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Uruguay: Colonial Period
Country Study > Chapter 3 > The Economy > Growth and Structure of the Economy > Colonial Period

COLONIAL PERIOD


The foundation for Uruguay's livestock-based economy was laid well before the nation achieved independence. In 1603 Spanish colonists released cattle and horses on the empty plains of what is now Uruguay, then known as the Banda Oriental (eastern side, or bank, of the Río Uruguay). The livestock thrived in Uruguay's temperate climate, grazing on the natural pastures that still cover most of the countryside. By the early 1700s, there were millions of cattle in the area. During the "leather age," which lasted for the next century and a half, Uruguay's abundant livestock attracted traders and settlers from the nearby Argentine provinces. Hides became the area's chief export. Cattle raising, which seems to have begun almost by chance, quickly tookhold of Uruguay's rural economy.

The success of simple livestock-ranching techniques in Uruguay during the colonial period was to have long-term consequences. Uruguay's temperate climate, natural pastures, and abundant land (because of its small population during the colonial period) combined to favor extensive methods of raising cattle. For ranchers, these methods held two economic advantages. Both investment and labor costs were kept to a minimum because cattle ranged free, subsisted on natural grass cover, and required little care. Well after independence in 1828, even when Uruguay had become an important exporter of livestock products, these advantages continued to exert a great deal of influence on the rural sector. Despite the limitations of extensive livestock raising, including low production levels per hectare and slow growth of stock, few ranchers ever became convinced that more intensive production techniques were worth the cost. As a result, the fundamental method of livestock production in Uruguay changed very little in over two centuries.

Data as of December 1990




Last Updated: December 1990


Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Uruguay was first published in 1990. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on Factba.se.

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