History Files


The Americas

South American Colonial Settlements




Modern Uruguay
AD 1825 - Present Day

Located in South America, the Oriental Republic of Uruguay borders Brazil to the north, and Argentina to the west, divided from it by the River Uruguay. The capital is Montevideo, which was founded in the eighteenth century as a military stronghold. 'Oriental' is due to its eastern location within the Americas, and its position east of the river. The country's name comes from a Guarani word meaning 'river where the birds live'. Modern Uruguay is South America's most honest country, along with Chile, and is fully secular, with no official religion.

The first Europeans arrived in about 1516, but local resistance was strong so colonisation in the 'Eastern Strip' was limited until the first permanent settlement was founded in 1624. Then a new Portuguese settlement prompted closer Spanish interest, as they sought to limit the expansion of Brazil. Until 1825, Uruguay remained part of the Spanish colonies, administered first from Peru and then from Rio de la Plata, although the first efforts towards independence had been made as early as 1811. Then, in a period in which Spanish power in the Americas was rapidly fragmenting, fighting broke out between Spain, Brazil and Argentina. Uruguay was seized by Brazil and renamed the Cisplatine region, but it was almost immediately lost again. During further fighting in 1825-1827 the Cisplatine took its chance to break away on 25 August 1825 (Independence Day), establishing itself as the country of Uruguay by 1828, when with backing from Great Britain it was finally recognised. A constitution was established in 1830 under the president, Fructuoso Rivera.


The political situation in Uruguay becomes complicated when two factions emerge; the conservative 'whites' (Blancos) and the liberal 'reds' (Colorados). Respectively, they represent countryside and city interests. Both parties become associated with the war in Argentina, with the Blanco president of Uruguay favouring the Argentine dictator, Manuel de Rosas. On 15 June and with secret French backing, the Colorados overthrow the president, Manuel Oribe, and he flees to Argentina.


Gabriel Antonio Pereira

1838 - 1839

Fructuoso Rivera

Former president, colonel, and leader of the Colorados.


Gabriel Antonio Pereira


Manuel Oribe's supporters form a government in exile in Montevideo, and Rivera goes to war against him. The Great War lasts for thirteen years.

1839 - 1843

Fructuoso Rivera

Second term.

1842 - 1852

In 1842 an Argentine army overruns the country on Manuel Oribe's behalf, although the capital remains free. This is besieged from the start of 1843, and when access to Paraguay is blocked for Great Britain and France, they declare war on Argentina and blockade its capital, assisted by Brazil. In 1849 and 1850, Argentina agrees a peace deal with each of the two European powers. Argentine troops are withdrawn from Uruguay, although Oribe's own forces still maintain a loose siege. In 1851 an Argentine faction opposes Manuel de Rosas in Argentina, defeats Oribe, and lifts the siege, nine years after it began. The following year, Rosas himself is overthrown at the Battle of Caseros on 3 February 1852, ending the war (and also slavery in Uruguay).

Battle of Caseros
The Battle of Caseros in February 1852 ended the career of Manuel de Rosas, shortly after Oribe's own defeat

1843 - 1852

Joaquin Suarez

Former president.

1852 - 1854

Following the end of the war an interim president, General Venancio Flores, governs the country until a representative head of state can be selected.

1863 - 1864

Amid renewed conflict between the Colorados and the Blancos, General Flores leads an armed uprising against the Blanco president, Bernardo Prudencio Berro. He has backing in the form of troops and weapons from Argentina, and overthrows the government in 1864. Paraguay uses this as a reason to declare war on Uruguay, having supported the deposed president.

1864 - 1868

Venancio Flores

Colorado military dictator. Assassinated 19 Feb.

1864 - 1870

As a result of Paraguay's declaration of war against Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay go to war against Paraguay in the War of the Triple Alliance (which is also known as the Paraguayan War or the Great War in Paraguay). It proves to be a long and costly affair, causing more casualties than any other South American war. Paraguay is totally defeated, losing almost half its territory. However, Uruguay doesn't do much better, losing about ninety five per cent of its armed forces. Flores and Berro are assassinated on the very same day. The Colorados and Blancos, tired of the constant bloodshed, decide to split the country into two spheres of influence, with the Blancos taking the inland country areas. 'Skirmishes' such as the Revolution of the Lances in 1870-1872 still take place between them.

1917 - 1918

In October 1917, Uruguay declares for the allies in the First World War against Germany and the Austro-Hungarian empire, but plays no active role in the conflict.


Uruguay joins the Second World War as an ally of the USA and Great Britain on 15 February 1945 against Japan and Germany.


The president, Jorge Pacheco, declares a state of emergency in the face of growing attacks by the Tupamaros guerrilla movement. Since the group's first involvement in crime in the early 1960s, it has grown into a Marxist force which kidnaps political figures and attacks the security forces, and is beginning to destabilise the government.

1973 - 1984

The president cedes control of the country to the military in an attempt to end the Tupamaros movement. The plan works, and the guerrillas are crushed by the end of the year, but the military refuses to relinquish its hold on power. The imprisonment of opponents increases and Uruguayans flee the country in droves. The military 'elects' presidents to present a facade of legitimate rule before taking more direct control in 1981.

1981 - 1984

Gregorio Alvarez


1984 - 1985

Mass protests lead to the restoration of civilian rule in Uruguay, with elections and a new president following by 1985. Those responsible for human rights abuses are given amnesty. Uruguay settles into a period of progress and unity.

Uruguay 1984 protests
Two Uruguayan marines demonstrate the search of a vehicle and its occupant during the 1984 protests and subsequent election campaign, an unusual period of unrest for Uruguay


The victory of the left-of-centre Frente Amplio Coalition in presidential elections ends 170 years of Uruguayan government by the Blanco and Colorado parties.