Uruguay History 2

Uruguay History Part II

The 20th century

At the turn of the century, there were again troubled years from 1897 with attempted coups and brutal fighting. José Batlle y Ordóñez brought democratic structures in 1903 and in his second term in office from 1911 he created a welfare state with an 8-hour day, pension insurance and much more. There was compulsory schooling and freedom of the press – Uruguay was one of the most modern countries in South America.

Frozen meat brings economic prosperity

There were completely new economic opportunities when meat could be sent frozen. In 1905 the time had come: the first batch of frozen beef left Montevideo for London. Uruguay’s economy continued to flourish.

1930s: Terra dictatorship

The Great Depression of 1929 hit Uruguay hard. President Gabriel Terra, elected in 1931, declared himself dictator after a coup in 1933 and ruled brutally. Political opponents were arrested and the press censored.

The 1938 elections put Alfredo Baldomir in office. He and his successor Amézaga (1943-1947) brought democracy back. In economic terms, too, there was a recovery and renewed strong upswing in the 1950s.

The Collapse of the Economy, Decline of Democracy, and the Tupamaros (1960s)

But in 1959 the economy collapsed again. Agricultural products could no longer be sold as well. Many people became unemployed. The economic problems led to the establishment of a guerrilla group, the Tupamaros. They were an urban guerrilla and so they fought from the city against the state (and not from the hinterland). They first raided banks and distributed the money to the poor. They later kidnapped politicians and carried out terrorist attacks. In 1968 the state of emergency was declared, in 1972 civil rights were suspended. There were numerous strikes. Many Tupamaros were arrested.


The Tupamaros guerrilla group was named after the Peruvian Indian and rebel Tupac Amaru II, who in turn was named after the last Inca ruler, Tupac Amaru. In the Federal Republic of Germany there were also groups from 1969 that called themselves Tupamaros and saw the urban guerrilla in Uruguay as their role model.

Military dictatorship (1973-1985)

In June 1973, Uruguay’s President Juan María Bordaberry dissolved parliament and now ruled with the support of the military. The military dictatorship that followed lasted for twelve years. Bordaberry itself was ousted by the military in 1976.

Parties were banned, political opponents arrested or “disappeared”. Many Uruguayans left the country. Massive protests and a general strike in 1985 meant that free elections were held for the first time.

Return to democracy

The winner of the 1985 election was Julio María Sanguinetti. The Tupamaros became a political party. The economy stabilized again. Sanguinetti remained in office until 1990 and was again president from 1995 to 2000.

Since 2004, for the first time, the Colorados or Blancos have no longer ruled Uruguay, but instead candidates from the Frente Amplio (Broad Front). It was founded in 1971 as a left party alliance. The victory of the Frente Amplio in 2004 represented a special turning point in Uruguayan politics.

Tabaré Vázquez became president that year. In 2010 he was followed by the former Tupamaro José Mujica, from 2015 Tabaré Vázquez held the office again. In 2020 Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou was elected as the new President of Uruguay. He belongs to the Partido Nacional and is considered conservative. The population living below the poverty line fell from 32.5 percent to 11.5 percent between 2006 and 2013. In 2017 it was only 7.9 percent. Abortion has not been a criminal offense since 2012 and homosexual couples have been allowed to marry in Uruguay since 2013.

In 2013, the cultivation, sale and consumption of cannabis were also allowed. With this, Mujica wanted to break new ground in the fight against drugs, in that the trade now takes place under state supervision. The drug cartels are supposed to be robbed of a large part of their income.

Uruguay History 2