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.
- A March referendum to repeal 135 provisions of the controversial Law of Urgent Consideration (LUC)—a broad-based public sector reform adopted in 2020—failed to pass by a slim margin, allowing the law to remain in force.
- Journalists continued to face pressure and threats due to their work during the year. In May, a Uruguayan information rights organization published a report noting that the number of threats and restrictions journalists were subjected to during its 2021–22 reporting period had increased by 40 percent compared to the previous year.
|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 and Beatriz Argimón of the center-right Partido Nacional (National Party) captured the presidency and vice presidency. The election took place peacefully and stakeholders accepted the results.
|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. In the 2019 elections, the Broad Front (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. The Partido Nacional built a predominantly center-right coalition with four other parties—the Partido Colorado (Colorado Party), the newly formed Cabildo Abierto (Open Cabildo), the Partido de la Gente (People’s Party), and the Partido Independiente (Independent Party)—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.
In September 2021, opponents of the controversial LUC—a broad-based public sector reform passed in 2020—gathered signatures to place numerous articles of the law before a national referendum for repeal. The signatures were verified by the Electoral Court that December. A referendum to repeal 135 provisions of the LUC was held in March 2022 and saw a voter turnout of 80 percent. The referendum failed to pass by a slim margin: those against repealing the law garnered approximately 49.9 percent of the vote share, while those in favor of repealing the law took approximately 48.8 percent.
|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.
|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. 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. A 2014 law mandates that 30 percent of representatives be women; as of December 2022, women held approximately 26 percent of seats in the Chamber of Representatives and 29 percent of seats in the Senate. Two bills to increase women’s participation were introduced to the legislature by women from two different political parties in 2021. The bills remained under consideration as of year-end 2022.
|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 has repeatedly been ranked first in Latin America in the Capacity to Combat Corruption Index for its ability to detect, punish, and prevent corruption. However, the country registered its first score decline in 2022, largely due to the LUC. Critics have raised concerns that provisions in the LUC, including measures that allow for the easing of restrictions on cash transactions, might hinder Uruguay’s ability to monitor money laundering.
In February 2022, well-known Uruguayan drug trafficker Sebastián Marset was released from prison in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where he had been arrested in October 2021 for carrying a false passport. Marset was able to gain his release in part because he was issued a new Uruguayan passport while imprisoned in Dubai. In August 2022, Uruguayan authorities opened an official investigation into how Marset was able to obtain a new passport while incarcerated, and whether officials at Uruguay’s foreign and interior ministries had knowingly aided him in evading arrest; the investigation remained ongoing at year’s end.
In September 2022, Alejandro Astesiano, the president’s head of security, was arrested for his alleged participation in a scheme to falsify documents and birth certificates to allow Russian citizens to illegitimately obtain Uruguayan passports. Government officials praised the transparency of the investigation into Astesiano and called his arrest a signal of institutional strength.
|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.
|Are there free and independent media?||3.003 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.
Journalists have faced increasing pressure due to their work in recent years, including being targeted with civil lawsuits and threats for their reporting. The Center for Archives and Access to Public Information (CAinfo), a Uruguayan information rights organization, has registered a growing number of constraints on freedom of expression for journalists in the country in recent years. A CAinfo report published in May 2022 noted that the number of threats and restrictions journalists were subjected to during its 2021–22 reporting period increased by 40 percent over the previous year, marking the third consecutive year in which such incidents had increased.
Media freedom advocates, including the Latin American Internet Association (ALAI), have also expressed concern about measures in the Accountability Bill (Rendición de Cuentas) submitted to Parliament in June 2022. Critics fear that certain measures in the bill, intended to block illegal broadcasts online, could be invoked to limit freedom of expression more broadly.
Score Change: The score declined from 4 to 3 because journalists are increasingly targeted with civil lawsuits and threats for their reporting.
|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 generally upheld. However, some have expressed concerns about the preservation of autonomy and self-governance within the university system. In November 2022, the Senate passed a bill that, if adopted, would modify how the Technological University of Uruguay’s (UTEC) board of directors is selected, including by giving the government the power to appoint board members.
|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.
|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.
|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 generally free from large-scale violence and civil conflict. However, criminal violence and insecurity have escalated in recent years, largely as a result of the increased scale of drug trafficking in the country. In addition to the violence caused by fighting between domestic drug trafficking gangs, warfare between rival gangs in Brazil has at times migrated across the border.
According to the Ministry of the Interior, 383 homicides were recorded in the country in 2022, an approximately 25 percent increase from 2021.
Prisons are often severely overcrowded, with poor living conditions. In 2021, the Interior Minister reported that prison conditions had deteriorated to the point that they violate human rights standards, and called for a long-term strategic plan to overhaul the system. In September 2022, two fires were caused by an inmate in a prison in Maldonado, requiring several people to be hospitalized; one person later died.
|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. Though a 2013 affirmative action law was enacted to combat persistent inequality, Afro-Uruguayans continued to experience high unemployment rates and economic hardship. The state still falls well short of its quota goals for jobs for individuals of African descent.
Transgender people have historically been discriminated against in Uruguay, and violence against transgender people remains prevalent. However, a 2018 law allows transgender people to change relevant information on their identification documents and sets aside funds to help ensure that they have access to education and health care, among other things.
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. More cases of femicide were recorded between January and September 2022 than in all of 2021. Amid high levels of gender-based violence in the country, organizations have advocated for better police training and reporting procedures. The government has also 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.
|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. In September 2022, the government launched a program that provides larger subsidies to companies that hire people from vulnerable groups, including migrants and women who have been victims of gender-based violence.
According to reports, the government is not doing enough to combat transnational human trafficking.
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Global Freedom Score96 100 free