Uruguay is a mid-performing democracy, lying on the cusp of high performance. Other than a relatively brief period of military dictatorship between 1973 and 1985, the country boasts the longest period of democratic history in South America. Uruguay went through a severe economic crisis in the late 1990s and early 2000s that resulted in structural reforms – reorganization of the banking system, improvement of financial regulation and accountability, and restructuring of debt. As a result, Uruguay is home to one of the strongest economies in the region. Along with Chile, Uruguay has some of the strongest performing GSoDI democracy indicators in South America. Yet, while most attributes and sub-attributes have remained stable over the past five years, it has experienced significant declines in Predictable Enforcement, Civil Liberties, Social Group Equality, Freedom of Expression and Media Integrity.
Uruguay is a relatively cohesive State with no religious, regional or ethnic conflicts. The country houses America’s largest middle class, with over 60 per cent of the population living in this income bracket. The multiparty system is stable with two ideological camps. One is a center-right coalition comprising five parties, including the two most traditional parties in the country (Partido Nacional and Partido Colorado), established nearly 200 years ago in the context of the post-Independence struggles in the River Plate. The other is a center-left coalition called Frente Amplio, the unified movement established in 1971 that comprises several center-left and left wing parties, such as Movimiento de Participación Popular, the Partido Comunista and the Partido Socialista.
In the past few years, the country has faced a sharp increase in its homicide rate, likely due to an increase in drug trafficking activity coming from Brazilian and Colombian groups. The increase in international drug activity in the country has led to increased conflict over turf. These circumstances, coupled with changes that made the criminal code more lenient in 2017 and the weak State presence in certain poorer parts of Montevideo, have also empowered local drug trafficking gangs. The increased violence has led to increasing urban fragmentation in Montevideo, as violence appears to be concentrated in certain areas of the city that house over 60 per cent of the country’s population and witness over half of its homicides.
As a response to the higher crime and homicide rates, the government passed the controversial Ley de Urgente Consideración (LUC) in 2020. It increased the power of the police, introduced harsher sentencing, and outlawed certain protests. The Law also proposed the creation of a Secretariat of State Strategic Intelligence, which was met with harsh criticism from some quarters, some of it rooted in the country’s experience during the dictatorship. A host of domestic and international experts have denounced the law, but a 2022 referendum saw its most controversial provisions stand (by a slim margin). Since then, international human rights organizations like Amnesty International have denounced the deteriorating conditions in the country’s penitentiary system, pointing to the increase in incarceration rates that has placed Uruguay at the top of the incarceration per capita ranking in South America. The government has explained that it has a mandate to address insecurity and that these were the issues upon which it campaigned.
It will be important to watch the implementation of the Ley de Urgente Consideración om the years ahead, particularly because it may impact Civil Liberties. Other issues include the creation of the Secretariat of State Strategic Intelligence, which may affect Checks on Government.
Stay tuned for updates for Uruguay in the future
You can also explore other countries' monthly updates.