Uruguay History

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Charrúas Amerindians were the first people to inhabit the Uruguay area. The arrival of Europeans dates from 1516, when the territory was discovered by Spanish explorer Juan Díaz de Solís, who sailed on the river La Plata. However, European colonization attempts were discouraged for a long time by the Charrúas.

Between 1680 and 1683, disputing Spanish possession of the region, Portuguese settlers established several colonies along the river La Plata, including Sacramento. The Spanish, however, continued their colonization and founded the city of Montevideo in 1726 before settling on the Eastern Band—east of the Uruguay River.

The Spanish-Portuguese rivalry continued throughout the eighteenth century, finally ending in 1777 with the establishment of Spanish authority throughout the region under the viceroyalty of Buenos Aires.

However, in 1810 and 1811, under the leadership of General José Gervasio Artigas, Uruguayan revolutionary patriots joined Buenos Aires in a revolt against Spain. The Spanish authorities were expelled from Montevideo in 1814, and a national government was formed in 1815. But the Portuguese of Brazil took advantage of the situation and invaded the territory, completing the conquest in 1821 with the annexation of the region under the name Cisplatina Province.

However, this rule was not accepted by everyone, and a group of insurgents called the Thirty Three Immortals led by Juan Antonio Lavalleja claimed again the independence of the country in 1825. Assisted by Argentina, they successfully fought the Brazilians in a war that lasted two years. Uruguay’s independence was finally recognized in 1828.

The East Republic (Uruguay) was instituted and a new constitution was established in 1830. But the country's independence was quickly followed by tensions that ended in a civil war. The dispute crystallized around supporters of President Manuel Oribe and the country’s first president, Fructuoso Rivera. Supporters of President Oribe were conservatives and were called “white,” while supporters of President Rivera were liberal and called “color” because of the color of their flags. The “great war” between the two parties broke out in 1839 and lasted until 1851. After this conflict, Uruguay joined Brazil and Argentina in a war against Paraguay from 1865 until 1870.

From 1865 to 1958 the liberals retained power in Uruguay. One of the leaders, José Batlle y Ordóñez, impacted the country's history. During his presidency between 1903 and 1915, he established a democratic regime and implemented reforms to promote economic and social progress of the country. Uruguay soon became known as one of the most progressive nations in South America.

The 1950’s saw the victory of Andrés Martínez Trueba of the Colorado Party. In 1952, a constitutional amendment abolished the position of president and transferred executive power to the National Council, a nine-member collegate governance.

In 1958, after 93 years of “colored” government, the White Party won the elections with an overwhelming majority. The new government promoted economic reforms; however, it was soon faced with mass unrest and social problems.

“White” remained in power until 1966, when the two parties agreed to support a measure to restore the presidential system. This measure was approved by referendum in November and the new constitution became effective in February 1967. At the same time, general elections were won by the Reds, and General Oscar Daniel Gestido was elected president . On the death of Gestido, Vice President Jorge Pacheco Areco became president and started an anti-inflammatory policy. But the economic situation remained critical, causing great turmoil. A guerrilla organization called the “Tupamaros” intensified its activities, attempting to overthrow the government.

In the election of November 28, 1971, the Colored candidate, Juan Maria Bordaberry, won the presidency. However, the country was in the grip of escalating violence that culminated in April 1972 with clashes between the army and the Tupamaros. Congress then declared a state of siege and suspended constitutional guarantees. In addition, throughout the year, strikes multiplied in reaction to the rigorous economic and social policy led government . Inflation increased and the currency was devalued several times.

Bordaberry was dismissed in June 1976. Aparicio Méndez was then elected to the presidency by a new Council of the Nation, composed of 25 civilians and 21 military officers. The first government decisions were directed to a hardening of power, as well as political disenfranchisement and arbitrary imprisonment. Violations of human rights by the army were endemic. In addition, the military tried to institute a new constitution, subject to a referendum in November 1980, but this constitution was rejected . On September 1, 1981, General Gregorio Alvarez was installed as president of the Republic, but encountered a difficult internal situation.

Eventually, the various political parties were legalized and a new presidential election was held. It resulted in the victory of Julio Maria Sanguinetti, a member of the Colored Party, who took office on March 1, 1985. In December 1986, an amnesty law covering all members of the military accused of human rights violations between 1973 and 1985 was passed and later confirmed by referendum in April 1989. In November of 1989, Luis Alberto Lacalle of the National Party (or White Party) was elected president .

The November 1994 election saw another victory of Julio Maria Sanguinetti of the Colored Party. This launched a reform of the state and tried to return to competitive country, particularly against its Mercosur partners, which Uruguay had joined in March 1991.

In March 2000, Jorge Luis Batlle Ibáñez—a lawyer, journalist and politician (he was a senator and national deputy )—was elected as President of the Eastern Republic of Uruguay, a position he held from then until March 1, 2005. He is a member of the liberal wing of the Colored Party. Currently occupies entirely to the private sector , although still voice in national politics.

Tabare Vazquez—an oncologist, radiation oncologist and Uruguayan politician—was President of the Eastern Republic of Uruguay between March 1, 2005 and March 1, 2010. He is one of the leaders of the Frente Amplio and was the first candidate of left to occupy a relevant elected office when in 1989 he obtained the post of Mayor of Montevideo. And in 2004, after two previous attempts, he won the Presidency of the Republic, breaking the hegemony of the founding parties of the country, the Colorado Party and the National Party.

José Alberto Mujica—popularly known as Pepe Mujica José Mujica—is the current President of the Eastern Republic of Uruguay. With a guerrilla past, he was elected senator and later the post of Minister of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries between 2005 and 2008. He was the leader of the Movement of Popular Participation, majority sector of the leftist Frente Amplio, until his resignation on May 24, 2009.