economy is more diverse than before, it remains vulnerable to any shocks from Argentina and Brazil.

The public sector is unusually large, accounting for 20% of the workforce. Privatisation activities in recent years have included concessions for mobile telephone networks, a container terminal at the Port of Montevideo, major private toll roads between Montevideo and other cities including the resort town of Punta del Este, and the privatisation of the Montevideo International airport.

Unemployment is currently at 6.4% the lowest in South America. Inflation is high for British standards (8.6% as of June 2011, well above the target of 4-6%). In spite of this spike, there is a consensus in Uruguay that inflation should not increase to two digits because that would imply opening the wage negotiation in the public sector with natural repercussions in the rest of the economy. The Central Bank has raised interest rates by 1 full percentage point in March and half a point in June to reach 8%, as a way to keep prices in check.

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Uruguay's original inhabitants were the Charrúa Indians, a hunter-gatherer people. They killed the explorer Juan Diaz de Solís and most of his party when the Spaniards encountered them in 1516. But by the 17th century, the Charrúas had prospered, abandoned hostilities, and begun trading with the Spanish. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the territory changed hands between the Spanish and Portuguese several times. By 1832 virtually all Charrúas had been killed or forced to leave, leaving Uruguay with no indigenous people (the only such country in Latin America). Uruguayan independence - finally recognised in 1828 - was repeatedly threatened during the 19th century - militarily by Argentina and Brazil, and economically by Britain. Federalist forces in collusion with Argentina besieged Montevideo from 1838-51 and helped create two warring political parties, the Blancos and the Colorados. For the remainder of the century, the contest between the Blancos and Colorados continued, immersing the country in civil war, dictatorship and political intrigue.

After Uruguay's last civil war ended in 1904 the country entered a period of sustained economic growth. Able to produce first class beef for a growing world meat trade, and good quality wool, Uruguay's exports grew in volume and commanded good prices. The two world wars and the Korean war stimulated exports further. By 1950 Uruguay accounted for 3.5% of all Latin American economic activity. Uruguayans enjoyed the standards of living of a developed country, and their strong currency (the Uruguayan Gold peso) allowed them to take cheap holidays in Europe. For many Uruguayans the first half of the twentieth century – culminating in a glorious victory over Brazil in the 1950 World Cup Final – is their golden age. Throughout this period, except for a short period of military rule under Terra in the early 1930s, Uruguay remained a constitutional democracy.

Uruguay's prosperity had ebbed away by the 1960s as state-supported enterprises became riddled with bureaucratic inefficiency. The Tupamaros, an urban guerrilla movement that appeared publicly in 1967, threw the country into turmoil. In 1973, Congress was dissolved, the military was invited to participate in government, and the Tupamaros were effectively neutralised. The military continued to hold sway in national politics until the return to civilian rule on 1 March 1985 with the inauguration of the democratically elected President Julio Maria Sanguinetti.

At the same time Uruguay's economy began to recover. GDP grew an average of 4.2% from 1992 to 1998 and international ratings agencies awarded Uruguay investment grade. Then two catastrophes struck, both because of problems in Uruguay's neighbouring countries. In 1998 Brazil (which bought a quarter of Uruguay's exports) devalued its currency, plunging Uruguay into recession. Then in 2002, as Argentines withdrew their deposits from Uruguayan banks, the country's private banking sector (a quarter of its economy) collapsed. From its 1998 peak to its 2002 through Uruguay's economy halved in dollar terms.

President Tabaré Vázquez was in office between 1 March 2005 until March 2010. Apart from intervals of unconstitutional rule, this was the first time any party other than the traditional parties has ruled Uruguay.

In presidential elections in November 2009, José Mujica (Frente Amplio) defeated Luis Lacalle (National Party) with 53% of the vote against Lacalle’s 43%. Mujica, 74, was inaugurated as president on 1 March 2010. Twenty five years on from the end of the military dictatorship in Uruguay and his release from 14 years in prison, Mujica becomes Uruguay's second left-wing president following on from Tabaré Vazquez's successful five-year term.

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Uruguay's Relations with Neighbours

Uruguay is a founder member of Mercosur, the Southern Cone Common Market, along with Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina. Mercosur, founded in 1991, is intended to promote increased trade among its members and the outside world. Montevideo is the site of the Administrative Secretariat. Although Uruguay invested great hopes in Mercosur in the early 1990s these have not been fulfilled and the government continues to seek to diversify Uruguay's markets outside Mercosur.

Uruguay is also a member of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), an intergovernmental union integrating Mercosur and the Andean Community, as part of a continuing process of South American integration.

Uruguay's Relations with the International Community

Uruguay is an active player in the United Nations and is a significant contributor to UN Peacekeeping operations. Current deployments include the Democratic Republic of Congo and Haiti: a third of Uruguay's Army staff is currently involved in peacekeeping activities. As a member of the Cairns Group, Uruguay is very active in promoting the liberalisation of international trade, especially agriculture, and is critical of the EU's common agricultural policy.

Uruguay's Relations with the UK

We enjoy good bilateral relations with Uruguay and see eye-to-eye on a range of international issues. The UK played a significant part in Uruguay's history in the period immediately before and after independence (1825), being heavily involved in the railways and public utilities. These and many other British assets were transferred to the Uruguayan government after World War Two, mostly in payment of debts incurred with Uruguay for food shipments during that war. The UK no longer has the predominant role in Uruguay that it once held. However, because of our long and close involvement with the creation and growth of their country Uruguayans view us with some affection and we work well with Uruguay on many international issues (including peacekeeping). Recent high-level visits include the Uruguayan Foreign Minister to UK in March 2011 and Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne to Uruguay in May 2011.

Military Relations

In recent years the UK has operated a varied programme of military training with Uruguay, sending students to courses in the UK and Uruguayan Chiefs of Staff are regular visitors to the UK. UKMOD recently organised and paid for an export version of Cranfield’s Managing Defence in the Wider Security Context Course to take place in Uruguay.

Cultural Relations with the UK

Due to our close historical links, the UK also has strong cultural links with Uruguay and there have been numerous visits by orchestras and soloists, playing classical, jazz and popular music. Local dramatists often use British theatre, playwrights and directors as a point of reference. In recent years, the British Embassy in Montevideo supported a number of cultural activities, including performances by the Manchester Hallé Orchestra, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Soloists of the London Philarmonia and various theatre plays, concerts and arts exhibitions on the UK. The English language is widely taught in schools and institutes throughout the country and there is a healthy interest in British affairs. There are also good sporting links with Uruguay. We have a small, though successful Chevening programme with Uruguay. Recent popular public diplomacy events include a celebration to mark the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and a 3D screening of the Wimbledon semi-finals!

Recent Inward Visits


Luis Almagro, Foreign Minister, visited the UK in March 2011. His visited included calls with the Foreign Secretary, MoD, London Stock Exchange and the International Meat Trade Association (IMTA).

Air General Jose Ramon Bonilla came to the UK in February 2011. He met with Gerald Howarth, Minister for International Security Strategy, visited the General Defence Academy and visited both RAF High Wycombe and Coningsby.


Pablo Gutiérrez, General Secretary and the General Manager of the Corporación Nacional para el Desarrollo (CND), attended a 3-day conference at Wilton Park in September 2010 on Public and Private Investment Partnerships.


Director General for International Economic Affairs, Mercosur and Integration at the Uruguayan Foreign Ministry, Walter Cancela, Oct 2009

President of the Uruguayan Central Bank, Antonio Bergara, August 2009

Dr. Antonio Mercader, lawyer, professor and journalist, September 2009


Minister for Housing and Environment Carlos Colacce visited the UK privately in August. The FCO organised a one day official programme for him including a visit to carbon neutral urbanisation BedZed.

Minister for Industry, Energy and Mining Daniel Martínez: 1 to 3 October 2008, a visit including calls on Ministers, industry and a talk at Canning House.


Deputy Foreign Minister Prof Belela Herrera attended a Wilton Park Conference on "Political Change in Latin America: implications for the region, US, EU and Asia-Pacific": 15-17 June.

Minister of Economy and Finance Cr Danilo Astori: 19-25 March.

Recent Outward Visits


Minister of State for Latin America, Jeremy Browne visited Uruguay in May 2011 and spoke with Vice President Danilo Astori, Deputy Foreign Minister Roberto Conde, and Defence Minister Luis Rosadilla.


The British Group Inter-Parliamentary Union visited Uruguay in November 2010. Talks they participated in included the Uruguayan Chancellor of the Exchequer, Minister of Defence and a committee on Industry, Energy and Mining, both Houses. A visit to the Department of Maldonado was also arranged.


John Rankin, the then Director of Americas in the FCO visited Uruguay in November 2009 and met with Senator Danilo Astori, Vice-President elect and ex- Economy and Finance Minister, Ec Mario Bergara, President Uruguayan Central Bank, Senator Sergio Abreu, former Foreign Minister and leading member of National Party (Blancos) and visited the Naval Museum.

Dr Kim Howells MP, Minister of State, FCO visited Uruguay on 12-13 March 2008. He met the Vice-President Rodolfo Nin Novoa, the PUS equivalent at the Foreign Ministry, the Defence Minister and MPs of the International Affairs Committees.

A British delegation of the Inter Parliamentary Union: 20–23 November 2005. Engagements included meetings with Vice President Rodolfo Nin Novoa, Defence Minister José Bayardi and then Foreign Minister Reinaldo Gargano.

HRH Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex: February-March 2005. During his three–day visit for the Presidential inauguration HRH met former President Batlle and the current President Tabaré Vázquez, as well as senior government officials of the outgoing and the incoming government.

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Uruguay is located in southern South America, bordering the South Atlantic Ocean. The second smallest country in South America, Uruguay borders two giants, Brazil and Argentina. Just under half the population lives in Greater Montevideo. Uruguayans are virtually all of European descent, mostly of Spanish and Italian stock.

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Trade and Investment with the UK

Although Uruguay's population is small (3.5 million) it still offers worthwhile business opportunities for UK companies; the UK share of the market is approximately 2%.

Scotch whisky accounts for approximately 20% of British exports to Uruguay, followed by hides, medicinal & pharmaceutical products, telecommunications equipment & chemicals, and machinery & transport equipment. The UK's principal imports are meat, fruit & vegetables, textile fibres, fish and derived products. British good exports rose by 39% in 2010 and by a staggering 150% in the first two months of 2011.

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Human rights in Uruguay have improved significantly since the end of the military dictatorship in 1985 and Uruguay currently has a good human rights record. A Peace Commission was established in 2000 to investigate the whereabouts of the people who 'disappeared' during the military dictatorship and published its findings in late April 2003. It made substantial progress on 26 of the disappearances in Uruguay during military rule, as well as five cases of Uruguayans who disappeared in Argentina and one in Bolivia. The human rights issue (with emphasis on the sensitive issue of those people who 'disappeared' during the dictatorship) is at the centre of the government's policies, and it has made progress in finding some corpses. The first corpse (a Communist militant killed in 1976) was recognised following a DNA test in early 2006. As a sign of the Government's interest in the area, a bill for the creation of a new Human Rights body called "National HR Institute" has been passed in Parliament. The government has given a new interpretation to the amnesty law of 1986, which ruled out prosecutions of security force members for disappearances that took place before 27 June 1973 (when the military seized power). Some military officers and politicians (including de-facto former President Juan María Bordaberry) are currently in custody awaiting trial in Uruguay or extradition to Argentina for having been allegedly involved in human rights violations.

The major current human rights concern is the state of inmates in Uruguayan prisons, with high overcrowding, bad sanitary conditions and abuse.

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Last Updated: July 2011

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