Business Elites

Business Elites

Uruguay's commercial, financial, and industrial elites were more cosmopolitan than the big ranchers. However, the high number of basic industries and utilities run by the state meant that large private entrepreneurs were less numerous than would otherwise be the case. The urban-rural divide was no longer very pronounced: traditional landowning families had diversified into food processing and other businesses, while the sons and daughters of businessmen were ensured a private education. Until 1984 there was only one university in the country, the University of the Republic (also known as the University of Montevideo); it served as a major force for miscegenation among elites and even among the middle classes.

Foreign multinational corporations were less active in Uruguay than in many other Latin American countries because of the small size of its domestic market. One exception to this, however, was the banking system, which was heavily taken over by European and North American conglomerates in the 1970s and 1980s. A pattern of close cooperation between domestic and foreign business interests had emerged on the basis of joint ventures and licensing agreements.

Urban business interests were organized in two rival associations: the Chamber of Industry, which was dominated by industrial manufacturers, and the Chamber of Commerce, which was more oriented toward services and retail trades. The Chamber of Commerce was enthusiastic about the liberalization of imports and the maintenance of a strong currency from 1977 to 1982. By contrast, foreign competition hit industry hard, accustomed as it was to the high rates of protection given by the previous model of import-substitution industrialization.

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