Uruguay , officially the Oriental Republic of Uruguay , is a country in the southeastern region of South America. It borders Argentina to its west and Brazil to its north and east, with the Río de la Plata (River of Silver) to the south and with the Atlantic Ocean to the southeast. Uruguay is home to an estimated 3.42 million people, of whom 1.8 million live in the metropolitan area of its capital and largest city, Montevideo. With an area of approximately 176,000 square kilometres (68,000 sq mi), Uruguay is geographically the second-smallest nation in South America, only larger in size than Suriname.
Uruguay was inhabited by the Charrúa people for approximately 4000 years before the Portuguese established Colonia del Sacramento, one of the oldest European settlements in the region, in 1680. Montevideo was founded as a military stronghold by the Spanish in the early 18th century, signifying the competing claims over the region. Uruguay won its independence between 1811 and 1828, following a four-way struggle between Spain, Portugal, Argentina and Brazil. It remained subject to foreign influence and intervention throughout the 19th century, with the military playing a recurring role in domestic politics until the late 20th century. Modern Uruguay is a democratic constitutional republic, with a president who serves as both head of state and head of government.
Uruguay is ranked first in Latin America in democracy, peace, lack of corruption, e-government, and is first in South America when it comes to press freedom, size of the middle class and prosperity. On a per-capita basis, Uruguay contributes more troops to United Nations peace-keeping missions than any other country. It ranks second in the region on economic freedom, income equality, per-capita income and inflows of FDI. Uruguay is the third-best country on the continent in terms of HDI, GDP growth, innovation and infrastructure. It is regarded as a high-income country (top group) by the UN. Uruguay is also the third-best ranked in the world in e-Participation. Uruguay is an important global exporter of combed wool, rice, soybeans, frozen beef, malt and milk.
The Economist named Uruguay "country of the year" in 2013, acknowledging the innovative policy of legalizing the production, sale and consumption of cannabis. Same-sex marriage and abortion are also legal, leading Uruguay to be regarded as one of the most liberal nations in the world, and one of the most socially developed, outstanding regionally, and ranking highly on global measures of personal rights, tolerance, and inclusion issues.
The name Uruguay means river of the colorful birds. It is related to the name Guyana: Arawak Guayana, land of many waters.
Often called the Switzerland of South America not for geographical features but for a stable democracy and social benefits such as free education. In 2002 Uruguay faced one of its biggest economic crises which had very negative effects on safety due to the rise in crime, and although the activity levels in 2008 were at pre-crisis levels, crime is still relatively high, but still low for the region. Long a desired country for immigration, Uruguay has been suffering from high levels of emigration for almost four decades, mainly of highly trained workers and people with high level studies (brain drain) seeking better opportunities abroad.
Uruguay has a rich agricultural and civic history among its indigenous people. The dominant pre-20th century live stock driving techniques are still utilized in some areas, and are less visited tourist attractions than the pleasant beaches and city centers. The country has a mostly low-lying landscape. Cerro Catedral, the country's highest point, is 514 m high.
The tourism industry in Uruguay is a stable component of their economy. Whether tourism contributes to the overall productivity of the economy, or provides stability by way of jobs, it is a force they have chosen to emphasize. As of 2008, 10% of the nation's jobs were based in the tourism industry. In 2007, Uruguay brought in nearly 1.8 million tourists. The bulk of the tourists in Uruguay settle themselves around the rich culture of the country as well as the scenic natural attractions. Cultural experiences in Uruguay range from interacting with the indigenous people to colonial history, as found in Colonia del Sacrementa. Montevideo, the country's capital, houses the most diverse selection of cultural activities. Historical monuments such as Tores Garcia Museum as well as Estadio sentenario, which housed the first world cup in history, are only a couple samples of the culture depth that tourists commonly seek. However simply walking the streets allows one to experience the colorful blend of culture the city has to offer.
One of the main natural attractions in Uruguay is Punta del Este. Punta del Este is a prominent tourist destination on a small peninsula off the southeast shore of Uruguay. Its beaches are divided into Mansa, or meek, (river side) and Brava, or brave, (ocean side). These beaches offer versatility to the tourist experience, the Mansa being more ideal for sunbathing, snorkeling, & other low-key recreational opportunities, and the Brava being more ideal for adventurous water sport enthusiasts. Punta del Este is virtually connected to the city of Maldonado and eastward spread widely, encompassing La Barra and José Ignacio. It has 122 hotels, 80 restaurants, an international airport and a yacht port that can accommodate 500 boats.
For more in-depth coverage of Uruguay's vast tourism opportunities, see this list by Welcome Uruguay
With 176,214 km2 (68,037 sq mi) of continental land and 142,199 km2(54,903 sq mi) of jurisdictional water and small river islands, Uruguay is the second smallest sovereign nation in South America (after Suriname) and the third smallest territory (French Guiana is the smallest). The landscape features mostly rolling plains and low hill ranges (cuchillas) with a fertile coastal lowland. Uruguay has 660 km (410 mi) of coastline.
A dense fluvial network covers the country, consisting of four river basins, or deltas: the Río de la Plata Basin, the Uruguay River, the Laguna Merín and the Río Negro. The major internal river is the Río Negro ('Black River'). Several lagoons are found along the Atlantic coast.
The highest point in the country is the Cerro Catedral, whose peak reaches 514 metres (1,686 ft) AMSL in the Sierra Carapé hill range. To the southwest is the Río de la Plata, the estuary of the Uruguay River (which river forms the country's western border).
Montevideo is the southernmost capital city in the Americas, and the third most southerly in the world (only Canberra and Wellington are further south).
There are ten national parks in Uruguay: Five in the wetland areas of the east, three in the central hill country, and one in the west along the Rio Uruguay.
Uruguay is the only South American country in the temperate zone. The country is flat grassland and all locations are particularly vulnerable to rapid changes from weather fronts and forceful winds as there are no high mountains that could act as shields. As Uruguay is located south of the Equator (approximately at the same latitude as Johannesburg and Sydney), summer and winter are reversed compared to the Northern Hemisphere. In the winter temperatures under freezing are rare but not unheard of.
Uruguayans are of predominantly European origin, with over 87.7% of the population claiming European descent in the 2011 census . Most Uruguayans of European ancestry are descendants of 19th and 20th century immigrants from Spain and Italy (about one-quarter of the population is of Italian origin), and to a lesser degree France, Germany and Britain. Earlier settlers had migrated from Argentina. People of African descent make up an even smaller proportion of the total.
From 1963 to 1985, an estimated 320,000 Uruguayans emigrated. The most popular destinations for Uruguayan emigrants are Argentina, followed by the United States, Australia, Canada, Spain, Italy and France. In 2009, for the first time in 44 years, the country saw an overall positive influx when comparing immigration to emigration. 3,825 residence permits were awarded in 2009, compared with 1,216 in 2005. 50% of new legal residents come from Argentina and Brazil. A migration law passed in 2008 gives immigrants the same rights and opportunities that nationals have, with the requisite of proving a monthly income of $650.
Uruguay's rate of population growth is much lower than in other Latin American countries. Its median age is higher than the global average due to its low birth rate, high life expectancy, and relatively high rate of emigration among younger people. A quarter of the population is less than 15 years old and about a sixth are aged 60 and older.
Metropolitan Montevideo is the only large city, with around 1.9 million inhabitants, or more than half the country's total population. The rest of the urban population lives in about 30 towns.
Uruguay has no official religion; church and state are officially separated, and religious freedom is guaranteed. A 2008 survey by the INE of Uruguay showed Catholicism as the main religion, with 45.7% of the population; 9.0% are non-Catholic Christians, 0.6% are Animists or Umbandists (an Afro-Brazilian religion), and 0.4% Jewish. 30.1% reported believing in a god, but not belonging to any religion, while 14% were Atheist or Agnostic. Among the sizeable Armenian community in Montevideo, the dominant religion is Christianity, specifically Armenian Apostolic.
Political observers consider Uruguay the most secular country in the Americas. Uruguay's secularization began with the relatively minor role of the church in the colonial era, compared with other parts of the Spanish Empire. The small numbers of Uruguay's Indians and their fierce resistance to proselytism reduced the influence of the ecclesiastical authorities.
After independence, anti-clerical ideas spread to Uruguay, particularly from France, further eroding the influence of the church. In 1837, civil marriage was recognized and in 1861 the state took over the running of public cemeteries. In 1907, divorce was legalized and in 1909, all religious instruction was banned from state schools. Under the influence of the innovative Colorado reformer José Batlle y Ordóñez (1903–1911), complete separation of church and state was introduced with the new constitution of 1917.
Uruguay experienced a major economic and financial crisis between 1999 and 2002, principally a spillover effect from the economic problems of Argentina. The economy contracted by 11%, and unemployment climbed to 21%. Despite the severity of the trade shocks, Uruguay's financial indicators remained more stable than those of its neighbours, a reflection of its solid reputation among investors and its investment-gradesovereign bond rating, one of only two in South America.
In 2004, the Batlle government signed a three-year $1.1 billion stand-by arrangement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), committing the country to a substantial primary fiscal surplus, low inflation, considerable reductions in external debt, and several structural reforms designed to improve competitiveness and attract foreign investment. Uruguay terminated the agreement in 2006 following the early repayment of its debt but maintained a number of the policy commitments.
Vázquez, who assumed the government in March 2005, created the "Ministry of Social Development" and sought to reduce the country's poverty rate with a $240 million National Plan to Address the Social Emergency (PANES), which provided a monthly conditional cash transfer of approximately $75 to over 100,000 households in extreme poverty. In exchange, those receiving the benefits were required to participate in community work, ensure that their children attended school daily, and had regular health check-ups.
In 2005, Uruguay was the first exporter of software in South America. The Frente Amplio government, while continuing payments on Uruguay's external debt, also undertook an emergency plan to attack the widespread problems of poverty and unemployment. The economy grew at an annual rate of 6.7% during the 2004–2008 period. Uruguay's exports markets have been diversified in order to reduce dependency on Argentina and Brazil. Poverty was reduced from 33% in 2002 to 21.7% in July 2008, while extreme poverty dropped from 3.3% to 1.7%.
Between the years 2007 and 2009, Uruguay was the only country in the Americas that did not technically experience a recession (two consecutive downward quarters). Unemployment reached a record low of 5.4% in December 2010 before rising to 6.1% in January 2011. While unemployment is still at a low level, the IMF observed a rise in inflationary pressures, and Uruguay's GDP expanded by 10.4% for the first half of 2010.
According to IMF estimates, Uruguay was likely to achieve growth in real GDP of between 8% and 8.5% in 2010, followed by 5% growth in 2011 and 4% in subsequent years. Gross public sector debt contracted in the second quarter of 2010, after five consecutive periods of sustained increase, reaching $21.885 billion US dollars, equivalent to 59.5% of the GDP.
The growing, use, and sale of cannabis was legalized on 11 December 2013, making Uruguay the first country in the world to fully legalize marijuana. The law was voted at the Uruguayan senate on the same date with 16 votes to approve it and 13 against.