Oriental Republic of Uruguay

República Oriental del Uruguay



Uruguay is located in the southern region of South America. It is bordered by Argentina on the west and Brazil on the north and east. Its southern coastline of 660 kilometers (410 miles) is formed by the Rio de la Plata, which separates Uruguay from Argentina and opens into the Atlantic Ocean. The nation's total area is 176,220 square kilometers (68,038 square miles), including 2,600 square kilometers (1,004 square miles) of water. The country is slightly smaller than the state of Washington. The nation's capital, Montevideo, is located on the southern coast, where the Rio de la Plata meets the Atlantic Ocean. The capital is also the nation's largest city, with a population of 1.4 million.


The population of Uruguay was estimated at 3,334,074 in July 2000. The country has a very stable population, with a low growth rate of 0.77 percent. By 2010, the population is expected to be 3.6 million. Uruguay's birth rate is 17.42 per 1,000 people; its fertility rate is 2.37 births per woman. The infant mortality rate is 15.14 deaths per 1,000 live births. This rate is high when compared with nations such as Canada (which has a rate of 5.08 deaths per 1,000 live births), but is average when compared with most Latin American countries. The nation's overall mortality rate is 17.42 deaths per 1,000. Uruguay loses a small portion of its population to emigration (0.63 emigrants for every 1,000 people). Since 1980, about 500,000 Uruguayans, mostly younger people, have emigrated, mainly to Argentina and Brazil. The life expectancy is 71.9 years for males and 78.75 years for females. The elderly population is small, with only 13 percent of Uruguayans over the age of 65. This segment of the population is growing rapidly and is expected to increase by 40 percent by 2010.

The majority of the Uruguayan population is urban. Almost 80 percent live in towns or cities. About half of the population lives in the greater Montevideo urban area and the rest of the urban population is concentrated in about 20 towns. Population density is 19 people per square kilometer, one of the lowest rates in the Western Hemisphere. (By comparison, U.S. density is 29 per square kilometer and Mexico's is 50.) However, the high urban concentration makes the figure misleading, since density in major urban areas is 55 per square kilometer.

Uruguayans are generally well-educated, and the nation's literacy rate is 97.3 percent. While Spanish is the official language, a mixture of Portuguese and Spanish known as Portunol or Brazilero, is commonly spoken in the border regions between Uruguay and Brazil. Some 88 percent of the population is white and of Spanish or other European descent. Mestizos (people of mixed ethnic backgrounds, mainly Spanish and Native American) make up 8 percent of the population, and blacks make up 4 percent. During the colonial period, the Native American population was nearly eradicated. Although 66 percent of the nation professes to be Roman Catholic, only about half the population attends church. About 2 percent of Uruguayans are Protestant, and another 2 percent are Jewish. About 30 percent have no religious affiliation.


Services in Uruguay account for the highest level of GDP and the greatest employment, with almost 80,000 Uruguayans working in some segment of the service sector. Financial services and tourism are among the best performing sectors of the economy, and services also account for a significant proportion of foreign investment.


The financial sector employs about 60,000 Uruguayans. The country's private banking sector has 21 banks, 9 financial institutions, and 10 savings and loan organizations. There are also 11 offshore banks . These banks and institutions account for about 50 percent of the financial sector. Major foreign-owned banks include American Express Bank, Citibank, Bankboston, and Republic National Bank. The rest of the financial sector is controlled by 3 government-owned banks, including the Central Bank. The largest bank is the government-owned Banco de la Republica Oriental del Uruguay, which has 30 percent of the nation's total savings. Total banking assets in Uruguay were US$7.1 billion in 1999 (including US$600 million from foreign sources). In 1996, the government deregulated the insurance and mortgage sectors and opened them to private investment. The government-owned Banco Hipotecario del Uruguay (BHU) remains the largest mortgage lender. The nation has 2 small stock markets, but both are under-valued. U.S. investment in Uruguayan financial services totals US$37 million.


Hotels, restaurants, retail, and wholesale trade employ 200,000 Uruguayans. The franchising of stores and restaurants has produced dramatic growth in many areas of Latin America, but in Uruguay there are only a limited number of food, hotel, car-rental, and some clothing outlets. This is mainly the result of the small size of Uruguay's domestic market. Increased Internet use and the potential deregulation of the telecommunications industry have fueled growth in the sale of electronic equipment, though most of these products have to be imported.


Tourism has become the main source of foreign currency earnings for Uruguay and the third-largest component of GDP. It provides an average of $800 million per year to the economy. Since 1998, the number of foreign visitors has declined by 5 percent because of contractions in the Brazilian and Argentine economies that have reduced the number of tourists from these countries. Since 1997, the average number of tourists has been 2.3 million per year. Argentina is the number-one source of foreign visitors (78 percent in 1998). American hotel chains, such as Sheraton, Radisson, Holiday Inn, and

Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Uruguay
Exports Imports
1975 .384 .556
1980 1.059 1.680
1985 .909 .708
1990 1.693 1.343
1995 2.106 2.867
1998 2.769 3.808
SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.

Days Inn, have a presence in Uruguay. The main tourist destination is the coastal resort area of Punta del Este.


Uruguay has no territories or colonies.


República Oriental del Uruguay. <http://www.presidencia.gub.uy> . Accessed July 2001.

Uruguay, The Uruguayan Economy. <http://www.embassy.org/uruguay/econ/economy.htm> . Accessed March 2001.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. The World Factbook, 2000. <http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook> . Accessed January 2001.

U.S. Department of State. FY 2001 Country Commercial Guide: Uruguay. <http://www.state.gov/www/about_state/business/com_guides/index.html> . Accessed March 2001.

U.S. Department of State. 1998 Country Report on Economic Policy and Trade Practices: Uruguay. <http://www.tradeport.org/ts/countries/uruguay/ecopol.html> . Accessed July 2001.

World Bank. Uruguay: The Private Sector. Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 1994.

—Tom Lansford




Uruguayan peso (UP). One peso equals 100 centésimos. There are notes of 50, 100, 500, 1,000, 5,000, and 10,000 pesos and coins of 1, 2, 5, and 10 pesos.


Meat, rice, leather products, vehicles, dairy products, wool, and electricity.


Road vehicles, electrical machinery, metal products, heavy industrial machinery, and crude petroleum.


US$28 billion (1999 est.).


Exports: US$2.1 billion (1999 est.). Imports: US$3.4 billion (1999 est.).

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