Capitan Corbeta, Uruguay
Maldonado / Punta Est, Uruguay
Treinta Y Tres, Uruguay
Location: Southern South America, bordering the South Atlantic
Ocean, between Argentina and Brazil
Geographic coordinates: 33 00 S, 56 00 W
Map references: South America
total: 176,220 sq km
land: 173,620 sq km
water: 2,600 sq km
Area - comparative: slightly smaller than the state of Washington
total: 1,564 km
border countries: Argentina 579 km, Brazil 985 km
Coastline: 660 km
continental shelf: 200-m depth or to the depth of exploitation
territorial sea: 200 nm; overflight and navigation guaranteed
beyond 12 nm
Climate: warm temperate; freezing temperatures almost unknown
Terrain: mostly rolling plains and low hills; fertile coastal
lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m
highest point: Cerro Catedral 514 m
Natural resources: arable land, hydropower, minor minerals,
arable land: 7%
permanent crops: 0%
permanent pastures: 77%
forests and woodland: 6%
other: 10% (1997 est.)
Irrigated land: 7,700 sq km (1997 est.)
Natural hazards: seasonally high winds (the pampero is a
chilly and occasional violent wind which blows north from the Argentine
pampas), droughts, floods; because of the absence of mountains,
which act as weather barriers, all locations are particularly vulnerable
to rapid changes in weather fronts
Environment - current issues: water pollution from meat
packing/tannery industry; inadequate solid/hazardous waste disposal
Environment - international agreements:
party to: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic Treaty,
Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species,
Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Nuclear
Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands, Whaling
signed, but not ratified: Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol,
Marine Dumping, Marine Life Conservation
A violent Marxist urban guerrilla movement, the Tupamaros, launched
in the late 1960s, led Uruguay's president to agree to military
control of his administration in 1973. By the end of the year the
rebels had been crushed, but the military continued to expand its
hold throughout the government.
Civilian rule was not restored until 1985. Uruguay has long had
one of South America's highest standards of living; its political
and labor conditions are among the freest on the continent.
Size: 176,220 square kilometers.
Topography: Country consists mostly (75 percent)
of gently rolling plateau, interrupted at two points by low hilly
ridges (cuchillas). Remainder fertile coastal lowlands,
including narrow coastal plain--sandy and marshy, occasionally broken
by lagoons--and somewhat broader littorals of Río de la Plata and
Climate: Country situated in temperate zone (only
Latin American country lying wholly outside tropics). Climate mild
and fairly uniform nationwide, although northwestern area farther
inland has warmer summers and drier winters than rest of country.
Seasonal variations pronounced, but freezing temperatures almost
unknown. High humidity, high winds, and fog common. Winter warm
spells can be abruptly broken by a strong pampero, a chilly
and occasionally violent wind from Argentine pampas.
Data as of December 1990
Uruguay is located in the Southern Hemisphere on the Atlantic seaboard
of South America between 53 and 58 west longitude and 30 and 35
south latitude . It is bounded on the west by Argentina, on the
north and northeast by Brazil, and on the southeast by the Atlantic
Ocean. To the south, it fronts the Río de la Plata, a broad estuary
that opens out into the South Atlantic. Montevideo, the capital
and major port, sits on the banks of the Río de la Plata and is
on approximately the same latitude as Capetown and Sydney. Uruguay
is the smallest Spanishspeaking nation in South America with a land
area of 176,220 square kilometers, slightly smaller than North Dakota.
Data as of December 1990
Topography and Hydrography
Most of Uruguay is a gently rolling plain that represents a transition
from the almost featureless Argentine pampas to the hilly uplands
of southern Brazil. The country itself has flat plains on its eastern,
southern, and western edges. The narrow Atlantic coastal plain is
sandy and marshy, occasionally broken by shallow lagoons. The littorals
of the Río de la Plata and the Río Uruguay are somewhat broader
and merge more gradually into the hilly interior .
The remaining three-quarters of the country is a rolling plateau
marked by ranges of low hills that become more prominent in the
north as they merge into the highlands of southern Brazil. Even
these hilly areas are remarkably featureless, however, and elevations
seldom exceed 200 meters.
Uruguay is a water-rich land. Prominent bodies of water mark its
limits on the east, south, and west, and even most of the boundary
with Brazil follows small rivers. Lakes and lagoons are numerous,
and a high water table makes digging wells easy.
Three systems of rivers drain the land: rivers flow westward to
the Río Uruguay, eastward to the Atlantic or tidal lagoons bordering
the ocean, and south to the Río de la Plata. The Río Uruguay, which
forms the border with Argentina, is flanked by low banks, and disastrous
floods sometimes inundate large areas. The longest and most important
of the rivers draining westward is the Río Negro, which crosses
the entire country from northeast to west before emptying into the
Río Uruguay. A dam on the Río Negro at Paso de los Toros has created
a reservoir--the Embalse del Río Negro--that is the largest artificial
lake in South America. The Río Negro's principal tributary and the
country's second most important river is the Río Yí.
The rivers flowing east to the Atlantic are generally shallower
and have more variable flow than the other rivers. Many empty into
lagoons in the coastal plain. The largest coastal lagoon, Laguna
Merín, forms part of the border with Brazil. A half-dozen smaller
lagoons, some freshwater and some brackish, line the coast farther
Data as of December 1990
Located entirely within the temperate zone, Uruguay has a climate
that is fairly uniform nationwide. Seasonal variations are pronounced,
but extremes in temperature are rare. As would be expected by 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.
Seasons are fairly well defined, and in most of Uruguay spring
is usually damp, cool, and windy; summers are warm; autumns are
mild; and winters are chilly and uncomfortably damp. Northwestern
Uruguay, however, is farther from large bodies of water and therefore
has warmer summers and milder and drier winters than the rest of
the country. Average highs and lows in summer (January) in Montevideo
are 28° C and 17° C, respectively, with an absolute maximum
of 43° C; comparable numbers for Artigas in the northwest are
33° C and 18° C, with the highest temperature ever recorded
(42° C). Winter (July) average highs and lows in Montevideo
are 14° C and 6° C, respectively, although the high humidity
makes the temperatures feel colder; the lowest temperature registered
in Montevideo is -4° C. Averages in July of a high of 18°
C and a low of 7° C in Artigas confirm the milder winters in
northwestern Uruguay, but even here temperatures have dropped to
a subfreezing -4° C.
Rainfall is fairly evenly distributed throughout the year, and
annual amounts increase from southeast to northwest. Montevideo
averages 950 millimeters annually, and Artigas receives 1,235 millimeters
in an average year. As in most temperate climates, rainfall results
from the passage of cold fronts in winter, falling in overcast drizzly
spells, and summer thunderstorms are frequent.
High winds are a disagreeable characteristic of the weather, particularly
during the winter and spring, and wind shifts are sudden and pronounced.
A winter warm spell can be abruptly broken by a strong pampero,
a chilly and occasionally violent wind blowing north from the Argentine
pampas. Summer winds off the ocean, however, have the salutary effect
of tempering warm daytime temperatures.
Data as of December 1990
Land Use and Settlement Patterns
Uruguay may be divided into four regions, based on social, economic,
and geographical factors. The regions include the interior, the
littoral, Greater Montevideo, and the coast.
This largest region includes the departments of Artigas, Cerro
Largo, Durazno, Flores, Florida, Lavalleja, Rivera, Salto, Tacuarembó,
and Treinta y Tres and the eastern halves of Paysandú, Río Negro,
and Soriano. The topsoil is thin and unsuited to intensive agriculture,
but it nourishes abundant natural pasture.
Only 2 to 3 percent of Uruguay's land is forested. An estimated
3 to 4 million hectares (17 to 23 percent of the total land) are
arable, but only one-third of this (about 7 percent of the total
productive land) was cultivated in 1990. Almost all of the interior
consisted of cattle and sheep ranches; pasture accounted for 89
percent of the country's productive land.
Sheep rearing was typically undertaken on medium-sized farms concentrated
in the west and south. It began to boom as an export industry in
the last quarter of the nineteenth century, particularly following
the invention of barbed wire, which allowed the easy enclosure of
properties. Uruguayan wool is of moderate quality, not quite up
to Australian standards .
Cattle ranches, or estancias, for beef and hides were
typically quite large (over 1,000 hectares) and were concentrated
in the north and east. (Dairying was concentrated in the department
of Colonia.) Because ranching required little labor, merely a few
gauchos, the interior lacked a peasantry and large towns. Despite
being sparsely populated, however, the interior was relatively urbanized
in that the capital of each department usually contained about half
the inhabitants. Social and economic development indicators were
lowest for the departments along the Brazilian border to the northeast.
Government attempts to encourage agricultural colonization by means
of land reform in the interior had largely failed in economic terms,
as had the promotion of wheat production. One exception, rice, most
of which was produced in the east, had become a major nontraditional
export in recent years .
Data as of December 1990
Stretching west along the Río de la Plata from Montevideo are the
agricultural and dairying departments of San José and Colonia. To
the north along the Río Uruguay lie the departments of Soriano,
Río Negro, and Paysandú. Their western halves form part of the littoral,
a region that is somewhat more developed than the interior. Here
soils are alluvial and more fertile, favoring crop production and
farms of more modest size than in the interior. Citrus cultivation
for export has increased in the departments along the Río Uruguay.
The department of Colonia, some of which was settled by the Swiss,
was famous for the production of milk, butter, cheese, and dulce
de leche (a dessert made from concentrated milk and sugar).
Most wheat (in which Uruguay was self-sufficient) also was produced
in this region.
Construction with Argentina of the Salto Grande Dam across the
Río Uruguay north of Salto was a major boost to the development
of the northern littoral in the 1970s. By contrast, the closure
of the famous meat-packing plant at Fray Bentos in the department
of Río Negro transformed it into a virtual ghost town. Farther south,
the littoral economy had benefited from completion of the General
Artigas Bridge across the Río Uruguay from Paysandú to the Argentine
province of Entre Ríos. However, the advent of a convenient (if
circuitous) land route from Montevideo to Buenos Aires via the new
bridge reduced freight and passenger traffic through the small port
of Colonia on the Río de la Plata just opposite the Argentine capital.
To compensate, the Uruguayan government encouraged the architectural
restoration of Colonia, which was originally built by the Portuguese
in colonial times. In 1990 Colonia had became one of Uruguay's most
historic tourist attractions, and many of its houses had been bought
by vacationers from Buenos Aires.
Data as of December 1990
According to the 1985 census, the population of the department
of Montevideo was 1,311,976, and that of the neighboring department
of Canelones was 364,248, out of a total population of 2,955,241.
Thus, these departments and the eastern portion of San José, which
together constituted the Greater Montevideo region, held over one-half
of Uruguay's population. This monocephalic pattern of settlement
was more pronounced in Uruguay than in any other nation of the world,
barring citystates . The 1985 census indicated a population density
of about 2,475 inhabitants per square kilometer in the department
of Montevideo and about 80 inhabitants per square kilometer in the
department of Canelones. Densities elsewhere in the country were
dramatically lower .
Montevideo was originally founded on a promontory beside a large
bay that forms a perfect natural harbor. In the nineteenth century,
the British promoted it as a rival port to Buenos Aires. The city
has expanded to such an extent that by 1990 it covered most of the
department. The original area of settlement, known as the Old City,
lies adjacent to the port, but the central business district and
the middle-class residential areas have moved eastward. The only
exception to this pattern of eastward expansion is that banking
and finance continued to cluster in the Old City around the Stock
Exchange, the Bank of Uruguay (Banco de la República Oriental del
Uruguay--BROU), and the Central Bank of Uruguay.
Since the 1950s, Montevideo's prosperous middle classes have tended
to abandon the formerly fashionable downtown areas for the more
modern high-rise apartment buildings of Pocitos, a beachfront neighborhood
east of the center. Still farther east lies the expensive area of
Carrasco, a zone of modern luxury villas that has come to replace
the old neighborhood of El Prado in the north of the city as home
to the country's wealthy elite. Its beaches were less polluted than
those closer to the center. Montevideo's Carrasco International
Airport is located there. The capital's principal artery, 18th of
July Avenue, was long the principal shopping street of Montevideo,
but it has been hurt since the mid-1980s by the construction of
a modern shopping mall strategically located between Pocitos and
Montevideo's poorer neighborhoods tended to be located in the north
of the city and around the bay in the areas of industrial activity.
However, the degree of spatial separation of social classes was
moderate by the standards of other cities in South America. Starting
in the 1970s, the city began to acquire a belt of shantytowns around
its outskirts, but in 1990 these remained small compared with Rio
de Janeiro or Guayaquil, for example. About 60,000 families lived
in such shantytowns, known in Uruguay as cantegriles. An
intensive program of public housing construction was undertaken
in the 1970s and 1980s, but it had not solved the problem by 1990.
In 1990 Greater Montevideo was by far the most developed region
of Uruguay and dominated the nation economically and culturally.
It was home to the country's two universities, its principal hospitals,
and most of its communications media (television stations, radio
stations, newspapers, and magazines). Attempts by the military governments
from 1973 to 1985 to promote the development of the north of the
country (partly for strategic reasons) failed to change this pattern
of extreme centralization. In one way, however, they achieved a
major success: the introduction of direct dialing revolutionized
the country's longdistance telephone system. By contrast, the local
telephone network in Montevideo remained so hopelessly antiquated
and unreliable that many firms relied on courier services to get
messages to other downtown businesses.
Until the construction boom of the late 1970s, relatively few modern
buildings had been constructed. In many parts of the center, elegant
nineteenth-century houses built around a central patio were still
to be seen in 1990. In some cases, the patio was open to the air,
but in most cases it was covered by a skylight, some of which were
made of elaborate stained glass. Few of these houses were used for
single-family occupancy, however, and many had been converted into
The middle classes preferred to live in more modern apartments
near the city center or the University of the Republic. Alternatively,
they might purchase a single-family villa with a small yard at the
back. Many of these were close to the beaches running east from
the downtown along the avenue known as the Rambla. In Pocitos, however,
high-rise apartments had replaced the single-family homes on those
streets closest to the beach.
Data as of December 1990
Stretching east from Montevideo along the Río de la Plata are the
departments of Canelones, Maldonado, and Rocha. The inland portion
of Canelones is an area of small farms and truck gardens, which
produce vegetables for the capital. It was relatively poor in 1990.
Many inhabitants of the department's small towns also commuted to
jobs in Montevideo by express bus. Along the coast lie a string
of small seaside towns (balnearios), from which more prosperous
employees had also begun to commute. Farther east in the highly
developed department of Maldonado lies the major resort of Punta
del Este. This has been developed as a fashionable playground more
for Argentines than for average Uruguayans, who found it too expensive.
With its hotels, restaurants, casino, and nightclubs, Punta del
Este was a major export earner, and it dominated Uruguay's tourism
Vacationing Uruguayans of more modest means were concentrated in
smaller resorts such as Piriápolis and Atlántida, which are closer
to Montevideo. Beyond Punta del Este in the still mostly undeveloped
department of Rocha, a number of communities had sprouted along
the unspoiled Atlantic coast with its miles of sandy beaches and
huge breakers. These small vacation communities--such as Aguas Dulces
and Cabo Polonio, both in Rocha Department--were entirely unplanned
and lacked essential services. In many cases, simple holiday chalets
had been built on public property adjoining the seashore without
any legal title to the land. In 1990 the authorities in Rocha Department
announced plans to regulate and improve this development in hopes
of encouraging visits by higher-spending tourists.
Data as of December 1990
Uruguay's regions differed markedly not only in population size
and density but also in their indexes of social and economic development,
including education, health care, communications, energy consumption,
and industrialization. Least developed were the northern ranching
departments along the Brazilian border-- Artigas, Rivera, and Cerro
Largo--and also Tacuarembó. Somewhat more developed was a band of
six departments stretching across the center of the country, from
west to east: Río Negro, Flores, Florida, Durazno, Treinta y Tres,
and Rocha. More industrialized and urbanized, but still quite poor,
were the departments of Soriano and Salto, which, as noted previously,
benefited from the construction of a bridge and a dam, respectively,
across the Río Uruguay in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The two
remaining western departments--Colonia and Paysandú--were the most
developed of the littoral.
Three departments close to Montevideo--San José, Canelones, and
Lavalleja--presented a contradictory picture of relatively advanced
economic development combined with low indexes of social modernization.
Finally, Montevideo and the department of Maldonado (which is strongly
affected by the tourism industry in Punta del Este) had the highest
indexes of social and economic development in the country .
Data as of December 1990