Map of Uruguay

Map of Uruguay
Map of Uruguay

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


While Uruguay is considered to have a fairly good economy, globalization has devastated many people in the country. People that were poor previously, but had a quality of life and could take care of their families are now living below the poverty line. An example of this is the town of Bella Union. Bella union was an agricultural area but the creation of Mercosur which allows free trade between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, Bella Union products were unable to compete with cheaper imports and thousands of people lost their livelihoods, left Uruguay, and fell into poverty. It is undeniable that globalization has increased the availability of certain products and brought wealth to some, but it is also robbing citizens of their traditional livelihoods and eliminating other options for those mislaid.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Twenty years ago Uruguay had a comparatively equal distribution of wealth and one of the lowest poverty rates in Latin America. However, this year the poverty rate was at 18.6% (down about 3% from last year) about 47% of the children under the age of six in Uruguay live in poor households with insufficient food, water, and other necessities. The majority of those living in poverty live in Montevideo or other smaller cities and towns. Children coming home from school hop on busses and present notes to passengers begging for money. 


Uruguay is a highly educated country with a high literacy rate and a large group of middle and upper class professionals. Education in Uruguay is free, from primary school up to the University and is compulsory for a child from the age of six to fourteen. The university of the Republic is a public and free university in Montevideo. It is one of two universities in Uruguay, the other being the Catholic University of Uruguay, and is the only public one. The only real requirement to attend the University of the Republic is to have completed primary and secondary school. However, the majority of student that attend the university are middle to upper class because of financial pressure on poorer families. A young adult in a poorer family may need to work to supplement the family income, and would have trouble paying for the books and expenses of attending the University. It is also more difficult for people living in rural areas to attend because the only university is in Montevideo and this is an added expense and complication for rural families.
Uruguayans that do attend the university prefer to specialize in professions that they consider prestigious such as law, medicine, administration, and engineering. But there has arisen a discrepancy between the number of jobs the university trains for and the number of jobs available in these prestigious fields. This leads to an emigration of the best educated in search of more jobs and better opportunities- a brain drain so to speak. 

Yerba Mate

Drinking Yerba Mate is not unique to Uruguay, many other Latin American countries drink the tea, but Uruguay has put its own unique spin on the practice. Yerba mate is an herb that is made from a type of holly. The herb is placed in a prepared gourd called a mate, hot water is added to it, it stews, and then is drunk through a straw that filters the leaves called a bombilla.
The Guarani Indians introduced yerba mate to the Europeans and it was very popular with the gauchos who drank and traded the tea. While other countries drink mate mostly at home with family and friends, Uruguayans drink it all the time. They carry a thermos of warm water along with their yerba and mate. Mate is definitely a social activity, but not one that is restricted to any sort of time or place. Traditionally, the drinking and sharing of mate was more structured with the Matero preparing the yerba and then each person drinks until the mate is empty, then refills the mate with water and passes it to the next person. Uruguayans have discarded the structure and now drink mate at the beach, on walks, sporting events, work, and group activities. It has become an informal but no less important aspect of the culture. Sharing mate is symbolic of the ties to friends and family.
During the military regime (1973 to 1985) it was dangerous to gather publicly in groups because of the risk of social gatherings being interpreted as being political. So, people would drink mate when they gathered together in order to avoid suspicion. This could possibly serve as the origin of the present infatuation Uruguayans have with mate.


Poor prison conditions are a problem in many Latin American countries and Uruguay is no exception. The number of Uruguayan detainees has almost quadrupled in the last twenty years resulting in sever over crowding. The overall population density of Uruguay prisons is 137% of the recommended limit. A population density of 120% is considered critical. To make the problem worse the prisons have a recidivism rate of 60%. So 60% of all detainees end up returning to crime, drugs and prison.  Another reason for the intense overcrowding is the increase in drug abuse in Uruguay and harsher sentencing for minor crimes.
            In addition to overcrowding, the prisons are not well maintained and therefore in a state of disrepair. Prison fires are common and result in the death of inmates. Inmates have limited access to water and sometimes resort to drinking water from the toilet. Disease is a problem and prisoners have very limited access to medical care some prisoners cut themselves in order to get medical attention. Prisoners rely on visitors for food in order to get the minimum daily calories. 65% of the detainees are still awaiting their trial but they are held together with convicted prisoners and violent prisoners are imprisoned with non-violent prisoners. This has led to a good deal of prisoner on prisoner violence.
            Recently more money has been put into the prison system in order to correct overcrowding, drug dealing, and improve rehabilitation. The renovating of the prison system is essential since the current system just produces citizens who are more likely to commit crimes and turn to drugs than before they were imprisoned. 


The celebration of Carnaval in Uruguay is the longest in the world. The Uruguayan Carnival is often overshadowed by the celebration in Brazil, but it has a unique flavor that stems from Uruguay culture and history.   
Carnival lasts for about forty day from January to March every year. Uruguayans do not take that entire time off to celebrate, but it is during that period that special performances and parades are performed and awards are given for the best acts. One of the prominent elements of Uruguay’s Carnaval is the Desfile de las llamadas (Parade of the Calls). The llamadas are drum parades and it’s called llamadas because the different parade troupes would “call” to each other with their drums. The llamadas consist of drummers, dancers and special dancing characters such as gramillero (herb man) and mama vieja (old woman). Gramillero and Mama vieja are important figures that represent the old doctor that use herbs to cure and the grandmother matriarch figure. These two characters represent figures from early colonial slavery in Uruguay.

The most prominent theme in the Uruguay Carnaval is that it is a celebration of history and identity, specifically black history and identity. The dancers, music, and characters all represent the slave struggle and resistance, the fight to hold on to their culture and memories. The candombe plays a very prominent part in Carnaval and as I mentioned in a previous post, the candombe was brought to Uruguay by slaves and mixed with European music elements to create a style unique to Uruguay and the slaves brought there.
Carnaval is so obviously a celebration of black identity that there are Negros Lubolos, white men who paint their faces black. In a role reversal the Lubolos sings songs about missing the African homeland, loving their white mistresses, and the hardship of pleasing their white masters. The Lubolos take on the role of an African slave in order to experience Carnaval like a black man. The white and black participants and observers of Carnaval have two different experiences of the event. For the African descendants, Carnaval is a declaration of their identity and a revival of their protest.


Like the majority of Latin American countries, in Uruguay abortion is illegal except in special circumstances, those circumstances being rape, incest, and the health of the mother. A mother who received an illegal abortion can be sentenced to 3 to 9 months in prison while those that performed the procedure can receive 6 to 24 months in prison. Despite the law, about 30,000 illegal abortions occur yearly in Uruguay (conservatively) and there are only 55,000 births per year. Abortion, then, is used as a means of fertility control, but it comes at a cost. 29% of maternal deaths result from abortion complications (the world average is 13%). The reason for this high percentage is that a safe abortion would cost 500 to 600 dollars, which is unaffordable for many women.
In 2008 a bill that would have legalized abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy passed the Uruguayan senate and House of Representatives but was vetoed by President Tabare Vasquez. Before the bill came to a vote Uruguayan senators were under pressure to reject the bill by those opposed to it, including the catholic church (the Archbishop of Montevideo compared those that supported the bill to terrorists) and even six republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed a letter urging Uruguayan Senators to vote against the bill. This caused a bit of a ruckus with legislatures and activists who thought it was undue interference.  

LGBT Rights

Uruguay was the first country in Latin America to recognize gay unions on a nationwide level. In 2008 President Tabard Vasquez signed a law that allowed any couple living together for more than five years the right to enter into a civil union, which provides the same rights as a married couple. Gay marriage is still illegal in Uruguay but same-sex couples can adopt children, receive health benefits, pensions and inheritance. In 2009 President Vasquez lifted a ban on gay persons serving in the military, which had been imposed by the military dictatorship in the 1970’s.
Uruguay has made remarkable leaps in humanitarian rights, but the formation of new laws does not mean the eradication of social prejudices. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) discrimination still exists although to a much lesser degree than many other countries. Some violence does occur against the LGBT community, but Uruguayans seem to accept the LGBT community with some reservations. Those reservations being that they remain unacknowledged and quiet about their sexual preferences or they conform to gay stereotypes, such as hairdressers. 

Violence against women

For this post, I would like to discuss how the Uruguayan legal and social system deals with violence against women. I found that women who have been victims of domestic violence for years, and then harm or kill their abuser are not allowed to use the domestic violence in their defense in the courts. A woman’s inability to use her abuse in her defense is justified by prejudices of women’s hysterical nature.
            On the other hand, a husband or boyfriend who harms or kills his partner under suspicion of adultery or the woman’s desire to separate is not considered domestic violence and the man is allowed to use his suspicions of his partner in his defense. The crime is considered a crime of passion and a man’s defense of “honor.”
            Uruguay law also absolves a man from any punishment for committing rape as long as he marries his victim.  Perhaps what could explain such a horrifying notion is how Uruguayan law classifies rape, as “offences to customs and family order.” By this definition, the act of rape is a violation of the family, not the woman. Rape is not considered in terms of its effects on the woman and a violation of her most basic human rights, but how it effects and disrupts the family structure. By marrying his victim, the man is restoring family order. The woman is no longer disgraced but is a married woman, a respectable member of the family. 


Uruguay is known as one of the most progressive countries in Latin America and the women of Uruguay (Uruguayas) have equal rights and opportunities. The traditional patriarchal family system began to change in Uruguay in the early twentieth century when various laws were implemented that allowed women to file for divorce without a specific cause, maintain bank accounts separate from their husbands, and were provided the same educational opportunities as men.  In 1938 women were given the right to vote.
            It should be noted that these new freedoms were given to women with the intent of  “protecting” them and were not necessarily considered their inalienable rights. However, this should not come as a surprise. This is a popular trend in human rights movements. The same thing occurred in the women’s movement in the United States. It seems that reforms are more easily accepted if the subjugated group is considered too weak to protect and fight for themselves, reaffirming the dominant group as superior, if not still legally, at least socially.
            All these changes led to more women entering the work force. It became expected that a woman would have a career instead of the exception. It was easier for middle-class women to work because middle-class Uruguayans have domestic servants, not just the wealthy as in the U.S.
            It should be noted that in the rural areas of Uruguay the familial system is more traditional with extended families headed by a patriarch instead of the nuclear families more common in Montevideo. Women in rural areas tend to migrate to Montevideo in order to work, often as domestic servants.
            The liberation and movement of women from the house to the professional world has changed family life. More houses are nuclear families and the number of children per household has decreased because of the rising middle class that wished to provide greater resources to the children they had. However, this is only true in Montevideo. The rural areas still have a higher birthrate and there is more disruption of the family due to Uruguayas migration to the city.