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Uruguay - Introduction

The Oriental Republic of Uruguay is a small country located between Argentina to its west and Brazil to its east. Uruguay is a relatively low-lying country with fertile plains and low hills, with its highest point, Cerro Catedral, reaching 514 meters above sea level. Uruguay’s western border with Argentina is made up entirely by the Uruguay river and the Rio de la Plata Estuary. Uruguay’s full name in Spanish means ‘the Republic on the east of the Uruguay (River)’, from which it gets its common name of ‘Uruguay’. Uruguay’s capital is Montevideo.

In 2016, The Economist magazine ranked Uruguay as the only “full democracy” in Latin America, and one of only two in the world “outside of the rich western countries of Europe, North America and Australasia”. Uruguay is a stable democracy in which respect for the rule of law is the norm and the majority of the population is committed to non-violence. There have been no cases of political violence or damage to projects/installations over the past decade.

Uruguay’s population is approximately 3.4 million (2013 est) and is made up of mainly European (88 per cent) and mestizo (eight per cent) people, with a small black population (four per cent). Roman Catholicism is the largest religion in Uruguay with around 47 per cent of the population identifying as Catholic although some of these identify as non-practising Catholics. Protestantism, Judaism and other faiths are also present. Spanish is the official language of Uruguay.

The most fertile parts of the globe have always been fought for the most. Uruguay has been the Flanders of South America. Her productive, well-watered, and gently rolling plains are well adapted for agriculture and unsurpassed for pasturage. Here the Indians struggled hardest to maintain themselves and longest resisted the Spanish conquest. From colonial times, Argentines have crowded in from the west, Brazilians from the north, and Buenos Aireans and Europeans from the coast, until this favored spot has become the most thickly populated country of South America.

The very strategic and industrial desirability of this region, and the ease with which it can be invaded, made it the scene of constant armed conflict. Uruguay had been the cockpit of the southern half of the continent, and its people had been fighting continually through the first one hundred and fifty years during which the country had been inhabited by Europeans. They fought for their independence against the Spaniards, then against the Buenos Aireans, then against the Brazilians, then against the Buenos Aireans again, and in the intervals they fought pretty constantly among themselves.

Uruguay was once known as the "Switzerland of South America," but clearly not because of any geographical similarity. Although it is the second smallest republic in South America (after Suriname), Uruguay is more than four times larger than landlocked Switzerland, and its highest peak is only 501 meters. Rather, the analogy was made because Uruguay enjoyed other Swiss-like attributes. It was a peaceful, conservative country with a bountiful, livestock-based economy. It was also home to South America's first social democracy; a cradle-to-grave welfare system; and a largely urban, homogeneous, and relatively well-educated population. A political slogan of the 1940s proudly boasted, "There's no place like Uruguay."

Beginning with the prolonged stagnation of their country's industrial and livestock sectors in the mid-1950s, however, Uruguayans began losing their economic well-being, civility, and tranquillity. By the late 1960s, Uruguay was suffering from high inflation and public deficits and was governed by an authoritarian president, instead of by the former revolving collegial executive (colegiado) that had been modeled on the Swiss system and designed to avoid a concentration of power. In 1973 Uruguayans also lost their cherished freedom and their democratic system when the country was plunged into one of Latin America's most repressive military dictatorships (1973-85). The country's democratic system was not fully restored until 1990.

Having fallen far behind many countries economically, Uruguayans could only reminisce about their former welfare state. In a discussion of Uruguay's global ranking, the late political scientist and Uruguay specialist Charles Guy Gillespie noted that "Uruguayan society in 1990 presented a rather contradictory picture of advanced social indicators and declining economic status." Since Gillespie's research was completed, Uruguay rose to be the highest ranking country in South America and Central America on the United Nations Development Programme's 1991 Human Development Index (HDI), a measure that combines per capita gross domestic product with such factors as longevity and access to education.

The armed forces are constitutionally subordinate to the president through the minister of defense. By offering early retirement incentives, the government has trimmed the armed forces to about 14,500 for the army, 6,000 for the navy, and 3,000 for the air force. Uruguay is one of the top 10 per capita contributors to UN peacekeeping forces, with between 2,500 and 3,000 personnel in 15 UN peacekeeping missions. As of February 2012, Uruguay had 962 military personnel deployed to Haiti in support of MINUSTAH and 1,175 deployed in support of MONUC in the Congo.

Medical care facilities in Uruguay are considered adequate and most meet U.S. standards. The responsiveness of emergency personnel ambulance service is generally within U.S. standards. Ambulances are staffed with a medical doctor, enabling advanced treatment/care en route to the local hospital.

Taxis, public buses, and remise services are safe to use. The use of clearly marked taxi stands and online apps (voyentaxi.uy) are recommended over hailing a cab on the street. Uruguay experienced a 14.1% decrease in transit-related fatalities, and a 10% decrease in transit-related injuries from 2015 to 2016, according to the Uruguayan National Highway Safety Administration. Motorcyclists and bicyclists accounted for 70% of transit-related fatalities.

Traffic fatalities are among the most common causes of death in Uruguay. Uruguay’s rate of traffic deaths per 100,000 people (21.5) is nearly double that of the United States (11.4), according to the World Health Organization. Illumination, pavement markings, and road surfaces can be poor. Several of the main highways are particularly accident-ridden because of heavy tourist traffic. Poor illumination, inadequate pavement markings, and substandard road surfaces are contributing factors to traffic accidents.

Street-level crime (pickpocketing, purse snatching, assault, armed robbery, general theft) is common in the Montevideo. During the summer tourism season, crime typically migrates with the population to popular destinations (Punta del Este, Colonia del Sacramento). Criminals prey on targets of opportunity, to include tourists openly carrying valuables, motorists stopped at traffic lights with valuables visible within the vehicle, vacant homes, and unattended parked vehicles. Criminals operate within popular tourist areas of the capital (Ciudad Vieja, Avenida 18 de Julio, Plaza Independencia, Mercado del Puerto) and other popular areas within country. Police typically increase patrols during periods of high tourist activity in these areas, especially during the visits of cruise liners in the summer. However, only partial police presence remain into the late evening and early morning hours.

Uruguay continues to experience a significant level of violent crime. Criminals are well-armed, brazen, and do not hesitate to resort to violence if victims resist or if the police attempt to intervene. Precautions for residential security include the use of private security patrols, a centrally-monitored alarm system, grilled windows with tightly spaced cross-members, high perimeter fences, exterior lighting, and residences without adjacent vacant lots or parks.

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Page last modified: 18-05-2017 19:43:33 ZULU