After the Guerra Grande, there was a sharp rise in the number of immigrants, primarily from Italy and Spain. By 1879, the total population of the country was over 438,500. The economy reflected a steep upswing (if demonstrated graphically, above all other related economic determinants), in livestock raising and exports. Montevideo became a major economic center of the region and an entrepôt for goods from Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.
The Colorado leader José Batlle y Ordóñez was elected president in 1903. The following year, the Blancos led a rural revolt and eight bloody months of fighting ensued before their leader, Aparicio Saravia, was killed in battle. Government forces emerged victorious, leading to the end of the co-participation politics that had begun in 1872. Batlle had two terms (1903–07 and 1911–15) during which, taking advantage of the nation’s stability and growing economic prosperity, he instituted major reforms, such as a welfare program, government participation in many facets of the economy, and a plural executive.
Gabriel Terra became president in March 1931. His inauguration coincided with the effects of the Great Depression, and the social climate became tense as a result of the lack of jobs. There were confrontations in which police and leftists died. In 1933, Terra organized a coup d’état, dissolving the General Assembly and governing by decree. A new constitution was promulgated in 1934, transferring powers to the president. In general, the Terra government weakened or neutralized economic nationalism and social reform.
In 1938, general elections were held and Terra’s brother-in-law, General Alfredo Baldomir, was elected president. Under pressure from organized labor and the National Party, Baldomir advocated free elections, freedom of the press, and a new constitution. Although Baldomir declared Uruguay neutral in 1939, British warships and the German ship Admiral Graf Spee fought a battle not far off Uruguay’s coast. The Admiral Graf Spee took refuge in Montevideo, claiming sanctuary in a neutral port, but was later ordered out.
In the late 1950s, partly because of a worldwide decrease in demand for Uruguyan agricultural products, Uruguayans suffered from a steep drop in their standard of living, which led to student militancy and labor unrest. An armed group, known as the Tupamaros emerged in the 1960s, engaging in activities such as bank robbery, kidnapping and assassination, in addition to attempting an overthrow of the government.
Civic-military and Dictatorship regime:
President Jorge Pacheco declared a state of emergency in 1968, followed by a further suspension of civil liberties in 1972.
In 1973, amid increasing economic and political turmoil, the armed forces, asked by the President Juan María Bordaberry, closed the Congress and established a civilian-military regime. An alleged CIA-backed campaign of political repression and state terror involving intelligence operations and assassination of opponents. According to one source, around 200 Uruguayans are known to have been killed and disappeared, with hundreds more illegally detained and tortured during the 12-year civil-military rule of 1973 to 1985. Most were killed in Argentina and other neighboring countries, with 36 of them having been killed in Uruguay. According to Edy Kaufman (cited by David Altman), Uruguay at the time had the highest per capita number of political prisoners in the world. “Kaufman, who spoke at the U.S. Congressional Hearings of 1976 on behalf of Amnesty International, estimated that one in every five Uruguayans went into exile, one in fifty were detained, and one in five hundred went to prison (most of them tortured).”