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A brief history of Uruguay

When the Europeans arrived the whole of what is now Uruguay was home to only about 10,000 indigenous people. Although scouted by the Spanish in 1516, the lack of mineral resources or a native population that could be forced to work made the region unattractive to the Spanish. The vast pampas of Uruguay interested the Portuguese colonists in Brazil more than the Spanish. Until the Spanish ousted the Portuguese in the 18th century, Uruguay was more a part of Brazil. When Argentina gained its independence in 1810, Brazil and Argentina both wanted the sparsely populated Uruguay. They fought a war (1825–28) that ended without a clear victor, after which the British brokered a treaty that created Uruguay as a buffer state between Brazil and Argentina.

During the 20th century Uruguay came to be known as one of the most progressive societies in Latin America. It stood out as an example for its advanced social legislation, political stability, and relatively high standard of living. But during the 1960s problems arising from the stagnating agricultural economy caused social unrest. An urban guerrilla group called the Tupamaros fought back with terrorism when the government cracked down on unions and students. The military was then called in to fight the Tupamaros, and this brought not only the defeat of the Tupamaros but also a military dictatorship from 1973 to 1985. During this period all opposition was suppressed and Uruguay had the highest ratio of political prisoners to population in the world.

When the control of government was returned to civilians, President Julio María Sanguinetti sponsored a general amnesty for the military and police for human rights abuses committed during the dictatorship, despite popular preference to bring them to trial. The elections of 1994, which returned Sanguinetti to the presidency for a second five-year term, were split almost equally between the two traditional parties (Colorados and Blancos) and the EP (Progressive Encounter), a leftist coalition. Uruguayans are anxious that the NAFTA-like free trade agreement of


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