Nation in E central South America, with the Atlantic Ocean to the E, Brazil to the N, and Argentina to the S and W. Its colonial name, Band a Oriental, "eastern shore," referred to the alluvial plain in the SE on the banks of the Rio de la Plata.
Before Europeans arrived the region was inhabited by the Charrúa Indians, who were eventually absorbed after strong resistance. The first explorer was Amerigo Vespucci, in Portuguese service, who discovered the Rio de la Plata in 1502. Following him in the same area came Juan Diaz de Solís of Spain in 1516 and Sebastian Cabot, in Spanish service, in 1526. Spain made its first settlement at Soriano in 1624; and Portugal founded Colonia in 1680, but this was short-lived. The Portuguese also built a fort on the site of present Montevideo in 1717, but the Spanish drove them out in 1724, and from then until independence Spain controlled the region. Uruguay became part of the viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata in 1776.
The move for independence that began in 1810 under the leadership of Jose Gervasio Artigas was part of the Argentinian revolt. The revolt failed at first, Spanish rule was restored, and in 1820 Brazil occupied Montevideo and annexed it. In 1825 a group of patriots called the Thirty Three Immortals, led by Juan Antonio Lavalleja, declared Uruguay independent.
Argentina and Brazil both claimed sovereignty over the country, but after Brazil was defeated at the Battle of Ituzaingo by the other two nations, a treaty in 1828 recognized Uruguay's independence.
Fructuoso Rivera became the first president and later revolted against his successor, Manuel Oribe, in 1836. Out of this struggle rose two permanent factions: Rivera's Colorados, Reds, and Oribe's Blancos, Whites. Civil War followed, and Montevideo was besieged from 1843 to 1851 before Oribe was defeated. Demand ing compensation for civil-war damages, Brazil invaded Uruguay in 1864, aided by the Colorados. But when the dictator of Paraguay, Francisco Solano Lopez, came to the assistance of the Blancos, Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay united against him and defeated him in 1870 in the War of the Triple Alliance.
An era of frequent revolutions followed until Batlle y Ordoñez became president in 1903. His regime was marked by stability and social legislation.
In 1951 Uruguay adopted an executive council system in place of the presidency. This plan did not work well, and by 1958 the Colorados, after having been in power for 93 years, were overpowered by the Blancos.
The 1960s were marked by economic decline and the rise of terrorist groups, and by 1965 the nation was bankrupt. The following year the presidency was restored, and the Colorado cand idate was elected. In February 1973 President Juan Maria Bordaberry agreed to let the military control the government, and they have continued to do so since then. Meanwhile, the urban guerrilla Tupamaros were brought under control. In 1977 the military rulers promised free elections in 1981 but in 1980 cancelled the plans. The government has been charged with violating human rights, especially those of political prisoners. In 1985, Julio María Sanguinetti of the centrist Colorado Party became president, restoring civilian government but also granting amnesty in 1986 to former leaders accused of human-rights violations. Luis Alberto Lacalle Herrera of the conservative National (Blanco Party became president in 1990. Sanguinetti was returned to the presidency in 1994, and was succeeded in 1999 by Jorge Batlle Ibañez, also of the Colorado Party. In the 1990s Uruguay's economy was hurt by economic crises in Brazil and Argentina, its principal trade partners, resulting in recession that became particularly severe in 2002. In 2003 Batlle Ibañez announced that the government would compensate families of victims of the 1976-85 military dictatorship and of the guerrilla groups that opposed it. In 2004 Tabare Vazquez, the former mayor of Montevideo, won the presidency, becoming the first leftist to be elected president in Uruguay.
Montevideo is the capital and largest city; others include Salto, Paysand ú, and Las Piedras.