Uruguay History and Culture

by | October 11, 2021


Inhabited by mainly nomadic indigenous tribes, the present Uruguayan territory was first explored by JD de Solís in 1516. In the 17th century, the Bandairantes, Portuguese adventurers who came from Brazil to hunt for labor for their plantations, came there more and more frequently. The Jesuits lined up in defense of the natives, whose support proved decisive. However numerous bandairantes they preferred to stop in Uruguay to carry out smuggling trafficking there, to the detriment of the Spaniards occupying Argentina. The smuggling proved so prosperous that the Brazilian authorities decided to protect it by building in 1680 a fort in front of Buenos Aires, called Colonia do Sacramento, which was the cause of a close struggle with Spain, until with the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 the fort returned to Portugal. To balance this loss, from 1724 the Spaniards built Montevideo and made it the capital of a district, used for cattle breeding, after having exterminated the natives of Ciarrua who lived there. New conflicts between Spain and Portugal ended with the Treaty of San Ildefonso of 1777 which recognized the sovereignty of Spain, and this undertook to liberalize trade, with the opening of the ports of Buenos Aires and Montevideo. The economic dynamism that followed inspired the colonists of the Banda Oriental with a spirit of independence which took shape in 1808 with the establishment of a junta in Montevideo which contested both the power of Madrid and the Argentine annexation aspiration. The movement resumed in 1811 with the patriot JG Artigas, who fought against the Luso-Brazilians who rushed to take over the territory and against the Argentines. They occupied Montevideo on June 20, 1814 and Artigas continued to feed the guerrillas in the interior.

In 1815 Buenos Aires came to terms with Artigas and ceded Montevideo to him. But the following year the Portuguese invaded the Banda Oriental and reduced it to the “Cisplatina Province” of Brazil. The resistance of Artigas and his comrade in arms JF Rivera was tenacious, but was tamed. The conflict was reignited in 1825: a group of exiles led by JA Lavalleja (the “thirty-three immortals”) entered the territory from Argentina and managed to raise the population. The struggle raged until 1828 when independence was recognized in Uruguay. On June 18, 1830 the young Eastern Republic of Uruguay gave itself the first Constitution. Also in that year JF Rivera was elected president. However, infighting led to the formation of two sides: the blancos (whites) and the colorados (reds). The former acted under the control of the large landowners and ranchers of the interior, were conservative and relied on the high clergy; the latter, basically liberal, represented the interests of coastal farmers, merchants, the white-collar bureaucracy, and intellectuals. colorado; at the head of the blancos was M. Oribe. In 1835 the collision became inevitable and a few years later involved the Argentine dictator Rosas, called by the blancos. Freedom-loving men came to defend the country’s independence, including G. Garibaldi. Brazil also took the field against Rosas. On February 3, 1852, the battle of Monte Caseros, Argentina, defeated Rosas forever and Uruguay was saved. Blancos and colorados, however, continued to oppose each other and were decades of convulsions, until the citizens gave themselves a neutral leader in 1898, JL Cuestas, but things did not change. In 1903 a Democratic Colorado, J. Batlle y Ordóñez, finally overcame the politics of feuds and inaugurated a development program. But in 1929 the death of Battle y Ordóñez and the world economic crisis halted the work of reform, especially in 1931, when G. Terra came to power and established a dictatorial regime. Only in 1938, by electing Colorado A. Baldomir, democracy was restored. After the Second World War (during which Uruguay was first neutral and then on the side of the Allies) the dispute between colorados and blancos resumed . The former triumphed until 1957 and introduced a collegial system of government. With the victory of the blancos (1958) the collegiate system was abolished. Both parties, however, had not been able to adapt to the times, with serious damage to the functioning of the institutions. Violence also exploded in Montevideo, as an exasperated form of protest. Groups arose that organized the urban guerrilla and among these the tupamaros were very active. The 1971 elections were won by JMB Arocena of the colorado party . In 1973, during the campaign against the tupamaros (which saw thousands of indiscriminate arrests, killings, disappearances of opponents, etc.), the military, led by JM Bordaberry they imposed the dissolution of political parties and the closure of Parliament. In 1976 the army forced Bordaberry to resign and had A. Méndez elected in his place.


A country that over the centuries has changed its cultural physiognomy following political, economic and social events, Uruguay, a country located in South America according to Countryaah, having left the dictatorship behind, not without wounds, at the beginning of the century. XXI struggles to resume the role of outpost of modernity and welfare that has long distinguished it. Unlike other South American states, indigenous culture has no relevant presence and art, cuisine, clothing have traits attributable to European settlers. This characteristic that, like many others, strongly unites Uruguay with Argentina, is also found in the literary field, where it is not uncommon to speak of a single production. The most important writer was probably José Enrique Rodó,of the early twentieth century that has characterized so much of Latin American literature. In recent years, the themes of exile, the dictatorial experience and rebirth are among the most investigated, in works that are receiving support even outside national borders. The visual arts and architecture have been influenced by European trends to an even greater extent, and Montevideo, from this point of view, is an open-air museum with buildings, churches and squares with different layouts and atmospheres. Another example of a stylistic mixture is the historic center of Colonia del Sacramento, declared World Heritage Site by Site ‘ UNESCO in 1995. The musical tradition of popular origin is flourishing in Uruguay, but interesting personalities have also emerged in the cultured sphere. Cinematography has mainly produced documentaries and works of a socio-political nature, although in the 2000s new authors have aroused public and critical interest. Uruguayans love football obsessively (interest spread across the continent), but basketball, horse racing, rugby and tennis are also very popular. The gastronomic sector is dominated by meat, the true fulcrum of nutrition and, as we have seen, of the economy. The life of the herdsmen finds its epitome in the ” gaucho “, a figure that has also inspired national folklore.

Uruguay History and Culture