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Uruguay - SOCIETY

Uruguay - The Society


URUGUAY WAS ONCE KNOWN as the "Switzerland of South America" as a result of its relative governmental stability, advanced level of economic development, and social peace. Indeed, in the creation of a welfare state, it was far ahead of Switzerland during the first half of the twentieth century. Starting in the 1950s, however, Uruguay's economy began to stagnate, and the oncevaunted welfare state became increasingly poor. Commentators talked of the "Latin Americanization" of Uruguay as it descended from the ranks of the developed nations to the level of the Third World. Political and social unrest eventually culminated in the military coup of 1973; by then the case for seeing Uruguay as very different from the rest of Latin America was largely undermined.

During the sixty-year period from 1870 to 1930, foreign immigrants flooded into Uruguay, mainly from Spain and Italy, to improve their standard of living. A historical study of social and economic development ranked Uruguay fourth among all independent nations in the world in the 1880s. In 1990 Uruguay's levels of education and nutrition were still among the highest in Latin America, as well as its per capita ownership of radios, televisions, and telephones and its newspaper readership.

However, four decades of economic stagnation had seriously eroded Uruguay's lead in terms of per capita gross domestic product ( GDP). Historically, only Argentina rivaled it in Latin America in terms of this crucial economic indicator. By the middle of the twentieth century, Uruguay had been overtaken by Venezuela in terms of per capita GDP, and in 1970 Chile had almost caught up. By 1980 so had Brazil, Costa Rica, Panama, and Mexico.

A study published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 1990 attempted to rank 130 countries of the world by their level of social (rather than purely economic) development. Switzerland was the richest nation as measured by per capita GDP, adjusted for purchasing power parities. Using the same indicator, Uruguay was ranked forty-fifth, underlining how far it had fallen economically. Nevertheless, Uruguay ranked far higher on a composite indicator of social progress dubbed by the UNDP the "Human Development Index." The index took into account life expectancy and level of literacy, as well as adjusted per capita GDP. By this measure, Uruguay ranked twenty-ninth, immediately above Hungary. Only two Latin American countries scored higher on this index: Costa Rica (ranking twenty-eighth) and Chile (ranking twenty-fourth). In comparison, the United States ranked nineteenth. Japan had the highest Human Development Index of all.

In sum, Uruguayan society in 1990 presented a contradictory picture of advanced social indicators and declining economic status. In many ways, it remained unlike other Latin American and Third World countries.



Uruguay - Population


In 1988 Uruguay's population was estimated at 3,081,000, up somewhat from the 2,955,241 inhabitants recorded in the 1985 census. From 1981 to 1988, the population growth rate averaged about 0.7 percent per year. In South America, only Guyana and Suriname had a lower growth rate. According to projections, the growth rate would continue in the 0.6 to 0.7 range through the year 2020, resulting in an estimated total population of 3,152,000 in 1995, 3,264,000 in 2000, and 3,679,000 in 2020.

A major factor in Uruguay's low population growth rate was its relatively low birth rate. The average birth rate for 1990 was the lowest in Latin America at just 17 per 1,000 inhabitants. Significant levels of emigration also inhibited the growth of the population. At the same time, the average life expectancy of Uruguayans (seventy years for men and seventy-six years for women in 1990) was relatively high. Together, the comparatively low birth rate, net emigration, and long life expectancy gave Uruguay an aging population with a pyramidal structure more typical of a developed country than of a Third World country.

In addition to its remarkably low population growth rate, low birth rate, high life expectancy, and aging population, Uruguay also was notable for its extremely high level of urbanization. According to the 1985 census, 87 percent of Uruguay's population could be classified as urban. Moreover, this trend was expected to continue because the urban population was continuing to grow at a faster rate than the population as a whole, while the rural population growth rate was well under that for the total population. In the 1981-88 period, Uruguay's urban population grew at a rate of 0.9 percent, while its rural population grew at a rate of only 0.3 percent (as compared with a total population growth rate of 0.7 percent).

Ethnically, Uruguay enjoyed a high level of homogeneity. Its population was estimated to be nearly 90 percent white, having descended from the original Spanish colonists as well as from the many European immigrants, chiefly from Spain and Italy, who flocked to Uruguay in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. (The remainder were primarily black and mestizo, or people of mixed Indian and European ancestry.)

Historical Patterns of Settlement

First administered from Buenos Aires, Uruguay came into being as an independent nation in 1828 when the British intervened to create a buffer (and client) state between Argentina and Brazil. The fact that Uruguay was scarcely settled beyond a thin coastal strip during the colonial period meant that unlike many other areas of Latin America, little of its colonial heritage survived. The British dominated the country's economic and commercial development until World War I. In marked distinction to Chile's or Peru's minerals, however, Uruguay's prime productive asset (land) remained in the hands of Uruguayans, or at least settlers who wanted to become Uruguayans.

Shortly after independence, civil war broke out between the two political factions that came to form Uruguay's traditional parties, the Colorado Party (Partido Colorado) and the National Party (Partido Nacional, usually referred to as the Blancos). Military conflicts between caudillos on both sides were to recur frequently until 1904. The main cause of conflict was the rivalry between center and periphery: in Montevideo the Colorados predominated, but in the interior the Blancos wished to preserve their control. A dictatorship by a Colorado caudillo, Lorenzo Latorre (1876-80), imposed strict order in the countryside. Concurrently, Uruguay's exports of beef products and wool to Europe began to boom.

After 1911 massive growth of frozen meat exports revived the profitability of the large cattle ranches that had been somewhat eclipsed after the 1860s by medium-sized sheep farms. By World War I, two-fifths of the nation's farmland was in the hands of large landowners (the 3 to 4 percent of proprietors who had over 2,000 hectares). However, historians have argued that Uruguay's rural society was "pluralist" in character. Thus, along with the big landowners (latifundistas) and smallholders (minifundistas), a middle sector had arisen, constituting 40 percent of the proprietors and accounting for 55 percent of the land.

Contemporary Ethnic Composition

In 1990 about 88 percent of Uruguay's population was white and descended from Europeans, and the nation has always looked to Europe for its cultural cues. Eight percent of the population was mestizo, and 4 percent was black. Although in 1990 Uruguay had an aging population, it was once a young nation of immigrants. According to the 1908 census, over two-fifths of the population was foreign born. While the descendants of the original Spanish colonists (known as criollos) predominated in the interior, the origins of the population were varied in the densely populated areas of Montevideo and the coast. In these areas, citizens of Italian descent were particularly numerous, constituting as much as one-third of the population.

In 1990 estimates of the number of Uruguayans of African descent ranged from as low as 40,000 to as high as 130,000 (about 4 percent). In Montevideo, many of them traditionally made a living as musicians or entertainers. Few had been allowed to achieve high social status. As many as three-quarters of black women aged eighteen to forty were employed in domestic service. In the interior, citizens of African or mixed descent were concentrated along the Brazilian border. Early in the twentieth century, the traditional folkways of Afro-Uruguayans were captured in the impressionist paintings of Pedro Figari. Although vestiges of African culture survived in the annual carnival celebrations known as the Llamadas, Uruguay's black population was relatively assimilated in 1990.

Uruguay's Indian population had virtually disappeared and was no longer in evidence in 1990. Even the mestizo, or mixed-race, population was small--8 percent--by Latin American standards. In 1990 signs of intermarriage between whites and Indians were common only in the interior. The slightly derogatory term chino was still applied by the inhabitants of Montevideo to the somewhat darker-skinned migrants from the interior.

Montevideo also had a highly assimilated Jewish population of some importance. Estimated at 40,000 in 1970, the Jewish community had fallen to about 25,000 by the late 1980s as a result of emigration, particularly to Israel. Anti-Semitism was not uncommon, but it was less virulent than, for example, in Argentina.

Fertility, Mortality, and Population Growth

Uruguay's population has grown slowly throughout its history, reaching the 1 million mark early in the twentieth century. In the twentieth century, the rate of population growth declined steadily, however, despite significant amounts of immigration and virtually halted in the 1950s. Registered at over 2 percent in 1916, the annual growth rate had dropped to 1.4 percent by 1937. It continued in the 1.2 to 1.5 percent range until 1960, but in the 1960s population growth averaged only 1 percent annually. In the 1970s, the average annual growth rate was even lower, at 0.4 percent. In the 1981-88 period, annual population growth was 0.7 percent, but in 1990 it was 0.6 percent.

A major contributor to the slow population growth rate was Uruguay's low, and declining, crude birth rate. It fell steadily throughout the first half of the twentieth century, from 38.9 per 1,000 population in the 1900-04 period to 21.1 per 1,000 in the 1945-49 period, where it more or less stabilized through the mid1960s . In the 1980-85 period, the birth rate was 19.5 per 1,000. In 1987 it was estimated at 17.5, and in 1990 it was estimated at 17 per 1,000. (In comparison, the birth rates for Argentina, Brazil, and the United States in 1990 were 20 per 1,000, 26 per 1,000, and 15 per 1,000, respectively.) This relatively low birth rate was usually ascribed to Uruguay's prosperity and the widespread availability of contraception. Given the secularization of Uruguayan society at the beginning of the twentieth century, the influence of the Roman Catholic Church was minor. The total fertility rate in 1990 was 2.4 children born per woman.

The crude death rate, which had averaged 14 to 15 per 1,000 since the 1895-99 period, began to decline significantly starting in the 1920s. In the 1940s, it reached 10 per 1,000, and it has stayed at approximately this level every since. In 1987 the crude death rate was estimated at 9.5 per 1,000 and in 1990 at 10 per 1,000.

Advances in medicine resulted in longer life expectancy. Uruguay's General Directorate of Statistics and Census noted that overall life expectancy in the 1984-86 period was 71.6 years (68.4 years for men and 74.9 years for women). Estimates in 1990 placed life expectancy for males at seventy years and that for females at seventy-six years. Because Uruguayans were living longer, the population began to age. By the census year of 1963, demographers already were beginning to worry that the rising proportion of the population in retirement might overstrain the country's social security system. The 1975 and 1985 censuses confirmed the acceleration of this aging trend. The trend was aggravated as net immigration, which had characterized Uruguay in the early twentieth century, gave way to net emigration and the exodus in particular of young, well-educated Uruguayans.


In the nineteenth century, Uruguay was already highly urbanized. But in the twentieth century, it has been one of the world's most urbanized states. According to the 1985 census, 87 percent of Uruguayans lived in urban areas, the highest percentage in Latin America. The department of Montevideo alone accounted for 44 percent of the country's population; the department of Canelones accounted for another 12 percent. Furthermore, the interior of Uruguay, although sparsely populated, was also quite urban. Census figures from 1985 indicate that even outside Montevideo over 80 percent of the country's inhabitants could be classified as "urban" (i.e., living in towns of 2,000 inhabitants or more). Most of these townspeople lived in the departmental capitals.

Uruguay's level of urbanization seemed likely to continue to rise, based on estimates of the growth rate of the urban population vis-à-vis that of the population as a whole and that of the rural population. During the 1960s, the urban population grew at an annual rate of 1.7 percent, while the overall population growth rate was only 1.0 percent. In the 1970s, the growth rates were 0.6 and 0.4 percent, respectively. For the 1981-88 period, the overall population growth rate was 0.7 percent, while the urban population grew by 0.9 percent and the rural population by only 0.3 percent.


Rural depopulation has been a striking trend in Uruguay during the twentieth century. According to the 1975 census, onefifth of those citizens born in the eighteen interior, littoral, and coastal departments lived in Montevideo. The departments that produced the highest flow of outward migration between the 1963 and 1975 censuses were in the interior of the country. In the littoral and coastal departments (except the department of Rocha), the greater net retention of population correlated with the growth of the local urban population. This showed that people tended to stay in the department where they were born if there were local towns to which they could move. Otherwise, they moved farther afield.

Migration in Uruguay thus appeared to follow the classic pattern by which those born in isolated rural areas moved to the nearest towns, whereas those born in interior towns headed for Montevideo. Montevideans, in turn, sought to migrate to large cities in Latin America, notably Buenos Aires, where their accents and customs blended successfully and where wages were much higher on average.


Since the 1950s, Uruguay's traditional pattern of net immigration has given way to a severe pattern of emigration, which has been of concern to the authorities. This was particularly worrisome because those most likely to leave were the youngest and best-educated citizens. The emigration of youth and the country's aging population had created a very high dependency ratio and serious difficulties for Uruguay's social security system. A famous piece of black-humored graffiti in the port of Montevideo in the early 1970s read: "Last one to leave, please turn off the lights!" Estimates of emigration as high as one-third of the population have, however, been wildly exaggerated.

Economics motivated emigration in the 1960s, but political repression became a major factor during the 1973-85 military regime. Official figures suggest that 180,000 people left Uruguay from 1963 to 1975. In 1973 about 30,000 left, in 1974 nearly 60,000, and in 1975 nearly 40,000. According to the General Directorate of Statistics and Census, 150,000 Uruguayans left the country between 1975 and 1985. By 1989 only 16,500 of them had returned. If the 180,000 who left between 1963 and 1975 are added, the proportion of the population that emigrated from 1963 to 1985 can be estimated at about one-tenth. Along with the low birth rate, this is the major explanation for the country's low population growth rate.

Most of the emigrants were young. Of those who emigrated between 1963 and 1975, 17.7 percent were aged fourteen or younger, 68 percent were between the ages of fifteen and thirtynine , and only 14.3 percent were forty years or older. Those leaving were on average also better educated than the total population. Only 1.5 percent were uneducated, 52.1 percent had completed primary school, 33.6 percent had attended secondary school or teachers' training colleges, and 12.8 percent had attended university or technical college.

In the late 1980s, the lack of jobs for young people was again a fundamental factor contributing to emigration. Those people leaving Uruguay were not only younger and better educated than the population as a whole but also tended to have more job skills. Among those aged fourteen and older who emigrated from 1963 to 1975 and who were economically active, the relative proportions of different occupations were as follows: professionals, technicians, managers, and administrators made up 12.8 percent, 2.9 percentage points higher than in the economically active population (EAP) as a whole in 1975; office employees constituted 16 percent of those emigrating, 4.3 points above their share of the EAP; salespeople made up 12.4 percent of emigrants, 2 points above the EAP; and drivers, skilled and unskilled workers, and day laborers constituted 34.2 percent of the EAP in 1975, but 47.6 percent of those emigrating.

On the one hand, the proportion of emigrants who had worked as domestic servants was 10.4 percent, close to their share of the EAP. On the other hand, whereas 18.2 percent of the EAP was classified as farmers and fishermen in 1975, these made up only 0.8 percent of those leaving the country in the previous twelve years.

By far the most popular destination for Uruguayan emigrants was Argentina, which in the first half of the 1970s took over one-half of the emigrants. Also important were the United States and Australia, followed by Spain, Brazil, and Venezuela. Small numbers of artists, intellectuals, and politicians experiencing persecution emigrated to Western Europe, notably to the Netherlands and Spain. Many of these political exiles, however, chose to return to Uruguay after 1984.

The Uruguayan community in Argentina was officially given as 58,000 in 1970 but was actually much larger. Many Uruguayans in Argentina returned to Montevideo at election time to vote. Political exiles were allowed to return to Uruguay after 1984, but many of them found it difficult to make a living. This was even true in those cases where they had the right to return to former government posts, for example in education. Often they expressed shock at the decay of public services and the dilapidated state of buildings compared with their memories of Montevideo.

Updated population figures for Uruguay.




By Latin American standards, Uruguay is a relatively egalitarian society with a large middle class. One factor that historically helped the country avoid social polarization was the broad provision of free public education by the state starting in the 1870s. Economic stagnation since the 1950s has reduced the opportunities for upward social mobility, but the incidence of extreme wealth and poverty still approximated the pattern of developed countries rather than that of the Third World.

Uruguay's upper classes consisted of ranchers, businessmen, and politicians. The middle classes include professionals, whitecollar workers, small businessmen, and medium-sized farmers. The lower classes consisted of blue-collar workers, domestic workers, a small number of peasants, and those forced to survive precariously in the informal sector of the economy.

Estimates of the proportion of different sectors of the population in each class are by definition arbitrary. The upper classes are conventionally held to constitute 5 percent of the citizenry, but the relative sizes of the middle and lower classes have been much debated. In the 1950s, mainstream sociologists estimated that the middle classes constituted as much as twothirds of the population. More radical writers in the 1960s suggested a figure as low as one-third. A reasonable figure, however, would be 45 percent, a proportion broadly consistent with the occupational structure revealed by census data. This left half the population in the lower-class category, although it must be stressed that class differences in Uruguay were far less pronounced than in much of Latin America.

<>The Ranching Elite
<>Business Elites
<>Political Elites
<>The Middle Class
<>Small Farmers and Rural Workers
<>Blue-Collar Workers
<>The Urban Poor


Uruguay - The Ranching Elite


Compared with their counterparts on the Argentine pampas, Uruguay's latifundistas (large landholders) never achieved the same level of social and political preeminence. Constituting a tiny fraction of the population, they nevertheless controlled the bulk of the nation's land, which they typically used for cattle and sheep ranching. Intermarriage with newer urban commercial elites was common, but many of the ranchers descended from colonial Spanish settlers. Those who could afford it ran their ranches as absentee landlords, spending as much of the year as possible in Montevideo. Their children were traditionally educated in private schools, which were either Roman Catholic or English-speaking schools. Originally founded for the children of expatriates, the latter institutions continued to model themselves on Britain's elite private schools.

For the ranchers, the social event of the year was the annual agricultural show at the Prado, a park in Montevideo, where prizes were awarded for the best breeds of cattle and sheep and where the latest farm machinery was displayed. Politically, the ranchers were organized in the Rural Federation (Federación Rural), which acted as a pressure group for their interests. Because the incomes of the ranchers varied with the profitability of beef and wool exports, they were constantly lobbying the government for favorable tax and exchange-rate policies. Under military rule from 1973 to 1985, they were deprived of much of their influence, and thus many of them turned against the government. Historically, the majority of ranchers voted for the National Party rather than the Colorado Party. However, the distinction has tended to break down. One factor in this breakdown was the emergence in the 1950s of a nonparty Ruralist movement called the Federal League for Rural Action (Liga Federal de Acción Rural--LFAR), which allied with different parties in successive elections.

Uruguay's rural society remained much more rigidly hierarchical than its urban society, and status differences were pronounced. This was also true of towns outside the Montevideo region, where the majority of the interior population lived.


Uruguay - Business Elites


Uruguay's commercial, financial, and industrial elites were more cosmopolitan than the big ranchers. However, the high number of basic industries and utilities run by the state meant that large private entrepreneurs were less numerous than would otherwise be the case. The urban-rural divide was no longer very pronounced: traditional landowning families had diversified into food processing and other businesses, while the sons and daughters of businessmen were ensured a private education. Until 1984 there was only one university in the country, the University of the Republic (also known as the University of Montevideo); it served as a major force for miscegenation among elites and even among the middle classes.

Foreign multinational corporations were less active in Uruguay than in many other Latin American countries because of the small size of its domestic market. One exception to this, however, was the banking system, which was heavily taken over by European and North American conglomerates in the 1970s and 1980s. A pattern of close cooperation between domestic and foreign business interests had emerged on the basis of joint ventures and licensing agreements.

Urban business interests were organized in two rival associations: the Chamber of Industry, which was dominated by industrial manufacturers, and the Chamber of Commerce, which was more oriented toward services and retail trades. The Chamber of Commerce was enthusiastic about the liberalization of imports and the maintenance of a strong currency from 1977 to 1982. By contrast, foreign competition hit industry hard, accustomed as it was to the high rates of protection given by the previous model of import-substitution industrialization.


Uruguay - Political Elites


Uruguay's party leaders were sometimes viewed as forming a "political class." Many of the surnames of those active in politics in the 1980s would have been familiar to Uruguayans a century earlier. Blanco leaders were more likely than Colorados to have attended private secondary schools and to describe themselves as practicing Catholics, although this distinction was breaking down. With the exception of an apparent increase in the late 1960s, these politicians only rarely had business careers, apart from ranchers in the National Party. Rather, most made their living as lawyers and as public servants.

The leaders of Uruguay's leftist parties were drawn from a somewhat wider spectrum of backgrounds than the Colorados and Blancos. Among the leaders of the former were many white-collar workers, especially educators, and a few labor union leaders.

The power of traditional political bosses, or caudillos, has resided in their ability to mobilize voters by means of patronage machines. This system of doling out favors, such as public-sector jobs and pensions, through local political clubs had, nevertheless, declined by 1990. Young voters were more motivated by ideology than their parents, which is one reason that the membership of Uruguay's leftist parties was growing, whereas that of the traditional National and Colorado parties was declining.


Uruguay - The Middle Class


Uruguay has often been described as the most middle-class nation in Latin America. In this social category were to be found civil servants, teachers, white-collar workers, small businessmen, officers in the military, and medium-sized farmers. Economic crises since the 1960s have, nevertheless, squeezed this sector of the population hard. One reason for the rise of women in the labor force was the struggle of middle-class families to maintain their standard of living. Moreover, it was very common for middle-class Uruguayans to have two (or even more) jobs.

For much of the twentieth century, Uruguay's middle classes benefited from the provision of excellent public education at no cost up through university. Public schools began to decline in quality in the 1970s, however, and few members of the middle class could afford the requisite fees to have their children educated privately. A similar pattern of deterioration in public health care and the value of state pensions occurred, adding to the difficulties of the middle classes. Public-sector wages were severely squeezed under military rule (from 1973 to 1985), as were private-sector wages, but to a slightly lesser degree. A major factor was the virtual suspension of wage bargaining under a climate of systematic repression of labor unions. Previously, white-collar unionization had been high.

The middle classes were typically employed as civil servants or white-collar workers. Many worked in small businesses, but some of these businesses were hurt by the market-oriented economic reforms of the 1970s, which led to the liberalization of manufactured imports. From 1978 until 1982, the middle classes benefited from a boom in imported durable consumer goods, such as automobiles, appliances, and electronics. The subsequent economic slump left many families heavily in debt and unable to meet their obligations. Particularly hard hit were individuals who had taken out mortgages denominated in dollars. When the Uruguayan new peso collapsed in 1982, many of them found their house and apartment payments had tripled overnight. A similar debt crunch hit many medium-sized firms that had expanded by borrowing.

The Uruguayan middle classes were avid joiners of interest groups and professional associations. Among these were the professional associations of lawyers, civil servants, notaries, accountants, bankers, and physicians. Some white-collar labor unions, although less prestigious than the professional associations, were home to the middle classes. For instance, workers in health care had the Federation of Uruguayan Sanitation Workers, with 13,400 members.

High school teachers (profesores) were organized in the National Federation of Secondary Teachers, which had nearly 2,400 members. Grade school teachers (maestros) had the Uruguayan Federation of Elementary Teachers, with nearly 7,100 members. University professors (docentes) belonged to the Association of Professors of the University of the Republic, which had 2,000 affiliates. The Uruguayan Association of Bank Employees (Asociación de Empleados Bancarios del Uruguay--AEBU) was much larger, with 15,344 members, as was the Confederation of State Civil Service Organizations, with 25,508 members. Many of these associations ran cooperative stores and social clubs. For example, the AEBU had a large modern headquarters in downtown Montevideo containing meeting rooms and a theater.

The importance of education to the middle classes was underlined by the widespread use of professional titles. Lawyers were formally addressed as doctor, accountants as contador, engineers as ingeniero, and so forth. However, the rapid expansion of higher education began to lead to graduate unemployment and underemployment in the 1960s, a further source of strain on the middle classes.


Uruguay - Small Farmers and Rural Workers


Although they accounted for only about 5 percent of Uruguay's total land, small farms were common in the littoral and the south. Owners of medium-sized farms were able to approximate the living standards of the urban middle class, but for tenant farmers and proprietors of smaller areas, life was a constant struggle. Particularly poor were the small producers of Canelones Department who grew vegetables for the capital.

Because the rural economy was not at all labor intensive, Uruguay had very few rural workers. One exception was the department of Artigas, where large sugarcane plantations had grown up. The very low wages of the cane cutters caused them to form a union in the 1960s and to bring their protests to the streets of the capital. Apart from this, however, Uruguay's few rural workers and small farmers had not managed to form organizations to defend their economic interests. In particular, the Ruralist movement of the 1950s and 1960s, which began as a protest by the small farmers against government taxes, soon fell under the leadership of large landowners. In the late 1980s, a rural workers' union claimed a membership of only 4,000.


Uruguay - Blue-Collar Workers


Uruguay lacked a large industrial labor force by the standards of the developed world. Indeed, urban employment was dominated by the service industries. Only 23 percent of the total labor force was employed in industry in 1988. Skilled manual workers nevertheless had tended to form unions quite successfully and hence maintained a relatively comfortable standard of living, at least until the military takeover in 1973. Since 1985 they have fought to restore the former level of their wages in real terms, but statistics suggest that in 1990 these were still lower than in 1980.

Many workers made only the official minimum wage, which fluctuated according to inflation, the exchange rate, and government policy. In the 1980s, it was under the equivalent of US$100 per month. As of June 1990, it stood at US$76, although it must be remembered that the cost of living in Uruguay was on the whole much lower than in the United States. Overall, the economic position of urban blue-collar workers was far superior to, and much more stable than, that of workers in the informal sector, which was variously defined to include domestic service, street vending (particularly of contraband goods from Brazil), homebased piecework, sewing, laundering, recycling, begging, and even prostitution and crime.

In 1964 Uruguay's labor unions came together to form a single federation known as the National Convention of Workers (Convención Nacional de Trabajadores--CNT). In 1973 the military declared the CNT illegal; labor union activity virtually ceased during the following decade. In 1983, however, a new labor federation, known as the Interunion Workers' Assembly (or Plenum) (Plenario Intersindical de Trabajadores--PIT), was formed. The PIT later changed its name to PIT-CNT to emphasize its historical links to the pre-1973 labor movement.

About 15 percent of the economically active population was employed as domestic servants, most of them women. In terms of status and income, their class position was between that of bluecollar workers and the poor.


Uruguay - The Urban Poor


The urban poor were concentrated among the unemployed, those working in the informal sector of the economy, unskilled laborers, and retired persons. Official unemployment figures for Montevideo fluctuated from around 8 percent to 15 percent in the 1980s. Estimates of the proportion of the labor force in the informal sector were, by definition, hard to find. But the proportion has certainly been rising since the 1960s. At the height of the building boom of the late 1970s and early 1980s, about 6 percent of the labor force was employed in construction, a highly cyclical (and thus unstable) source of jobs. In addition, the real value of state pensions was severely eroded in the 1960s and 1970s, leading to widespread misery among the elderly.

Since 1985 the level of unemployment has remained below 10 percent in Montevideo, and the government has made modest efforts to restore some of the erosion in the real value of pensions. However, the informal sector of the economy has continued to grow.




Uruguay's pattern of income distribution remained the most egalitarian in Latin America, although it apparently worsened under military rule from 1973 to 1985. In 1976 the poorest fifth of Uruguayan households received 4.8 percent of total household income, the top 10 percent of households took in 30.1 percent of total household income, and the top 20 percent of households took in 46.4 percent of income. Although unequal, this pattern was closer to that of the developed world than to the rest of Latin America.

Despite erosion of the minimum wage, the net impact of the recovery of real wages and pensions in the first year after the return to democracy in March 1985 appears to have slightly improved the distribution of incomes. Both in Montevideo and elsewhere in Uruguay, the highest 10 percent of households were reported to take in just under 30 percent of household income in 1986, while the lowest 20 percent of households garnered just under 6 percent of income.

During the first half of the twentieth century, living standards in Uruguay approximated those of the developed world. Since the 1950s, however, economic stagnation and even decline have meant severe falls in real wages. This process became particularly marked starting in 1968, the year in which the government imposed a wage and price freeze and abolished the so-called wage councils, in which government representatives, employers, and unions negotiated salaries. (The councils were revived in 1985.)

Real wages grew particularly fast from 1985 to 1987. However, this was less true in the public sector, where in 1989 they remained below their 1980 level. The Colorado government also allowed the real value of the legal minimum wage to continue to fall.

Although the Colorado government made only cautious attempts to redistribute income to the most needy, the revival of economic growth helped to produce some improvement in various indicators of income distribution. The wage share of national income grew from 30.3 percent to 31.4 percent between 1985 and 1987, while the income share of the self-employed grew from 10 percent to 12.7 percent. According to the household survey of the General Directorate of Statistics and Census, the proportion of families below the poverty line in Montevideo fell from 27 percent in 1984 to 16 percent in 1987.

Reliable data on rural wages were hard to collect. Clearly, they were much lower than in interior towns or Montevideo, but official statistics suggested that they did not fall as far or as fast as wages in the rest of the economy in the 1970s.




By the beginning of the twentieth century, the traditional pattern of patriarchy was breaking down in Uruguay. The relative emancipation of women put Uruguay far ahead of the rest of Latin America in terms of legal rights and social custom. Civil marriage became legally required in 1885, and the influence of the church declined. Divorce on the grounds of cruelty by the husband was legalized in 1907, and in 1912 women were given the right to file for divorce without a specific cause. Married women were allowed to maintain separate bank accounts as early as 1919. Women also were provided with equal access to educational opportunities at all levels early in the twentieth century, and they began to enter the professions in increasing numbers. In 1938 women voted for the first time in national elections. Nevertheless, there was a paternalistic flavor to many of the reforms, which were often seen as protecting women rather than guaranteeing their inalienable rights.

One factor that made it easier for middle-class women to go out of the home to work was the widespread availability of domestic servants willing to undertake cooking, cleaning, and taking care of children for comparatively low wages. By the 1960s, one-quarter of all adult women worked. This proportion continued to rise steadily, reaching over 45 percent in Montevideo by 1985. In 1975 one-fifth of all households were headed by women. Nuclear families made up 61.2 percent of all households, while there were almost as many single-person households (14.6 percent) as traditional extended families (17.6 percent). The average number of persons in each household was 3.4.

The small size of Uruguayan families by Latin American standards was related to the widespread practice of birth control and the middle-class aspiration to provide the best possible education for children. Families tended to be larger in rural areas, where the birth rate was much higher. In rural areas, however, there was an imbalance in the sex ratio because women had a much higher propensity to migrate to the towns in search of work, particularly as domestic servants. Poor families in rural areas were often unstable; common-law marriage and illegitimacy were widespread. Although abortion was illegal, there was no legal distinction between children born in and out of wedlock.

In rural areas, the maintenance of symbolic kinship ties remained common. When babies were baptized, they often were given a godfather (compadre) chosen from among the members of the local elite. This practice, known as compadrazgo, was intended to provide the children with useful connections in later life. It formed an important link in the pattern of interaction between rural elites and subordinate classes. Reciprocal obligations ranged from help from the godparent in finding employment to the requirement of loyalty in voting on the part of the godchild.

Relations between husbands and wives in Uruguay were relatively equal by Latin American standards. The divorce rate had grown steadily from 1 per 10,000 population in 1915 to 14 per 1,000 in 1985. In 1927 the compulsory civil marriage ceremony was amended so that the bride no longer promised obedience, but both man and woman vowed to treat each other with respect. It was not uncommon for women to keep their surnames after marriage. Often, they simply added the husband's name to theirs. Children had their father's surname followed by their mother's.

Uruguayan children, and especially girls, had a relatively high degree of freedom compared with their counterparts in many other Latin American countries. Chaperonage was rare. It was expected that women would have careers, and by 1970 almost half the total school population was female.

During the 1960s, the phenomenon known as the "generation gap" began to be acutely felt in Uruguay. Young people rebelled against their parents and adopted permissive life-styles. In many cases, they were drawn into radical politics; in fact, in 1990 youth was still one of the strongest predictors of left-voting in Uruguay.

Family ties remained strong in Uruguay despite the rebelliousness of youth. Children frequently lived in the parental home well into their thirties, in some cases even after marriage. The usual reason for staying at home was economic necessity; many couples found affordable housing hard to come by.

Despite the relative freedom of women, attitudes toward gender roles and sexuality remained traditionally stereotypical. The pattern of machismo was less pronounced than in much of Latin America, but males were expected to show "masculine" traits; "feminine" characteristics were seen as inferior. At social gatherings, women tended to congregate with other women, and men with men.

Upper-middle-class Uruguayans usually tried to escape Montevideo for the beach resorts on weekends and during the long December to January summer holidays. Family gatherings typically centered on outdoor barbecues (asados), in which large quantities of meat were consumed. Another typical custom, symbolic of family and friendship ties, was the sharing of yerba maté, a form of green tea. A hollowed-out gourd (the maté) or sometimes a china cup is packed almost full with the green tea. A metal straw is then inserted into the tea, and boiling water is poured on top. The maté is then passed around in a circle, each person adding a little more hot water. This custom was particularly significant under the military regime of 1973 to 1985, when citizens were often afraid to congregate in public squares for fear their gossip might be seen as political. An innocent maté ceremony could hardly arouse suspicions.

As in other countries, the advent of television has reduced movie and theater attendance precipitously, causing more leisure hours to be spent in the home. Uruguayans remained enthusiastic in their participation in competitive sports, however. Amateur soccer continued to thrive among the middle and lower classes, whereas the upper-middle classes preferred tennis, golf, and sailing. For the elite, membership in a country club was an important focus of leisure activity and a symbol of social status.




Uruguay has been described as South America's "first welfare state" as a result of its pioneering efforts in the fields of public education, health care, and social security. The steady rise in public employment, often by the creation of jobs that fulfilled no particular function, served to keep the unemployment level down, particularly in election years. However, the stagnation of the economy starting in the 1950s put increasing strains on this system. In particular, declining tax revenues and increased spending produced large government deficits and accelerating rates of inflation. Foreign advisers began to recommend severe budget cuts as the only solution to the chronic fiscal crisis.

During the first half of the twentieth century, Uruguay, along with Argentina, led Latin America in its advanced standards of medical care. Even in 1990, the University of the Republic's medical school had a high international reputation and continued to attract students from other countries in South America. Starting with the progressive reforms of the early part of the twentieth century, the state has taken a leading role in the provision of health care, particularly for the lower classes. Private medicine remained the preferred option of the middle and upper classes, however. Under military rule from 1973 to 1985, standards of care in public hospitals and clinics were adversely affected by budget restrictions.

By the 1970s, Uruguay's welfare state had declined sharply in the standards of protection that it afforded to the mass of the population. The government bureaucracy, however, continued to swell. Total health care spending in 1984 represented 8.1 percent of GDP, a proportion similar to that of the developed world. In the same year, about 7.5 percent of household spending went to health care, but 400,000 Uruguayans were without state or private health care coverage.

Under the civilian administration inaugurated in 1985, progress was made in redirecting the budget away from spending on the military and toward social welfare. Defense spending fell from 13.0 percent of government outlays in 1984 to 11.8 percent in 1986. Over the same period, social security decreased from 31.5 percent to 27.6 percent, but education grew from 7.4 percent to 10.1 percent and sanitation from 4.3 percent to 6.7 percent of public expenditure.

In 1987 Montevideo had over sixty public health facilities, including seven major public hospitals. About half the interior departments had their own hospital; the rest had only a centro auxiliar (auxiliary center). Altogether, Uruguay's public health system had about 9,505 hospital rooms available.

In 1985 the number of inhabitants per physician was 466, about the same rate as in the developed world. However, the distribution of health care services was highly skewed. Outside Montevideo the ratio was a much less favorable 1,234 citizens per physician; by contrast, there were only 262 inhabitants of Montevideo for every doctor.

Infant Mortality and Life Expectancy

The infant mortality rate was 48.6 per 1,000 live births in 1975. In the first half of the 1980s, it fell to 37.6 per 1,000-- low by Latin American standards but still almost twice the rate of Chile and Costa Rica. In the second half of the decade, however, infant mortality began to decline to levels close to those of the latter two countries: in 1986 it was 27.7; in 1987, 23.8; in 1988, 20.3; and in 1990, 22. The increasing share of government spending devoted to infant health care and nutrition programs appeared to have been one reason for this sharp improvement.

The average life expectancy at birth in 1990 was seventy years for men and seventy-six years for women, only slightly behind Chile, Costa Rica, and Argentina. The mortality rate remained just below 10 per 1,000 population in the 1980s. The leading causes of death in 1985 included circulatory disease (40.2 percent), tumors (22.6 percent), trauma (4.1 percent), respiratory disorders and infections (3.8 percent), perinatal complications (2.4 percent), infectious diseases and parasites (2.4 percent), suicide (1.0 percent), and cirrhosis of the liver (0.9 percent).

In the late 1980s, Uruguay did not remain exempt from the worldwide epidemics of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) and drug addiction among youth. Although homosexuals have been able to lead a relatively safe existence in Montevideo without fear of official persecution since the return of democracy in 1985, AIDS has become a greater concern. According to the Ministry of Public Health, by the end of June 1990 there had been 129 cases of AIDS in Uruguay since 1983, when it was first detected. Of those cases, 100 were from Montevideo and 29 from the rest of the country. Fifty-nine of the cases were contracted inside Uruguay, whereas seventy of the victims caught the virus outside the country. One hundred and seventeen of the cases were men; twelve were women. An additional 627 individuals were found to be carrying the virus, without having yet shown symptoms of the disease. In the 1983-89 period, sixty-five people were known to have died of complications resulting from the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

In 1989 Uruguay still enjoyed the image of a "clean" country insofar as drugs were concerned. In response to some significant negative signs, however, the government formed the National Board for the Control of Drug Trafficking and Narcotics Abuse in January 1988. The board included representatives from the office of the president and the ministries of public health, education and culture, and interior. It found that drug addiction grew continuously in Uruguay in 1988. The number of adult drug addicts had more than doubled from 321 in 1983 to 697 in 1987; the number of children addicted to drugs had quintupled from 62 in 1983 to 292 in 1987. According to the Ministry of Public Health, the drug consumer was predominantly single, with good family relations, and the majority had attended secondary school; half of the total were employed. The most commonly abused drug was marijuana, followed by amphetamines and industrial-use inhalants; cocaine and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) were also included on the list, but to a lesser extent.

State and Private Health Care

In 1971 about 82 percent of hospital beds were provided in establishments run by the Ministry of Public Health. The same public hospitals accounted for 69.5 percent of hospitalizations. About 61 percent of visits to general practitioners were covered by private health plans known as mutuales (mutuals). In the same year, 58.9 percent of the inhabitants of Montevideo were covered by these private associations. About 11.8 percent had the official health card of the Ministry of Public Health, entitling them to free health care. A further 6.8 percent had other health plans, usually through their place of work. This left 5.8 percent with multiple forms of coverage and 16.6 percent with no coverage at all.

In 1980 there were 9,089 public hospital beds, about threefifths in the capital and the remainder in the rest of the country. During the period of military rule from 1973 to 1985, the government had shifted health care spending toward military hospitals, which were, however, open only to relatives of the members of the armed forces. After 1985 the government made a sustained effort to increase health care coverage. From 1985 to 1988, public health cardholders increased from 566,000 to 692,000 in the interior but decreased slightly from 323,000 to 310,000 in Montevideo.

At the end of 1984, there were 918,000 members of private health plans in Montevideo and 325,000 in the rest of the country. By 1988 the numbers had risen to 963,000 and 488,000, respectively. Overall, this represented a 17 percent increase in the membership of the mutuales from 1984 to 1988. As with the state health provision, the greatest increase in coverage occurred in the interior, where it was most needed.

A concurrent effort was made to increase the proportion of infants receiving inoculations. In 1985 there were 503 cases of whooping cough, and in 1986 there were 1,117; but in the first nine months of 1988, there were only 21. Over the same period, the number of cases of measles first rose from 160 in 1985 to 1,190 in 1987 but then fell sharply to just 73 in the first nine months of 1988. The proportion of infants immunized before age one rose from 61 to 79 percent in 1985 to 80 to 88 percent in 1987, depending on the particular vaccination.

Government investment in health care equipment rose dramatically after the return to democracy, climbing from US$564,000 in 1985 to US$2.2 million in 1987. Over the same period, expenditures on construction of health care facilities rose from US$772,000 to US$2.7 million. Total spending by the Ministry of Public Health rose 34 percent in real terms, while spending on medications doubled. Grandiose plans for new hospitals to be financed by foreign development loans were announced in 1989, but their realization remained a distant prospect.

Social Security Pensions

Uruguay pioneered social security pension programs, starting as early as 1896 with a fund for teachers. The plans were subsequently extended piecemeal to different sectors of the labor force and soon grew extremely complex and bureaucratic. A system of family allowances (based on the number of dependent children) was introduced in 1943 and consolidated in 1950. Unfortunately, the provision of welfare benefits became politicized as politicians from rival parties would intercede on behalf of voters to speed up the endless delays.

Ultimately, the system of benefits began to be abused by politicians in order to "buy" votes. The most notorious example was the case of the seamstresses: far more pensions were handed out to alleged garment workers than there were garment workers. Criticism of the various programs became vociferous by the 1960s, and the programs were reorganized in the single Social Welfare Bank under the 1967 constitution. During the military regime of 1973-85, further efforts at rationalization were undertaken, including the consolidation of most funds under the General Directorate of Social Security (Dirección General de Seguridad Social--DGSS). The number of claimants continued to rise rapidly, however, reaching 629,077 in July 1984.

Social security transfers were not all paid out in the form of pensions, although in 1983 these accounted for 78.3 percent of total outlays. Other categories included family allowances for households with young children (6.4 percent in 1983) and benefits for sickness (4.8 percent) and for unemployment (3.0 percent). However, these had suffered similar declines. In 1983 the total outlays of the DGSS were financed as follows: employers' contributions, 28.1 percent; workers' contributions, 28.1 percent; and state contributions, 43.8 percent.

Uruguay's population has continued to age since 1963, as the censuses of 1963, 1975, and 1985 show. In 1985 the average age of the population was 30.3 years. The percentage of the population over age sixty rose from 11.6 in 1963, to 14.3 in 1975, and to 15.7 in 1985. Those over age sixty-five accounted for 7.6 percent, 9.8 percent, and 11.1 percent, respectively, in the same years. This long-term aging trend, similar to that of developed countries, worried social planners because of the projected strain on social security programs. It was compounded by the high life expectancy of Uruguayans after retirement: sixteen years for men and twenty years for women.

The population's aging trend also made the impact of the decline in the real value of pensions even more serious because it affected an increasingly large share of the population. However, with the return to democracy in 1985, efforts were made by the Colorado administration of Julio María Sanguinetti Cairolo (1985-90) to restore some of their real value. Although the opposition parties severely criticized the Colorados for not increasing social security payments faster, these at least grew 20 percent from 1984 to 1987 in real terms. The greatest increases were awarded to those receiving the smallest pensions.




Uruguay had the highest literacy rate in Latin America, at 96 percent in 1985. There was no appreciable difference in literacy rates between males and females, but there were discrepancies between urban and rural rates (rural rates being demonstrably lower). Uruguay's system of universal, free, and secular education required a total of nine years of compulsory school attendance, from ages six to fourteen. The proportion of children of primary school age enrolled in school had long been virtually 100 percent. Furthermore, from 1965 to 1985 the proportion of children of secondary school age enrolled in some form of secondary school grew from 44 to 70 percent, also the highest rate in Latin America. The postsecondary education enrollment rate was about 20 percent. Coeducation was the norm, and females and males attended school in near-equal numbers at all levels. As is typical of any country, however, rates of schooling were higher in urban areas than in rural areas.

The quality of education in Uruguay was rated as high. Teaching was a socially respected profession and one that paid relatively well. Most teachers, trained in teachers' training colleges, were deemed well qualified. The main problem confronting the education system was the inadequacy of facilities, instructional materials, and teachers' aides. Rural areas often suffered from woefully insufficient facilities and supplies. Urban schools often were seriously overcrowded and were forced to resort to holding classes in multiple shifts. In addition, dropout and repetition rates, although moderate by Latin American standards, were still considered high.

The Education System

Primary education in Uruguay was free and compulsory; it encompassed six years of instruction. The number of primary schools in 1987 was 2,382, including 240 private schools. There were 16,568 primary school teachers and 354,177 primary school students. This resulted in a pupil-teacher ratio of approximately twenty-one to one in 1987, compared with about thirty to one in 1970. Boys and girls were enrolled in almost equal numbers.

General education in secondary schools encompassed six years of instruction divided into two three-year cycles. The first, or basic, cycle was compulsory; the second cycle was geared to university preparation. In addition to the academic track, public technical education schools provided secondary school education that was technical and vocational in nature. The two systems were parallel in structure, and there was little provision for transfer between the two. All sectors of society traditionally tended to prefer the academic course of study, which was regarded as more prestigious. As a result, academic secondary education had expanded more rapidly than technical education in the second half of the twentieth century. In 1987 there were 276 general secondary schools in Uruguay, including 118 private schools. However, the public high schools were much larger, so that in 1987 they actually contained 145,083 of the country's 175,710 secondary school students enrolled in both day classes and night classes. In addition, ninety-four technical education schools had a total enrollment of 52,766 students in 1987. Male and female enrollment at the secondary level was roughly equal, but females slightly outnumbered males overall (constituting, for example, 53 percent of the secondary school student body in 1982). It appeared that females were in the majority in the basic cycle but were very slightly outnumbered by males in the university preparatory cycle.

Uruguay had only one public university, the University of the Republic (also known as the University of Montevideo), founded in 1849, and only one private university, the Catholic University of Uruguay, established in 1984 and also in Montevideo. Education at the University of the Republic was free and, in general, open to all those possessing a bachillerato, or certificate awarded for completion of both cycles of general secondary education. Despite the free tuition, however, access to a university education tended to be limited to children of middleand upper-income families because the need to supplement the family income by working, coupled with the expense of books and other fees, placed a university education out of the reach of many. Moreover, the fact that the only public university was in Montevideo severely limited the ability of those in the interior to attend university unless their families were relatively well off financially. In 1988 about 69 percent of university students were from Montevideo.

The number of university students continued to grow rapidly, from nearly 22,000 in 1970 to over 61,000 in 1988. Of that total, women accounted for about 58 percent. Most courses of study were intended to last from four to six years, but the average time spent at university by a successful student was usually considerably longer. As in the rest of Latin America, maintaining the status of student had various advantages, such as reduced fares on buses and subsidized canteens. This was one reason that the student population was so large yet the number of graduates relatively low. In 1986 only 3,654 students (2,188 women and 1,455 men) graduated from university, whereas 16,878 entered that year. Uruguayans exhibited a strong preference for the disciplines and professions they deemed prestigious, such as law, social science, engineering, medicine, economics, and administration.

Observers continued to note the discrepancy between university training and job opportunities, particularly in the prestigious fields. This gap contributed to the substantial level of emigration of the best-educated young Uruguayan professionals.

Historical Origins and Evolution of Education

Uruguay pioneered universal, free, and compulsory primary education in the Americas under the influence of José Pedro Varela (president, 1875-76), whose writings convinced the government to pass the 1877 Law of Common Education. The model adopted for public schools was taken from the French system, and a centralized, nationwide system was established. A rigid separation into three branches of education grew up--primary, secondary, and university. Teacher training for grade school teachers was connected to the primary school system. The National Institute of Technical Education (Instituto Nacional de Educación Técnica--INET) grew up as an extension of the secondary school system. By the late 1950s, all three branches of the education system had established administrative autonomy, including complete control over their budgets. The Organic University Law of 1958 provided that the governing bodies of the University of the Republic would be elected by the members of the faculty, alumni, and students.

By the late 1960s, Uruguayan secondary schools and the various faculties of the University of the Republic had become extremely politicized. Student sit-ins, demonstrations, and even riots were commonplace. Classes and examinations were frequently disrupted. After 1973 the authorities vowed to put an end to this situation, and political purges in the education system became widespread. Some teachers were able to find work in private schools, but others either left the profession or emigrated. Entire branches of the university, such as the Institute of Social Sciences, were closed for a time. Academic standards suffered across the board as some of the best teachers and professors were fired and replaced by people with only mediocre qualifications.

Educational Reforms under Military Rule, 1973-85

In 1973, the year in which Uruguay descended into authoritarian rule, major changes were decreed in the education system. The National Council for Education (Consejo Nacional de Educación--Conae) was set up to oversee all three branches of education under the supervision of the executive branch of government. At the same time, the compulsory length of schooling was raised from six to nine years. The secondary curriculum was completely reorganized, as was the pattern of teacher training. Finally, the INET saw its status and budget upgraded. However, overall spending on education fell from 12.2 percent of the central government budget in 1974 to 7.3 percent in 1982.

Enrollments in primary education (both state and private) fell 6 percent from 1968 to 1981. From 1968 to 1982, secondary school enrollments grew 6 percent; however, about half the secondary school students in Montevideo (and 70 percent in the interior) dropped out before receiving any certification. Over the same period, there was a boom in technical schools; enrollments increased 66 percent in the interior and 27 percent in Montevideo. The major cause of this increase was the new ciclo básico (basic cycle), which added three years of compulsory secondary education to the six years of compulsory primary schooling. However, the dropout rate remained about 50 percent. Enrollments in the University of the Republic doubled from 1968 to 1982, but the proportion of students graduating fell to just 8 percent.

In 1984, as something of a parting shot, Uruguay's military government formally granted university status to a Catholic college that had been expanding over the previous decade. This ended the University of the Republic's monopoly, which had lasted since its foundation in 1849. The new Catholic University of Uruguay remained extremely small, however, compared with its rival.

Education under the Colorados, 1985-88

Shortly after entering office in March 1985, Sanguinetti passed a decree aimed at restoring greater autonomy to the education system. Conae was replaced by the National Administration of Public Education, which oversaw three decentralized councils--one for primary, one for secondary, and one for technical education. Full autonomy was restored to the University of the Republic. Whereas total spending on education represented 7.4 percent of the national budget in 1984, by 1987 this had risen to 10.9 percent, equivalent to US$175 million.

From 1985 to 1988, the government agreed to rehire all teachers and professors who had lost their jobs during the political purges after 1973 (3,241 accepted the offer of returning to their old jobs, but 1,520 took retirement instead). In many cases, the rehiring of former teachers led to unnecessary numbers of staff, as the government undertook not to fire any of the replacement teachers that had been taken on under the military, although in some cases they lacked qualifications.

Clashes between the education authorities and the government were common after 1985, given the existence of a relatively conservative government and far more liberal teachers. Nevertheless, an element of balance between centralized control and decentralized initiative was successfully restored. Relations between the government and the University of the Republic were surprisingly smooth, and the latter's share of the national budget grew from 2.5 percent in 1984 to 4.3 percent (US$59 million) in 1988.

During the period of military rule, another phenomenon began to emerge--the establishment of private research institutes. These relied entirely on funds from foreign development foundations, such as the Inter-American Foundation (a United States agency), the International Development Agency (a Canadian agency), and various West European equivalents. The new institutes were comparatively small, usually only hiring a dozen or so full-time staff, but they constituted an important haven for academics who had lost their jobs for political reasons. Without these private centers, even more academics would have been forced into exile.

Among the new private research centers was the Latin American Center of Human Economy (Centro Latinoamericano de Economía Humana--CLAEH). By far the largest of the centers, the CLAEH was closely linked to the Christian Democrats. Apart from carrying out a broad range of sociological and economic research, it also conducted courses for university-level students and published what was for a time Uruguay's only social science journal. Somewhat more to the left was the Economic Research Center (Centro de Investigaciones Económicas--CINVE), which specialized in research on the economy, particularly that of the rural sector and the impact of the economic liberalization pursued under the military. Two other institutes with a more sociological agenda of research were the Center of Information and Studies of Uruguay (Centro de Informaciones y Estudios del Uruguay--CIESU) and the Interdisciplinary Center of Development Studies, Uruguay (Centro Interdisciplinario de Estudios del Desarrollo, Uruguay--CIEDUR).

With the return to democracy in 1985, many of these centers found it hard to continue to win foreign grants to undertake their research, and most of their personnel attempted to return to their former jobs in higher education. Where possible, however, the teachers tried to retain both positions.


Uruguay - RELIGION


Roman Catholicism was the dominant religion in Uruguay, but Uruguay had long been a secular society. In 1981 the nation was divided into 221 parishes and had 204 diocesan priests. In addition, there were 374 monks and 1,580 nuns. About threequarters of all babies were baptized in the church. In the 1963 census, 62 percent of Uruguayans had declared themselves Catholics. However, according to data compiled by the Uruguayan Bishops Conference in 1978, only 105,248 citizens regularly attended mass. This figure represented less than 4 percent of the population. Attendance at mass was, however, slightly higher in the interior of the country and substantially higher among women. There was also evidence that religious observance was higher among the upper classes than among the middle and lower strata of society. In the late 1980s, an estimated 66 percent of Uruguayans were professed Roman Catholics, but less than half of the adult population attended church regularly.

Uruguay's secularization began with the relatively minor role of the church in the colonial era, compared with other parts of the Spanish Empire. The small numbers of Uruguay's Indians, and their fierce resistance to proselytization, reduced the influence of the ecclesiastical authorities. After independence, anticlerical ideas spread to Uruguay, particularly from France, further eroding the influence of the church. In 1837 civil marriage was recognized, and in 1861 the state took over public cemeteries. In 1907 divorce was legalized, and in 1909 all religious instruction was banned from state schools. Under the influence of the radical Colorado reformer José Batlle y Ordóñez (1903-07, 1911-15), complete separation of church and state was introduced with the new constitution of 1917. Batlle y Ordóñez went as far as to have religious holidays legally renamed. Even as of 1990, Uruguayans referred to Holy Week as "Tourism Week."

Nevertheless, the separation of church and state ended religious conflict in Uruguay, and since that time Catholic schools have been allowed to flourish. A Catholic party, the Civic Union of Uruguay (Unión Cívica del Uruguay--UCU), was founded in 1912 but never won more than a low percentage of the national vote. By the 1960s, the progressive trend in the worldwide church was strongly felt in Uruguay under the influence of Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI. Particularly influential was the 1968 Latin American Bishops Conference in Medellín, Colombia, at which the concept of "structural sin" was put forward. By this doctrine, evil was seen as existing not only in the actions of individuals but also in the unequal organization of entire societies. The second Latin American Bishops Conference, held in Mexico in 1979, also had an important dynamizing and radicalizing impact in Uruguay. This time, the bishops called for a "preferential option for the poor." Sections of the Uruguayan church in fact became quite radical: when members of the National Liberation Movement-Tupamaros (Movimiento de Liberación NacionalTupamaros --MLN-T) were given amnesty in 1985, for a time they were housed in a Montevideo monastery while they readjusted to normal life.

One symptom of the growing progressive trend in the Uruguayan Catholic movement was the decision of the UCU to adopt the name Christian Democratic Party (Partido Demócrata Cristiano--PDC) in 1962. The new-found social conscience was strongly influenced by French Catholic philosophers--first Jacques Maritain and later Father Lebret. During the 1960s, the PDC moved further and further left, eventually espousing a form of "communitarian socialism" under its brilliant young leader, Juan Pablo Terra. In 1971 the PDC allied with the Communist Party of Uruguay and the Socialist Party of Uruguay to form the so-called Broad Front alliance. That caused conservative Catholics to form the Civic Union (Unión Cívica--UC) to offer religious voters a nonradical alternative, but the UC scarcely achieved any influence.

During the twentieth century, Protestant sects began to grow in importance. Estimates put the Protestant proportion of the population at 2 percent or a little higher in the late 1980s. From 1960 to 1985, the number of Protestants is estimated to have increased by 60 percent. Over the same period, the number of Protestants grew 500 percent or more in many Latin American countries. Uruguay was thus considered a "disappointment" by evangelical crusaders.

Jews constituted a small proportion of the population (about 2 percent), with most living in Montevideo. The size of the Jewish community had dwindled since 1970, primarily because of emigration.


CITATION: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.

Please note: This text comes from the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.

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