Expatriates will find that the culture of Uruguay is predominantly European with Uruguay producing numerous artists, writers, sculptors, and musicians. Foreigners will also find the Uruguayans to be very sports-minded. Geography plays a role in cultural orientation, with the ocean and the rivers easily accessible, making watersports a favorite choice.
Conflict between the conservative Blancos and the liberal Colorados in the 1800s continues to color Uruguay's politics today. These two parties dominate the country's political scene. However, a third party, the Frente Amplio, or Broad Front, has gained strength in recent years, and produced the winning Presidential candidate in the 2004 elections - Tabare Vazquez.
During the 1970s, economic problems - as well as the conflicts between the Colorados and Blancos - gave authoritarian governments the opportunity to take control in Uruguay. The military took over and the generals controlled the country, until protests against continued economic difficulties and lack of personal freedoms led to free elections and the return to civilian rule in 1984.
Today, Uruguay is a constitutional republic, with a popularly elected president chosen every five years. The president appoints the cabinet, or Council of Ministers. There is a bicameral legislature: the General Assembly, which includes a 30-member Chamber of Senators and a Chamber of Representatives with 99 seats. Both serve five-year terms.
The judicial branch is made up of a five-member Supreme Court, which also administers the local courts. Judges, elected by the General Assembly after a presidential nomination, serve 10-year terms. The Supreme Court of Uruguay is highly regarded as corruption free and independent of politics.
Uruguay's economy traditionally has been based on agriculture, wool and rice in particular, and offshoot industries such as textiles, leather and meat. The country is diversifying, with an emphasis on tourism and - in smaller part - computer software. With its mild climate and beautiful beach resorts, tourism is a natural avenue for Uruguay. The fashionable seaside resort of Punta del Este is a major attraction for foreign currency. The growth in hotel construction and other tourist-related services also contributes substantially to the domestic economy.
The country, like others in the region, is in the process of privatizing state enterprises and reforming many government policies. The advantage to foreign businesses is clear, with bureaucratic red tape being eliminated or streamlined. The social security system, which is a heavy burden to employers, is also being restructured.
The financial crisis that plagued the region around the turn of the millenium began a period of economic decline for Uruguay in 2001. The country's financial struggles led to heavy debt. The years 2004 and 2005 showed strong recovery, however, with 12 percent and six percent GDP growth, respectively. Liberalization of several industries is underway and progressing slowly.
Uruguay is an active member of Mercosur, the Southern Cone Common Market. However, as the smallest country in Mercosur, it is subject to the fluctuations of the economies of its much larger members, Brazil and Argentina. Mercosur membership has increased Uruguay's potential markets, but it has also opened the country to stiff competition from its two larger neighbors.
Despite this concern, exports of various agricultural products is growing, as Uruguay better utilizes the products with which it can be most competitive.