Modern Uruguay, 1875-1903

Modern Uruguay, 1875-1903

Between 1875 and 1886, political parties--as represented by the caudillo and the university sectors--were in decline, and the military became the center of power. A transition period (1886- 90) followed, during which politicians began recovering lost ground, and there was some civilian participation in government. Nevertheless, political parties during this period were not parties in the modern sense of the term. Nor, however, was the army a professional institution despite its successful foreign and domestic campaigns.

Because of serious disturbances, Ellauri was forced to resign in 1875. His successor, José Pedro Varela (1875-76), curtailed liberties, arrested opposition leaders and deported the most notable among them to Cuba, and successfully quelled an armed rebellion. At the beginning of 1876, Colonel Lorenzo Latorre (1876-80) assumed power; he was appointed constitutional president in 1879, but the following year he resigned, after declaring that Uruguayans were "ungovernable," and moved to Argentina.

Colonel General Máximo Santos (1882-86) was appointed president in 1882 by a General Assembly elected under his pressure, and his political entourage named him leader of the Colorado Party. In 1886 Santos suppressed an insurrection led by the opposition, but after an attempt against his life, he too resigned and went to live in Europe.

During this authoritarian period (1875-86), the government took steps toward the organization of the country as a modern state and encouraged its economic and social transformation. Pressure groups, particularly businessmen, hacendados, and industrialists, were organized and had a strong influence on government, as demonstrated by their support of numerous measures taken by the state.

In the international realm, the country improved its ties with Britain. Loans increased significantly after the 1870s, when the first one was granted. In 1876 British investors acquired the national railroad company, the North Tramway and Railway Company. They later dominated construction of railroads and continued their policy of ensuring control over, and concessions to, some essential services in Montevideo, such as gas (1872) and running water (1879). Uruguay's adoption of the gold standard facilitated commercial transactions between the two countries.

Under Latorre's administration, order was restored in the countryside. His government vigorously repressed delinquency and unemployment (those without jobs were considered "vagrants") to protect farmers and ranchers. Fencing of the countryside stimulated modernization of the system. Barbed wired was such an indispensable element for livestock improvement and for the establishment of accurate property boundaries that an 1875 law exempted imports of barbed wire from customs duties. This measure was accompanied by the approval of the Rural Code (1875), drawn up with the participation of the Rural Association. The code ensured land and livestock ownership and thus social order.

The government adopted a number of measures to promote national industrial development. Most important was a series of customs laws in 1875, 1886, and 1888 raising import duties on products that could be manufactured in the country, thus protecting indigenous industry. The Latorre government also improved the means of transportation and communications, giving tax and other concessions for the construction of railroads, whose network doubled in size in ten years. The state also reorganized and took over the postal service and connected all departmental capitals by telegraph.

Education reform authored by Varela and implemented in 1877 under the Latorre administration established free compulsory primary education. Reform also reached the University of the Republic (also known as the University of Montevideo--established in 1849 and the country's only university until 1984), where the medical and the mathematics faculties were created in 1876 and 1877, respectively.

The secularization process also continued during this period. Under the pretext of needing to deal with the chaos in parochial archives, Latorre created the Civil Register (1876), which transferred to the state the registration of births, deaths, and marriages. Under the Santos administration, the Law of Mandatory Civil Marriage (1885) established that only marriages performed in accordance with this law would be considered valid.

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