The 3.3 million people of Uruguay in southeastern South America are able to boast one of the highest standards of living in Latin America, a very literate population, and a large urban middle class. Almost all of the people live in urban areas where the influence of their Spanish and Italian ancestors is reflected in the architecture, their social traditions, and the national language – Spanish. Nestled between Brazil and Argentina on the South Atlantic Ocean, Uruguay enjoys warm temperatures over its coastal lowlands, low hills, and plains that are ideal for raising cattle and sheep. Its beaches attract many tourists. Uruguay has often been called “the Switzerland of South America”.
With a long history of independence and democratic governments, Uruguay’s political stability was only interrupted during the 1970-80’s and during a period of economic turmoil earlier in the century. The constitutional republic government has regained its strength and is internationally recognized as an example of liberty. Economically, Uruguay has managed to stay relatively stable as well. Fluctuating world markets for the export of livestock and related products and recessions in Argentina and Brazil, its main exporting markets, have Uruguay looking to expand trade with other countries. An extensive and very costly welfare system is supported through high taxes on industry.
Uruguay is known as one of the most secular nations in all of Latin America, with very liberal social laws. It is estimated that as many as 17 percent of the people claim to be atheists or agnostic. Almost half of Uruguayans claim to be Catholic, though only 2% regularly attend mass. The nation values its secular mindset, and has even been known to refer to Holy Week as “Tourism Week.” With some of Latin America’s highest rates of suicide, depression, abortion and divorce, many Uruguayans are realizing that the New Age “do it yourself” thinking that has prevailed is not working. Whereas evangelistic work in Uruguay has been slow and painstaking in the past, it is now gaining momentum as churches and ministries focus on the spiritual needs of the people that only Jesus Christ can satisfy.