Facts

 



Population: 3.432 million(2015)
Area: 68,037 mi²
Capital City: Montevideo


About Uruguay

Uruguay officially the Oriental Republic of Uruguay (Spanish: República Oriental del Uruguay), is a sovereign state in the southeastern region of South America. It borders Argentina to its west and Brazil to its north and east, with the Río de la Plata (River of Silver) to the south and the Atlantic Ocean to the southeast. Uruguay is home to an estimated 3.42 million people, of whom 1.8 million live in the metropolitan area of its capital and largest city, Montevideo. With an area of approximately 176,000 square kilometres (68,000 sq mi), Uruguay is geographically the second-smallest nation in South America, after Suriname.
Uruguay was inhabited by the Charrúa people for approximately 4,000 years before the Portuguese established Colonia del Sacramento, one of the oldest European settlements in the region, in 1680. Montevideo was founded as a military stronghold by the Spanish in the early 18th century, signifying the competing claims over the region. Uruguay won its independence between 1811 and 1828, following a four-way struggle between Spain, Portugal, Argentina and Brazil. It remained subject to foreign influence and intervention throughout the 19th century, with the military playing a recurring role in domestic politics until the late 20th century. Modern Uruguay is a democratic constitutional republic, with a president who serves as both head of state and head of government.
Uruguay is ranked first in Latin America in democracy, peace, lack of corruption, e-government, and is first in South America when it comes to press freedom, size of the middle class and prosperity. On a per-capita basis, Uruguay contributes more troops to United Nations peace-keeping missions than any other country. It ranks second in the region on economic freedom, income equality, per-capita income and inflows of FDI. Uruguay is the third-best country on the continent in terms of HDI, GDP growth, innovation and infrastructure. It is regarded as a high-income country (top group) by the UN. Uruguay is also the third-best ranked in the world in e-Participation. Uruguay is an important global exporter of combed wool, rice, soybeans, frozen beef, malt and milk. Nearly 95% of Uruguay’s electricity comes from renewable energy, mostly hydroelectric facilities and wind parks.


Currency


The currency used in Uruguay is the Uruguayan peso (peso Uruguayo in Spanish). One United States Dollar is approximately 20 pesos, one British Pound approximately 31 pesos and one euro approximately 27 pesos. The Uruguayan peso is subdivided into 100 centesimos. Coins in circulation are 1, 2, 5 and 10 pesos. Bills you will use when traveling or living in the country come in 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000 and 2000 denominations. The currency symbol is $U and the currency code is UYU. There are ATM machines (cajero automático in Spanish) located throughout Uruguay, just don´t expect to find one if going to a small town. Even popular tourist locations such as Cabo Polonio and Punta del Diablo on the Atlantic coast do not have a bank or ATM.
ATMs have a $300 USD limit per day, and charge a small fee per transaction. Credit cards are widely accepted in Uruguay by hotels, sit-down restaurant establishments and most boutique shops. You will have the most luck carrying Visa and MasterCard, others such as Diners may or may not be able to be used for payment.


Climate

Located entirely within a temperate zone, Uruguay has a climate that is relatively mild and fairly uniform nationwide. Seasonal variations are pronounced, but extremes in temperature are rare. As would be expected with its abundance of water, high humidity and fog are common. The absence of mountains, which act as weather barriers, makes all locations vulnerable to high winds and rapid changes in weather as fronts or storms sweep across the country. Both summer and winter weather may vary from day to day with the passing of storm fronts, where a hot northerly wind may occasionally be followed by a cold wind (pampero) from the Argentine Pampas.
Uruguay has a largely uniform temperature throughout the year, with summers being tempered by winds off the Atlantic; severe cold in winter is unknown. The heaviest precipitation occurs during the autumn months, although more frequent rainy spells occur in winter. The mean annual precipitation is generally greater than 40 inches (1,000 mm), decreasing with distance from the sea coast, and is relatively evenly distributed throughout the year.
The average temperature for the midwinter month of July varies from 12 °C (54 °F) at Salto in the northern interior to 9 °C (48 °F) at Montevideo in the south. The midsummer month of January varies from a warm average of 26 °C (79 °F) at Salto to 22 °C (72 °F) at Montevideo. National extreme temperatures at sea level are, Paysandú city 44 °C (111 °F) (20 January 1943) and Melo city −11.0 °C (12.2 °F) (14 June 1967).


Languages

Uruguayan Spanish has some modifications due to the considerable number of Italian immigrants. Immigrants used to speak a mixture of Spanish and Italian known as ‘cocoliche’ and some of the words are still commonly used by the population. As is the case with neighboring Argentina, Uruguay employs both voseo and yeísmo. English is common in the business world and its study has risen significantly in recent years, especially among the young. Other languages include Portuguese Portuñol, spoken in the northern regions near the Brazilian border. As few native people exist in the population, no indigenous languages are thought to remain in Uruguay. Also spoken dialect was the Patois, which was a mixture of French and Italian. The dialect was spoken mainly in the Colonia Department, where the first philigrins settled, in the city called La Paz (Colonia). Today it is considered a dead tongue, although some elders at the mentioned location still practice it. There are still written tracks of the language in the Waldensians Library (Biblioteca Valdense) in the town of Colonia Valdense, Colonia Department. Patois speakers arrived to Uruguay from the Piedmont. Originally were Vaudois which become Waldensians giving their name to the city Colonia Valdense which translated from the Spanish means Waldensians Colony.


Economy

Uruguay experienced a major economic and financial crisis between 1999 and 2002, principally a spillover effect from the economic problems of Argentina. The economy contracted by 11%, and unemployment climbed to 21%. Despite the severity of the trade shocks, Uruguay’s financial indicators remained more stable than those of its neighbours, a reflection of its solid reputation among investors and its investment-grade sovereign bond rating, one of only two in South America.
In 2004, the Batlle government signed a three-year $1.1 billion stand-by arrangement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), committing the country to a substantial primary fiscal surplus, low inflation, considerable reductions in external debt, and several structural reforms designed to improve competitiveness and attract foreign investment. Uruguay terminated the agreement in 2006 following the early repayment of its debt but maintained a number of the policy commitments.
Vázquez, who assumed the government in March 2005, created the “Ministry of Social Development” and sought to reduce the country’s poverty rate with a $240 million National Plan to Address the Social Emergency (PANES), which provided a monthly conditional cash transfer of approximately $75 to over 100,000 households in extreme poverty. In exchange, those receiving the benefits were required to participate in community work, ensure that their children attended school daily, and had regular health check-ups.
In 2005, Uruguay was the first exporter of software in South America. The Frente Amplio government, while continuing payments on Uruguay’s external debt, also undertook an emergency plan to attack the widespread problems of poverty and unemployment. The economy grew at an annual rate of 6.7% during the 2004–2008 period. Uruguay’s exports markets have been diversified in order to reduce dependency on Argentina and Brazil. Poverty was reduced from 33% in 2002 to 21.7% in July 2008, while extreme poverty dropped from 3.3% to 1.7%.
Between the years 2007 and 2009, Uruguay was the only country in the Americas that did not technically experience a recession (two consecutive downward quarters). Unemployment reached a record low of 5.4% in December 2010 before rising to 6.1% in January 2011. While unemployment is still at a low level, the IMF observed a rise in inflationary pressures, and Uruguay’s GDP expanded by 10.4% for the first half of 2010.
According to IMF estimates, Uruguay was likely to achieve growth in real GDP of between 8% and 8.5% in 2010, followed by 5% growth in 2011 and 4% in subsequent years. Gross public sector debt contracted in the second quarter of 2010, after five consecutive periods of sustained increase, reaching $21.885 billion US dollars, equivalent to 59.5% of the GDP.
The growing, use, and sale of cannabis was legalized on 11 December 2013, making Uruguay the first country in the world to fully legalize marijuana. The law was voted at the Uruguayan senate on the same date with 16 votes to approve it and 13 against.


Education

Education in Uruguay is secular, free, and compulsory for 14 years, starting at the age of 4. The system is divided into six levels of education: early childhood (3–5 years); primary (6–11 years); basic secondary (12–14 years); upper secondary (15–17 years); higher education (18 and up); and post-graduate education.
Public education is the primary responsibility of three institutions: the Ministry of Education and Culture, which coordinates education policies, the National Public Education Administration, which formulates and implements policies on early to secondary education, and the University of the Republic, responsible for higher education. In 2009, the government planned to invest 4.5% of GDP in education.
Uruguay ranks high on standardised tests such as PISA at a regional level, but compares unfavourably to the OECD average, and is also below some countries with similar levels of income. In the 2006 PISA test, Uruguay had one of the greatest standard deviations among schools, suggesting significant variability by socio-economic level.
Uruguay is part of the One Laptop per Child project, and in 2009 became the first country in the world to provide a laptop for every primary school student, as part of the Plan Ceibal. Over the 2007–2009 period, 362,000 pupils and 18,000 teachers were involved in the scheme; around 70% of the laptops were given to children who did not have computers at home. The OLPC programme represents less than 5% of the country’s education budget.


Religion

Uruguay has no official religion; church and state are officially separated, and religious freedom is guaranteed. A 2008 survey by the INE of Uruguay showed Catholicism as the main religion, with 45.7% of the population; 9.0% are non-Catholic Christians, 0.6% are Animists or Umbandists (an Afro-Brazilian religion), and 0.4% Jewish. 30.1% reported believing in a god, but not belonging to any religion, while 14% were Atheist or Agnostic. Among the sizeable Armenian community in Montevideo, the dominant religion is Christianity, specifically Armenian Apostolic.
Political observers consider Uruguay the most secular country in the Americas. Uruguay’s secularization began with the relatively minor role of the church in the colonial era, compared with other parts of the Spanish Empire. The small numbers of Uruguay’s indigenous peoples and their fierce resistance to proselytism reduced the influence of the ecclesiastical authorities.
After independence, anti-clerical ideas spread to Uruguay, particularly from France, further eroding the influence of the church. In 1837, civil marriage was recognized and in 1861 the state took over the running of public cemeteries. In 1907, divorce was legalized and in 1909, all religious instruction was banned from state schools. Under the influence of the innovative Colorado reformer José Batlle y Ordóñez (1903–1911), complete separation of church and state was introduced with the new constitution of 1917.

Safety

Historically, Uruguay has enjoyed a very low rate of violent crime compared to its neighbours, with the stress on the word violent. Thus, Argentines and Brazilians traditionally go on vacation in Uruguay (even though Rio de Janeiro has far more beautiful natural scenery) because they love not having to worry about being carjacked, kidnapped, or assaulted while on vacation. Even today, Uruguay is still relatively free of those types of crimes.
However, this does not mean that Uruguay is crime free. The major differences are that most Uruguayan crimes are either non-confrontational or do not involve the gratuitous use of firearms. Montevideo in particular has seen its crime rate gradually rise since the severe 2001-2002 financial crisis, and now has moderately high levels of theft, burglary, and robbery similar to those found in major US cities. Fortunately, Punta del Este and most rural areas continue to enjoy relatively low crime levels. As long as you take basic precautions in Montevideo (eg use a money belt and/or hotel safe for valuables, look alert, and keep out of obvious slums), you will have a very safe trip.
In an emergency, call 911 or 999. For firefighters, call, 104.
As in any foreign country, you should exercise the utmost caution to not do anything which could be deemed to be a violation of Uruguayan law. This is particularly important in Uruguay because it is one of the few democracies in the world where criminal suspects can be held indefinitely for years before charges are actually brought.
As a result, Uruguayan prisons are rated among the worst in the world in regards of any respect for human rights. Human rights are “systematically violated” in Uruguayan prisons due to the degrading conditions and overcrowding in which the inmates live, according to the United Nations. Despite being one of the countries in the region with the lowest crime rates, Uruguay has one of the highest rates in the world of people behind bars, according to United Nations figures as published by the Latin American Herald Tribune.


Health

Tap water is safe to drink in all major cities. The Hospital Británico (British Hospital), SUMMUM and BlueCross & BlueShield Uruguay have an European-quality service and they are clean and efficient. Asociación Española, Médica Uruguaya and CASMU are the largest healthcare companies in Uruguay and they also have a good quality level. Just don’t make any unwise drinking decisions.

Government

Uruguay is a representative democratic republic with a presidential system. The members of government are elected for a five-year term by a universal suffrage system. Uruguay is a unitary state: justice, education, health, security, foreign policy and defense are all administered nationwide. The Executive Power is exercised by the president and a cabinet of 13 ministers.
The legislative power is constituted by the General Assembly, composed of two chambers: the Chamber of Representatives, consisting of 99 members representing the 19 departments, elected based on proportional representation; and the Chamber of Senators, consisting of 31 members, 30 of whom are elected for a five-year term by proportional representation and the Vice-President, who presides over the chamber.
The judicial arm is exercised by the Supreme Court, the Bench and Judges nationwide. The members of the Supreme Court are elected by the General Assembly; the members of the Bench are selected by the Supreme Court with the consent of the Senate; and the judges are directly assigned by the Supreme Court.
Uruguay adopted its current constitution in 1967. Many of its provisions were suspended in 1973, but re-established in 1985. Drawing on Switzerland and its use of the initiative, the Uruguayan Constitution also allows citizens to repeal laws or to change the constitution by popular initiative, which culminates in a nationwide referendum. This method has been used several times over the past 15 years: to confirm a law renouncing prosecution of members of the military who violated human rights during the military regime (1973–1985); to stop privatization of public utilities companies; to defend pensioners’ incomes; and to protect water resources.
For most of Uruguay’s history, the Partido Colorado has been in government. However, in the Uruguayan general election, 2009, the Broad Front won an absolute majority in Parliamentary elections, and José Mujica of the Broad Front defeated Luis Alberto Lacalle of the Blancos to win the presidency.
A 2010 Latinobarómetro poll found that, within Latin America, Uruguayans are among the most supportive of democracy and by far the most satisfied with the way democracy works in their country. Uruguay ranked 27th in the Freedom House “Freedom in the World” index. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit in 2012, Uruguay scored an 8.17 in the Democracy Index and ranked equal 18th amongst the 25 countries considered to be full democracies in the world. Uruguay ranks 18th in the World Corruption Perceptions Index composed by Transparency International.


Cuisine

Beef is fundamental to Uruguayan cuisine, and the country is one of the world’s top consumers of red meat per capita. Asado, a kind of barbecued beef, is the national dish in Uruguay, and other popular foods include beef platters, chivito (steak sandwiches), pasta, barbecued kidneys, and sausages.
Locally produced soft drinks, beer, and wine are commonly served, as is clericó, a mixture of fruit juice and wine. Uruguay and Argentina share a national drink called mate. Grappamiel, made with alcohol and honey, is served in the cold mornings of autumn and winter to warm up the body. Often locals can be seen carrying leather cases containing a thermos of hot water, the traditional hollowed gourd called a mate or guampa, a metal straw called a bombilla, and the dried yerba mate leaves. Sweet treats, including crème caramel with dulce de leche and alfajores (shortbread cookies), are favorites for desserts or afternoon snacks.
Other Uruguayan dishes include morcilla dulce (a type of blood sausage cooked with ground orange fruit, orange peel, and walnuts), chorizo, milanesa (a breaded veal cutlet similar to the Austrian Wiener Schnitzel), snacks such as olímpicos (club sandwiches), húngaras (spicy sausage in a hot dog roll), “tortas fritas” (similar to elephant ears, and traditionally eaten when it rains), “martin fierro” (a bread-less sandwich of cheese and quince paste), postre chaja (a cake made mostly from meringue and peaches in syrup), “pascualina” (chard and egg pie), “pastafrola” (a quince pie) and masas surtidas (bite-sized pastries), many of which are of Spanish and Italian origin, like the “massini”.

Transportation

The Port of Montevideo, handling over 1.1 million containers annually, is the most advanced container terminal in South America. Its quay can handle 14-metre draught (46 ft) vessels. Nine straddle cranes allow for 80 to 100 movements per hour. The port of Nueva Palmira is a major regional merchandise transfer point and houses both private and government-run terminals.
Carrasco Airport was initially inaugurated in 1947 and in 2009, Puerta del Sur, the airport owner and operator, with an investment of $165 million, commissioned Rafael Viñoly Architects to expand and modernize the existing facilities with a spacious new passenger terminal to increase capacity and spur commercial growth and tourism in the region. The London-based magazine Frontier chose the Carrasco International Airport, serving Montevideo, as one of the best four airports in the world in its 27th edition. The airport can handle up to 4.5 million users per year. PLUNA was the flag carrier of Uruguay, and was headquartered in Carrasco. The Laguna del Sauce Airport, located 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) from Punta del Este, was remodeled in 1997, and runways have been renovated through a private investment concession.
The Administración de Ferrocarriles del Estado is the autonomous agency in charge of rail transport and the maintenance of the railroad network. Uruguay has about 1,200 km (750 mi) of operational railroad track. Until 1947, about 90% of the railroad system was British-owned. In 1949, the government nationalized the railways, along with the electric trams and the Montevideo Waterworks Company. However, in 1985 the “National Transport Plan” suggested passenger trains were too costly to repair and maintain. Cargo trains would continue for loads more than 120 tons, but bus transportation became the “economic” alternative for travellers. The last passenger train rolled into Montevideo on 2 January 1988.
Surfaced roads connect Montevideo to the other urban centers in the country, the main highways leading to the border and neighboring cities. Numerous unpaved roads connect farms and small towns. Overland trade has increased markedly since Mercosur (Southern Common Market) was formed in the 1990s. Most of the country’s domestic freight and passenger service is by road rather than rail.

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