Uruguay’s origins date to the 16th century, when it was discovered by the Portuguese in 1512, but it remained in contention between Spain and Portugal until it gained independence in the 1811 Battle of Las Piedras.
Uruguay’s origins date to the 16th century, when it was discovered by the Portuguese in 1512, but it remained in contention between Spain and Portugal until it gained independence in the 1811 Battle of Las Piedras. A series of civil wars and internal strife occupied most of the 19th century, and through most of the 20th century the country's government alternated between democratic republic and military rule until the mid-1980s, when democracy returned to the country.
Today, Uruguay is a representative democratic republic with a presidential system. Executive power is exercised by the president and 13 cabinet ministers. The legislative branch is the General Assembly, consisting of two chambers. Members of both are elected by proportional representation.
Located in southeastern South America, Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo, is the third most southern capital city in the world. Montevideo is the transportation hub of the country, with most paved roadways originating in the city, as well as Carrasco airport, built in 2009 for more than $156 million. The Port of Montevideo is the most sophisticated container terminal in South America, handling more than 1.1 million containers annually.
Public education in Uruguay is free of charge and is compulsory for children up to age 14. As a result, the country has a comparatively high literacy rate. Uruguay became the first in the world to provide a laptop for all elementary students.
Due to the early Spanish and Portuguese influences, Uruguay’s culture remains quite heavily influenced by southern Europe, and most citizens are of European descent.
Uruguay’s leading industries are the raising of livestock, the processing of animal products and tourism. Its main exports are meat, wool and animal skins and hides. As one of only two South American countries with an investment grade sovereign bond rating, Uruguay’s economy has been able to remain more buoyant in the face of financial crises than many of its neighbors. It was the only country in the Americas to not experience a recession between 2007 and 2009 and in 2005 was the first South American country to export software - a major boon to its economy.
A founding member of MERCOSUR, Uruguay is a member of major international organizations such as the United Nations, and regional organizations such as the Rio Group and the Latin American Integration Association.