Country Listing

Uruguay Table of Contents


Historical Patterns of Settlement

First administered from Buenos Aires, Uruguay came into being as an independent nation in 1828 when the British intervened to create a buffer (and client) state between Argentina and Brazil. The fact that Uruguay was scarcely settled beyond a thin coastal strip during the colonial period meant that unlike many other areas of Latin America, little of its colonial heritage survived. The British dominated the country's economic and commercial development until World War I. In marked distinction to Chile's or Peru's minerals, however, Uruguay's prime productive asset (land) remained in the hands of Uruguayans, or at least settlers who wanted to become Uruguayans.

Shortly after independence, civil war broke out between the two political factions that came to form Uruguay's traditional parties, the Colorado Party (Partido Colorado) and the National Party (Partido Nacional, usually referred to as the Blancos). Military conflicts between caudillos on both sides were to recur frequently until 1904. The main cause of conflict was the rivalry between center and periphery: in Montevideo the Colorados predominated, but in the interior the Blancos wished to preserve their control. A dictatorship by a Colorado caudillo, Lorenzo Latorre (1876-80), imposed strict order in the countryside. Concurrently, Uruguay's exports of beef products and wool to Europe began to boom.

After 1911 massive growth of frozen meat exports revived the profitability of the large cattle ranches that had been somewhat eclipsed after the 1860s by medium-sized sheep farms. By World War I, two-fifths of the nation's farmland was in the hands of large landowners (the 3 to 4 percent of proprietors who had over 2,000 hectares). However, historians have argued that Uruguay's rural society was "pluralist" in character. Thus, along with the big landowners (latifundistas) and smallholders (minifundistas), a middle sector had arisen, constituting 40 percent of the proprietors and accounting for 55 percent of the land.

Data as of December 1990