History of Uruguay until independence
The first residents
From 7000 BC The area of today’s Uruguay was inhabited by humans. The Charrúa lived as hunters and gatherers until the European conquest. Other indigenous peoples were the Minua, the Chaná and a few more.
First Europeans (16th century)
After Christopher Columbus discovered America, more and more Spaniards and other Europeans came to South America. They conquered the country by force. Around 1514, the Portuguese were probably the first Europeans to come to what is now Uruguay. In 1516 the Spaniard Juan Díaz de Solís sailed the Río de la Plata. He and his men were attacked by Indians. Solís and many of his men died.
Because of this resistance, the settlement of the area began later than in other parts of South America. In addition, there was no silver or gold here that the Europeans could exploit. The region was named Banda Oriental, the “eastern bank”.
In 1542 the Spaniards founded a colony, the viceroyalty of Peru. It initially comprised almost all of South America. Today’s Uruguay was one of them, but was not really under Spanish control. After the Treaty of Tordesillas, in which Spain and Portugal had divided their colonial territories as early as 1494, Uruguay belonged to Spanish rule. In 1603 the Spaniards brought the first cattle here. This started an industry in Uruguay that became the basis for the country’s prosperity.
In 1624 the first Spanish settlement was founded on the Río Negro. The oldest city in Uruguay is Colonia de Sacramento, which was founded in 1680 by the Portuguese on the Río de la Plata. Montevideo was founded by the Spaniards in 1726 and quickly developed into an economic center. But the Banda Oriental remained a bone of contention between Spain and Portugal.
Part of the Viceroyalty of Río de la Plata (1776-1816)
In 1717, the north of South America was split off from the Viceroyalty of Peru as the Viceroyalty of New Granada. The large colony should be easier to manage. In 1776 the south was also separated. Uruguay no longer belonged to Peru, but with Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia to the viceroyalty of Río de la Plata. In 1777 Portugal gave up its territories in Sacramento.
Independence from Spain in 1816 and from Brazil in 1828
The struggle for independence began throughout Latin America around 1800. In 1810 a separate government independent from Spain was formed in Buenos Aires. The Spaniards then moved to Montevideo. This provoked resistance there: José Gervasio Artigas, now the country’s national hero, fought for the independence of the Banda Oriental. In 1813 he called for the independence of Uruguay. In 1815 he carried out a land reform and expropriated the large landowners.
But he now had the Argentines against him as well as the Brazilians. In 1816, Brazil occupied the area. In 1820 Artigas gave up and fled. In 1825 33 men, led by Juan Antonio Lavalleja, marched into Uruguay. They are called the “33 Orientals”. After a three-year struggle, Uruguay gained independence from Brazil in 1828, making it a separate state. It got its name two years later, in 1830.
From the 19th century until today
Extermination of the indigenous population
Due to diseases brought in by Europeans, the number of Indians had already fallen sharply. The surviving Indians were forced to work for the Spaniards. The natives defended themselves again and again against the Spanish conquerors and raided estates.
In 1831 a trap was set up for them and they were invited to a talk in the town of Salsipuedes. Hundreds of Indians were killed in a massacre there. Around 1850 there were almost no Indians left in Uruguay. Four charrúas were captured and brought to Paris as “exhibits”, where they were shown as the “last charrúas” in the circus.
Civil Wars: Colorados vs Blancos
With independence in Uruguay, two parties faced each other irreconcilably. The Colorados Liberal Party appointed the first President of Uruguay, José Fructuoso Rivera. His adversary was Manuel Oribe, leader of the more conservative Partido Blanco (“White Party”, today Partido Nacional).
Oribe became the country’s second president in 1835, but was overthrown by Fructuoso Rivera in 1838. The “Great War” began. Oribe went into exile but returned in 1843 and besieged Montevideo for nine years. With the help of England and France, Oribe was finally able to give up.
But the power struggles between the two camps continued. Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay have also been drawn into these disputes again and again. In 1870 a far-reaching peace agreement was reached through the division of the areas of interest: the coast was under the Colorados, the hinterland under the Blancos.
From around 1870 onwards there was a high number of immigrants, similar to Argentina. Especially Spaniards and Italians pushed into the country. The population grew rapidly and the economy took off. Railway lines were created. Above all cattle and sheep were bred and (live) exported.