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Uruguay: Garden of America

Uruguay officially the Eastern Republic of Uruguay or the Republic East of the Uruguay (River) Spanish: República Oriental del Uruguay.
Uruguay is a country located in southern South America. It is bordered by Brazil to the north, the Uruguay River to the west, the estuary of the Río de la Plata (literally "River of Silver", but commonly known in English as "River Plate") to the southwest, with Argentina on the other bank of both, and finally the South Atlantic Ocean to the southeast. About half of its people live in the capital and largest city, Montevideo. The nation is the second smallest independent country in South America, larger than only Suriname (it is also larger than French Guiana, which is not independent), and is one of the most politically and economically stable.

Capital Montevideo
Largest city Montevideo
Official language(s)   Spanish
Government Democratic Republic
President Tabaré Vázquez
Independence from Brazil
Declared August 25, 1825 
August 28, 1828 
Total 176,220 km² (90th)
  68,039 sq mi 
Water (%) 1.5
July 2005 est. 3,463,000 (130th 1)
2002 census 3,399,237
Density 19/km² (186th 1)
50/sq mi 
GDP (PPP) 2005 estimate
Total $32.96 billion (90th)
Per capita $9,600 (65th)
HDI (2003) 0.840 (46th) – high
Currency Uruguayan Peso (UYU)
Time zone (UTC-3)
Summer (DST) (UTC-2)
Internet TLD .uy
Calling code +598


Politics of Uruguay takes place in a framework of a presidential representative democratic republic, whereby the President of Uruguay is both head of state and head of government, and of a pluriform multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of the General Assembly of Uruguay. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.

Uruguay consists of 19 departments (departamentos, singular - departamento):

Department Area (km²) Population (2004) Capital
Artigas 11,928 78,019 Artigas
Canelones 4,536 485,028 Canelones
Cerro Largo 13,648 86,564 Melo
Colonia 6,106 119,266 Colonia
Durazno 11,643 58,859 Durazno
Flores 5,144 25,104 Trinidad
Florida 10,417 68,181 Florida
Lavalleja 10,016 60,925 Minas
Maldonado 4,793 140,192 Maldonado
Montevideo 530 1,326,064 Montevideo
Paysandú 13,922 113,244 Paysandú
Río Negro 9,282 53,989 Fray Bentos
Rivera 9,370 104,921 Rivera
Rocha 10,551 69,937 Rocha
Salto 14,163 123,120 Salto
San José 4,992 103,104 San José
Soriano 9,008 84,563 Mercedes
Tacuarembó 15,438 90,489 Tacuarembó
Treinta y Tres 9,676 49,318 Treinta y Tres

Geography of Uruguay

Uruguay is the third smallest country in South America, after Suriname. The landscape features mostly rolling plains and low hill ranges (cuchillas) with a fertile coastal lowland, most of it grassland, ideal for cattle and sheep raising. The highest point in the country is the Cerro Catedral at 514 metres (1,686 ft). To the southwest is the Río de la Plata (River of Silver), the estuary of the Uruguay River, which forms the western border, and the Paraná River, that does not run through Uruguay itself. The only other major river is the Río Negro. Several lagoons are found along the Atlantic coast.

The climate in Uruguay is temperate, but fairly warm, as freezing temperatures are almost unknown. The predominantly flat landscape is also somewhat vulnerable to rapid changes from weather fronts, as well as to the pampero, a chilly and occasionally violent wind blowing north from the pampas plains in Argentina.

Economy of Uruguay

Uruguay's economy is characterised by an export-oriented agricultural sector, a well-educated workforce, and high levels of social spending, as well as a developed industrial sector. After averaging growth of 5% annually in 1996-1998, in 1999-2001 the economy suffered from lower demand in Argentina and Brazil, which together account for nearly half of Uruguay's exports. 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-grade sovereign bond rating, one of only two in South America. In recent years Uruguay has shifted most of its energy into developing the commercial use of IT technologies and has become an important exporter of software in Latin America.

While some parts of the economy appeared to be resilient, the downturn had a far more severe impact on Uruguayan citizens, as unemployment levels rose to more than twenty percent, real wages fell, the peso was devalued, and the percentage of Uruguayans in poverty reached almost 40%. These worsening economic conditions played a part in turning public opinion against the free market economic policies adopted by the previous administrations in the 1990s, leading to popular rejection of proposals for privatization of the state petroleum company in 2003 and of the state water company in 2004. The newly elected Frente Amplio government, while pledging to continue payments on Uruguay's external debt, has also promised to undertake a crash jobs programs to attack the widespread problems of poverty and unemployment.

Agriculture of Uruguay

Agriculture played such an important part in Uruguayan history and national identity until the middle of the 20th century that the entire country was then sometimes likened to a single huge estancia (agricultural estate) with Montevideo, where the wealth generated in the hinterland was spent, as its casco or administrative head. As another saying went, "Uruguay es la vaca y el puerto" ("Uruguay is the cow and the port").

When world market prices for Uruguay’s main export commodities like beef and wool fell drastically in the 1950s, the country's prosperous golden era came to an end.

Today, agriculture still contributes roughly 10% to the country’s GDP and is the main foreign exchange earner, putting Uruguay in line with other agricultural exporters like Brazil, Canada and New Zealand. Uruguay is a member of the Cairns Group of exporters of agricultural products. Uruguay’s agriculture has relatively low inputs of labour, technology and capital in comparison with other such countries, which results in comparatively lower yields per hectare but also open the door for Uruguay to market its products as "natural" or "ecological."

Campaigns like “Uruguayan grass-fed beef” and “Uruguay Natural” aim to establish Uruguay as a premium brand in beef, wine and other food products.

Recently, an industry has arisen around estancia tourism that capitalizes on the traditional or folkloristic connotations associated with gaucho culture and the remaining resources of the historic estancias of Uruguay's golden era.

Demographics of Uruguay

As a Spanish-speaking country of Latin America, most Uruguayans share a Spanish cultural background, though about half of the population is of Italian origin. Some 88% of the population is of European descent, with mestizos (8%) and Afro-Uruguayans (4%) forming the only significant ethnic minorities. Church and state are officially separated. Most Uruguayans adhere to the Roman Catholic faith (66%), with smaller Protestant (2%) and Jewish and Armenian (1%) communities, as well as a large nonprofessing group (31%).

Uruguay is distinguished by its high literacy rate (98%), large urban middle class, and relatively even income distribution. During the 1970s and 1980s two decades, an estimated 500,000 Uruguayans emigrated, principally to Europe. As a result of the low birth rate, high life expectancy, and relatively high rate of emigration of younger people, Uruguay's population is quite mature.

The country has the lowest birth rate of the Americas,  an oddity among the region characterized for birth rates in double digits per a thousand persons.

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