Polity: Presidential-parliamentary democracy
Population: 3,400,000
GNI/Capita: $9,035
Life Expectancy: 75
Religious Groups: Roman Catholic (66 percent), Protestant (2 percent), Jewish (1 percent), other (31 percent)
Ethnic Groups: White (88 percent), mestizo (8 percent), black (4 percent)
Capital: Montevideo

Political Rights Score: 1
Civil Liberties Score: 1
Status: Free


In October 2002 the Blanco Party withdrew its members from the cabinet of President Jorge Batlle's coalition government, during the gravest economic crisis in the country's history. The move came just months after Batlle had caused a huge diplomatic flap by calling his neighbors in Argentina "a bunch of thieves" and predicting that his Argentine counterpart, Eduardo Duhalde, might be forced to leave the presidency at any moment. The spillover effect from Argentina's melting economy was blamed for a day of violence in August, when looters ransacked businesses and labor unions staged antigovernment protests that brought much of Montevideo to a standstill.

After gaining independence from Spain, the Oriental Republic of Uruguay was established in 1830. The Colorado Party dominated a relatively democratic political system throughout the 1960s. The 1967 constitution established a bicameral congress consisting of the 99member Chamber of Deputies and the 31-member Senate, with every member serving a 5-year term. The president is also directly elected for a five-year term.

In 1998, the National Party, racked by mutual accusations of corruption, joined the opposition Colorado Party in supporting the latter's presidential nominee, Batlle, a 72-year-old senator and 5-time presidential candidate whose father and great-uncle had been respected Colorado Party presidents. Faced with dismal economic prospects and a choice between presidential candidates representing moderate right and an eclectic left, in 1999 Uruguayans gave Batlle 52 percent of the vote. Upon taking office, the new president incorporated several National Party members into his cabinet.

Batlle immediately sought an honest accounting of the human rights situation under a former military regime whose widely acknowledged viciousness had turned Uruguay's reputation as the "Switzerland of Latin America" on its head. Batlle also showed equally firm determination to reduce spending and taxes and to privatize previously sacrosanct state monopolies. In 2001, the crisis-ridden rural sector and an increase in violent crime, in what was still one of Latin America's safest countries, dominated much of the public's attention, as did growing labor unrest. Metropolitan Montevideo, with 1.4 million inhabitants, is Uruguay's only large city and contains most of the highest crime areas.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Citizens of Uruguay can change their government democratically. In 1999, for the first time, Uruguayan parties selected a single presidential candidate in open primary elections. Previously, the parties had fielded a number of candidates, and the candidates with the most votes then accumulated the votes cast for the others. Constitutional guarantees regarding free expression, freedom of religion, and the right to form political parties, labor unions, and civic organizations are generally respected.

The judiciary is relatively independent, but has become increasingly inefficient in the face of escalating crime, particularly street violence and organized crime. The court system is severely backlogged, and suspects under arrest often spend more time in jail than they would were they to be convicted and serve the maximum sentence for their crime. Allegations of police mistreatment, particularly of youthful offenders, have increased; however, prosecutions of such acts are also occurring more frequently. Prison conditions do not meet international standards.

Uruguay, long a haven for anonymous foreign bank deposits as a result of its strict banking secrecy laws, has also taken measures to regulate financial activities in order to reduce the potential for money laundering. October 1998 saw the passage of antidrug legislation that made narcotics-related money laundering a crime. The Financial Investigations Unit (FIU) was established in order to present more complete evidence in narcotics-related prosecutions. Upon the request of the Central Bank, financial institutions must provide certain information, and banks (including offshore banks), currency exchange houses, and stockbrokers are required to report transactions of more than $10,000. The FIU also requires all entities under its jurisdiction to report suspicious financial transactions to a financial information analysis unit.

The Transparency Law (Ley Cristal) entered in to force in January 1999. It criminalizes a broad range of potential abuses of power by governmental officeholders, including the laundering of funds related to public corruption cases. It also requires financial disclosure statements to be filed by high-ranking officials. Public officials who know of a drug-related crime or incident and do nothing about it may be charged with a "crime of omission" under the Citizen Security Law. Uruguay ranks near the top of public transparency ratings for Latin America issued annually by Transparency International.

The press is privately owned, and broadcasting is both commercial and public. Numerous daily newspapers publish, many associated with political parties; there are also a number of weeklies. In 1996 a number of publications ceased production because of a governmental suspension of tax exemptions on the import of newsprint. In addition, a June 1996 decree requires governmental authorization to import newsprint.

Civic organizations have proliferated since the return of civilian rule. Numerous women's rights groups focus on violence against women, societal discrimination, and other problems. The small black minority continues to face discrimination. Uruguay's continuing economic crisis has forced thousands of formerly middle-class citizens to join rural migrants in the shantytowns ringing Montevideo.

Workers exercise their right to join unions, bargain collectively, and hold strikes. Unions are well organized and politically powerful. Strikes are sometimes marked by violent clashes and sabotage.

Freedom of religion is a cherished political tenet of democratic Uruguay and is broadly respected.

Trend Arrow

Uruguay received a downward trend arrow due to the decision of the Blanco Party to withdraw from the governing coalition amidst the worst economic crisis in the country's history, and to growing problems of public safety.

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