National name: República Oriental del Uruguay (Oriental Republic of Uruguay)

Land area: 67,035 sq mi (173,621 sq km); total area: 68,039 sq mi (176,220 sq km)

Population (2006 est.): 3,431,932 (growth rate: 0.5%); birth rate: 13.9/1000; infant mortality rate: 11.6/1000; life expectancy: 76.3; density per sq mi: 51

Capital and largest city (2003 est.): Montevideo, 1,745,100 (metro. area), 1,347,600 (city proper)

Monetary unit:Uruguay peso

Languages: Spanish, Portunol, or Brazilero

Ethnicity/race: white 88%, mestizo 8%, black 4%

Religions: Roman Catholic 66%, Protestant 2%, Jewish 1%, nonprofessing or other 31%


Uruguay, on the east coast of South America south of Brazil and east of Argentina, is comparable in size to Oklahoma. The country consists of a low, rolling plain in the south and a low plateau in the north. It has a 120-mile (193 km) Atlantic shoreline, a 235-mile (378 km) frontage on the Rio de la Plata, and 270 mi (435 km) on the Uruguay River, its western boundary.


Constitutional republic.


Prior to European settlement, Uruguay was inhabited by indigenous people, the Charrúas. Juan Díaz de Solis, a Spaniard, visited Uruguay in 1516, but the Portuguese were first to settle it when they founded the town of Colonia del Sacramento in 1680. After a long struggle, Spain wrested the country from Portugal in 1778, by which time almost all of the indigenous people had been exterminated. Uruguay revolted against Spain in 1811, only to be conquered in 1817 by the Portuguese from Brazil. Independence was reasserted with Argentine help in 1825, and the republic was set up in 1828.

A revolt in 1836 touched off nearly 50 years of factional strife, including an inconclusive civil war (1839–1851) and a war with Paraguay (1865–1870), accompanied by occasional armed intervention by Argentina and Brazil. Uruguay, made prosperous by meat and wool exports, founded a welfare state early in the 20th century under President José Batlle y Ordóñez, who ruled from 1903 to 1929. A decline began in the 1950s as successive governments struggled to maintain a large bureaucracy and costly social benefits. Economic stagnation and left-wing terrorist activity followed.