Useful Notes / Uruguay

One of the smallest nations in South America, Uruguay didn’t attract much attention from the colonists because of its lack of resources and the fierceness of the natives. Only when the independence wave started in the area, people from all places saw the benefits the port city of Montevideo could provide, like the British or, specially, its neighbors: Brazil and Argentina.

The country got independent in 1813, but it was brief since it was soon conquered and annexed by the Brazilian Empire, leading to the Cisplatine War between Brazil and Argentina that ended with Uruguay independent again. Soon, a civil war between the two main factions of the country, Blancos and Colorados (Whites and Reds) emerged, that eventually put Montevideo in a siege that lasted nine years (Alexandre Dumas called it “a new Trojan war”). Giuseppe Garibaldi made a name for himself in the war before championing the Italian Wars of Independence. Brazil and Argentina took advantage of the war by supporting Reds and Whites, respectively; the war eventually ended with the victory of the Reds. As a gesture of thanks to Brazil, Uruguay made a deal that allowed Brazil to intervene in their internal affairs whenever they considered fitting. In other words, it allowed Brazil to turn Uruguay into a puppet state whenever they wanted, something they certainly took advantage of. The last intervention, in 1864, prompted Paraguay to try to topple the new Brazil-friendly government and the War of the Triple Alliance, which aftermath not only left Paraguay in ruins, but also freed Uruguay from the deal with Brazil.

The country kept growing and developing after that, though slower than other countries in the region, since its main source of income was the agriculture, something that gave fewer incomes with time. In 1973, a civic-military government took place until 1985 as a response of the growing influence of the Tupamaros, a Marxist urban guerrilla movement. During said time, more than a hundred people died or disappeared because of the actions of the junta (as a part of ‘Operation Condor’ with neighboring dictatorships).

Today, Uruguay is one of the most developed countries in South America. As a curiosity, or maybe not, its main economic partners are Brazil and Argentina. It was also the first country in the region to legalize same-sex civil unions and to allow gay adoption. It's divided in two easy-to-identify regions: the north is countryside and the south/coast, beaches.

The local music is tango, like in Argentina, but not the same kind of tango. The most famous Uruguayan tango is "La cumparsita" (world’s second-most famous after "Por una cabeza"; it appears on Sunset Boulevard). It has a fierce competition with Argentina about two things: their main ports’ attractive (Montevideo vs Buenos Aires) and the birthplace of Carlos Gardel, legend of the tango (... turns out he was French). They’re most emphatically non Argentinians, no matter how similar their accents sound.

On July 31 2013, Uruguay become the first nation in the world to legalize the sale, cultivation, and distribution of cannabis. As then-President Jose Mujica said, "Uruguay wants to make a 'contribution to humanity' by legalising marijuana but will backtrack if the 'experiment' goes awry." In order to keep the country from becoming an Amsterdam in the southern hemisphere, Uruguay requires users 18 and older to be registered in a national database, and has prohibited both the sale of marijuana to foreigners and the transport of marijuana over international borders.

Despite its small place, it's still a hub for Association Football. The Uruguayan national team won two straight Olympic Games football tournaments in the 20's (leading to the nickname 'Celeste Olimpica', the former part referring to the sky blue uniforms), plus two of the earliest editions of The World Cup (the inaugural edition in 1930, which they hosted; and 1950, upsetting Brazil at home in what became a Shocking Defeat Legacy for the neighbors) and are the biggest winners of the continental Copa América, with 15 titles.

As a last curious note, the full name of the country is Oriental Republic of Uruguay. That may have you thinking “So where’s the Occidental one?”, when the fact is that there isn’t. The name of the country actually tries to tell that it’s at the east of the Uruguay River, something that doesn’t seem quite clear in the name itself (same deal in Spanish, by the way).

Works of or about Uruguay:

  • Alive. The team trapped in the Andes was from Uruguay.
  • Montevideo, or the new Troy, by Alexandre Dumas, deals with the civil war of the mid-1800s. It’s not the best source though, since Dumas was based on the recount of a man who twisted the facts to put an overtly negative view on Argentina and its president, Juan Manuel de Rosas.
  • Open Veins of Latin America, by Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano.
  • The Three Caballeros has a short, The Flying Gauchito, about a kid and his flying donkey.
  • XXY, though filmed in Argentina, is set mainly in Uruguay.
  • State of Siege by Costa-Gavras. Yeah, sure, it says it happens on an unnamed South American country, but it's based on a real event in Uruguay.
  • In The Simpsons episode "Bart Vs. Australia", Homer finds Uruguay on the globe. Of course, being Homer, he misreads it as "you are gay".
  • In DC One Million, Montevideo is devastated (with more than a million casualties) when one of the nuke-powered Rocket Reds obtained by Vandal Savage explodes over it.

The Uruguayan flag
The flag's nine alternating white and blue stripes symbolize the original Departments of Uruguay (currently at nineteen): Canelones, Cerro Largo (including Treinta y Tres), Colonia, Durazno, Maldonado (including Lavalleja and Rocha), Montevideo, Paysandú (including Artigas, Río Negro, Rivera, Salto and Tacuarembó), San José and Soriano (including Flores). At the canton is the Sun of May, an emblem it shares with Argentina.