History of Uruguay

Mother Earth Travel > Country Index > Uruguay > Map Economy History

THE STRUGGLE FOR SURVIVAL, 1852-1875

Intervention by Neighboring Countries

After Rosas went into exile in Britain in 1852, internal strife in Argentina continued until 1861, when the country was finally unified. Uruguay was affected because each Uruguayan faction expressed solidarity with various contenders in Argentina or was, in turn, supported by them.

Brazil's intervention in Uruguay was intensified both because of Argentina's temporary weakness and because of Brazil's desire to expand its frontiers to the Río de la Plata. Brazil intervened militarily in Uruguay as often as it deemed necessary, in accordance with the 1851 treaties. In 1865 the Triple Alliance-- formed by the emperor of Brazil, the president of Argentina, and General Venancio Flores (1854-55, 1865-66), the Uruguayan head of government whom they both had helped to gain power--declared war on Paraguay. Francisco Solano López, Paraguay's megalomaniac dictator, had been verbally rattling his saber against Argentina and Brazil. The conflict lasted five years (1865-70) and ended with the invasion of Paraguay and its defeat by the armies of the three countries. Montevideo, which was used as a supply station by the Brazilian navy, experienced a period of prosperity and relative calm during the war.

After the war with Paraguay, the balance of power was restored between Argentina and Brazil, the guarantors of Uruguayan independence. Thus, Uruguay was able to internalize its political struggles, an indispensable condition for consolidation of its independence.

Evolution of the Economy and Society

After the Great War, immigration increased, primarily from Spain and Italy. Brazilians and Britons also flocked to Uruguay to snap up hundreds of estancias (ranches). The proportion of the immigrant population in Uruguay rose from 48 percent in 1860 to 68 percent in 1868. Many were Basques of Spanish or French nationality. In the 1870s, another 100,000 Europeans settled in Uruguay. By 1879 the total population of the country was over 438,000. Montevideo, where approximately one-fourth of the population lived, expanded and improved its services. Gas services were initiated in 1853, the first bank in 1857, sewage works in 1860, a telegraph in 1866, railroads to the interior in 1869, and running water in 1871. The creation in 1870 of the typographers' union, the first permanent workers' organization, was soon followed by the establishment of other unions. Montevideo remained mainly a commercial center. Thanks to its natural harbor, it was able to serve as a trade center for goods moving to and from Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. The cities of Paysandú and Salto, on the Río Uruguay, complemented this role.

After the Great War, livestock raising recovered and prospered. Improvements in breeding techniques and fencing were introduced, and between 1860 and 1868 sheep breeding, stimulated by European demand, expanded from 3 million head to 17 million head. A group of modernizing hacendados (landowners), a large number of whom were foreigners, was responsible for this change. In 1871 they established the Rural Association (Asociación Rural) to improve livestock-raising techniques. The association developed a reputation for defending rural traditions and exerting considerable influence on policy makers.

Meat-salting enterprises were the main stimulus for the industrialization of livestock products. In 1865 the Liebig Meat Extract Company of London opened a meat-extract factory at Fray Bentos on the Río Uruguay to supply the European armies, thus initiating diversification in the sector. This type of meat processing, however, was dependent on cheap cattle. As the price of cattle increased, the meat-extract industry declined, along with the saladeros, which prepared salted and sun-dried meat. Cuba and Brazil were the main purchasers of salted meat; Europe, of meat extract; and the United States and Europe, of leather and wool.

Caudillos and Political Stability

Until 1865 the prevailing political idea was fusion (fusión), meaning unity among Uruguayans, the putting aside of the colors and banners that divided them in the past. This idea inspired the administrations of Juan Francisco Giró (1852-53), Gabriel Pereira (1856-60), and Bernardo Berro (1860-64). Hatred and rivalry flared up, however, preventing harmony. Giró was forced to resign. Pereira suppressed almost six coup attempts, and Berro, the last Blanco president until 1958, confronted a revolution led by Colorado Venancio Flores, who took power with the support of Brazil and Buenos Aires. However, General Flores, who had been commanding the armed forces instead of governing the country since that March, was assassinated in Montevideo in 1868, on the same day that Berro was assassinated.

During the period preceding the Great War, the long conflict between church and state also began. It involved Freemasons in government circles and resulted in the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1859 (they were allowed to return in 1865) and the secularization of cemeteries in 1861. Until then the church had almost exclusive control over the cemeteries.

The constitutional government of General Lorenzo Batlle y Grau (1868-72) was forced to suppress an insurrection led by the National Party. After two years of struggle, a peace agreement was signed in 1872 that gave the Blancos a share in the emoluments and functions of government, through control of four of the country's departments. This establishment of the policy of coparticipation (coparticipación) represented the search for a new formula of compromise, based on the coexistence of the party in power and the party in opposition.

A permanent break in the cycle of near anarchy and repression was anticipated when José Ellauri (1872-75) was elected president. His administration was characterized by the predominance of university men over caudillos. A number of them, known as the "Girondists of 73" were sent to the General Assembly. Unfortunately, however, the ensuing economic crisis and the weakness of civil power paved the way for a period of militarism.

SOURCE: Country Studies/Area Handbook by the US Library of Congress

Uruguay History Contents
 

Mother Earth Travel > Country Index > Uruguay > Map Economy History