Uruguay has a historically strong democratic governance structure and a positive record of upholding political rights and civil liberties while also working toward social inclusion. Although all citizens enjoy legal equality, there are still disparities in treatment and political representation of women, transgender people, Uruguayans of African descent, and the Indigenous population.
- During the year, organized labor advocates were among the most vocal opponents of the Law of Urgent Consideration (LUC), passed in 2020, which could facilitate the police’s use of unnecessary force at protests and strikes. In September, they helped gather signatures to place 135 articles of the LUC before a national referendum for possible repeal in 2022. The signatures were verified by the Electoral Court in December.
- Violence against women remains a serious concern, and cases of femicide increased during the coverage period. For the first ten months of the year, the Ministry of the Interior recorded 31,661 complaints of domestic and associated violence, approximately a 4 percent decrease from the same period the year prior.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The president is directly elected to a five-year term and may hold nonconsecutive terms. The most recent general elections were held in two rounds in 2019. Luis Lacalle Pou—a senator and son of a former president—and Beatriz Argimón of the center-right Partido Nacional captured the presidency and vice presidency by defeating former Montevideo mayor Daniel Martínez of the center-left Frente Amplio and his running mate in a close runoff decided by approximately 37,000 votes. The election took place peacefully and stakeholders accepted the results. Lacalle Pou was inaugurated in March 2020.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The bicameral General Assembly consists of the 99-member Chamber of Representatives and the 30-member Senate, with all members directly elected for five-year terms. No single party achieved a majority in the October 2019 elections. The Frente Amplio retained the most representatives but dropped from 50 seats in the Chamber of Representatives to 42, and from 15 to 13 seats in the Senate. Lacalle Pou’s Partido Nacional built a predominantly center-right coalition with four other parties—the Partido Colorado, the newly formed Cabildo Abierto, the Partido de la Gente, and the Partido Independiente—that together won 57 seats in the Chamber of Representatives and 17 seats in the Senate. The elections took place peacefully, and stakeholders accepted the results.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||4.004 4.004|
Uruguay’s Electoral Court serves as the highest authority on elections and supervises the National Electoral Office, which oversees voter registration and has one office in each of the country’s regional departments. Electoral laws are generally fair, and the Electoral Court, whose nine members are elected by both houses of Parliament with a two-thirds majority, is generally viewed as impartial. Voting is compulsory.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||4.004 4.004|
Uruguay’s multiparty system is open and competitive. The major political groupings are the Partido Colorado, the Frente Amplio coalition, and the Partido Nacional (also known as Blanco). Several smaller parties also compete in elections and have gained representation, as well. The Partido Nacional, accompanied by its coalition partners, took power in early 2020.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4.004 4.004|
Opposition parties are competitive. The conservative Cabildo Abierto was founded in 2019 and obtained the most seats in the 2019 elections, outside the three major parties.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||4.004 4.004|
People’s political choices are generally free from undue influence from undemocratic actors.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||4.004 4.004|
The Afro-Uruguayan minority, which accounts for approximately 8 percent of the population, is significantly underrepresented in government. In 2019, voters elected the first Afro-Uruguayan woman as senator. Indigenous groups are also severely underrepresented, although there is a currently a grassroots campaign that aims to gain formal government recognition of the Indigenous Charrúa people.
Representation of women in national, regional, and local government is low; women hold approximately 25 percent of seats in the Chamber of Representatives and 32 percent of seats in the Senate. As of December 2021, Uruguay ranked 93rd out of 189 countries in Women in Parliament list created by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, a global organization of the national parliaments. Two bills to increase women’s participation were introduced to, but not passed by Parliament in 2021, the first since a 2014 law was passed mandating 30 percent of representatives be women.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||4.004 4.004|
The head of government and national legislature determine the policies of the government without undue interference.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||4.004 4.004|
The level of corruption in Uruguay is low by regional standards. Uruguay was ranked first in Latin America in the 2021 Capacity to Combat Corruption Index released by Americas Quarterly, for its ability to detect, punish, and prevent corruption. However, the country’s main anticorruption agency, the Transparency and Public Ethics Board (JUTEP), faces budgetary constraints that many worry could impede its ability to fulfill its mission.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||4.004 4.004|
Government institutions have established a robust record of accountability to the electorate. Enforcement of the Transparency Law, which prohibits a range of offenses related to abuse of office, is relatively strong at the national level. However, civil society groups criticized the government in 2020 and 2021 for insufficient transparency in the administration of the COVID-19 Solidarity Fund.
|Are there free and independent media?||4.004 4.004|
Constitutional guarantees regarding free expression are generally respected. The press is privately owned; the broadcast sector includes both commercial and public outlets. There are numerous daily and weekly newspapers, some of which are connected to political parties. The Center for Archives and Access to Public Information registered concern in 2021 over lawsuits, and threats of lawsuits, against journalists for defamation that has the potential to limit freedom of expression and the free flow of information. Many of these cases were initiated by state officials or legislators.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of religion is legally protected and broadly respected.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||4.004 4.004|
Academic freedom is upheld. Tensions remain, however, for academics who push for information about and inquiries into the crimes committed during the military dictatorship that ended in 1985.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||4.004 4.004|
Discussion of personal and political topics is generally open and robust, and there is little fear of government surveillance or retribution. The government’s potential use of facial recognition software has some civil society groups worried about exactly how it would be used by the Interior Ministry.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of assembly is protected by law, and the government generally respects this right in practice. The broadly worded LUC, passed in 2020, contains provisions that, according to human rights advocates, could pose a threat to the right to peaceful protest and could result in greater police use of force to disperse protests.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||4.004 4.004|
A wide array of community organizations and national and international human rights groups are active in civic life, and do not face government interference.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||4.004 4.004|
Workers are free to exercise the right to join unions, bargain collectively, and hold strikes. Unions are well organized and politically powerful. Labor advocates are among the most vocal opponents of the LUC and in September 2021, they helped gather signatures to place 135 articles of the LUC before a national referendum for possible repeal. The signatures were verified by the Electoral Court in December.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||4.004 4.004|
Uruguay’s judiciary is generally independent.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||3.003 4.004|
Due process rights are generally respected in Uruguay. However, the courts face a significant case backlog, which results in a high rate of pretrial detention.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||3.003 4.004|
Uruguay is free from large-scale violence and civil conflict. However, warfare between rival gangs in Brazil has at times migrated across the border, most often in the department Rivera, where crime rates increased in 2021.
Prisons are often overcrowded, with poor living conditions. The Interior Minister in September 2021 reported that conditions had deteriorated to the point that they violate human rights standards, and he called for a long-term strategic plan to overhaul the system. In 2021, there were a record number of deaths in prisons.
Criminal violence and insecurity have increased in Uruguay in recent years, although many crimes such as robbery and homicides dropped during the first half of 2021.
Score Change: The scored declined from 4 to 3 because overcrowding and other harsh conditions in the prison system have contributed to a multiyear increase in deaths in custody.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||4.004 4.004|
Afro-Uruguayan people continue to face economic and social inequalities. While a 2013 affirmative action law was enacted to combat persistent inequality, Afro-Uruguayans experience high unemployment rates and were disproportionately affected by the economic hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The state also still falls well short of its quota goals for jobs for individuals of African descent.
Transgender people have historically been discriminated against in Uruguay. However, in 2018 the executive branch promulgated a law allowing transgender people to change relevant information on their identification documents. The law also allows minors to have gender confirmation hormone therapy without parental or guardian permission; sets aside funds to help ensure that transgender people have access to education and health care; and provides a pension for transgender people who were persecuted by the military dictatorship. However, violence against transgender people remains widespread and COVID-19 exacerbated issues of inequality, poverty, and violence against them.
Women enjoy equal rights under the law but face discriminatory attitudes and practices, including a persistent wage gap.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of movement is protected, and individuals are free to change their residence, employment, and institution of higher education without interference.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||4.004 4.004|
The right to own property and establish private business is respected.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||4.004 4.004|
Violence against women remains a serious concern. While there was a slight drop in cases of femicide in recent years, 2021 saw another increase with more cases of femicide in the country than in the previous years. For the first ten months of 2021, there were 31,661 complaints about domestic and associated violence, according to the Ministry of the Interior, approximately a 4 percent decrease from the same period in 2020. Amid high levels of gender-based violence in the country, organizations advocated for better police training and reporting procedures. Attempts to change protocols, however, also received fierce criticism and continue to be under review. The government also has suggested plans to launch courts that specialize in gender-based violence.
The legislature voted overwhelmingly to legalize same-sex marriage in 2013. Abortion for any reason during the first trimester has been legal since 2012. However, many women, especially in rural areas, face obstacles to receiving abortion services, particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||3.003 4.004|
Individuals generally enjoy equality of opportunity, although certain barriers persist for Afro-descendants, women, transgender, and Indigenous Uruguayans.
According to reports, the government is not doing enough to combat transnational human trafficking, and laws do not prohibit internal trafficking. However, authorities did arrest 12 individuals involved in an alleged trafficking ring originating in Cuba in September 2021.
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Global Freedom Score96 100 free