A new constitution, drafted by the military, was rejected in a November 1980 referendum. Following the referendum, the armed forces announced a plan for the return to civilian rule, and national elections were held in 1984. Colorado Party leader Julio María Sanguinetti won the presidency and served from 1985 to 1990. The first Sanguinetti administration implemented economic reforms and consolidated democracy following the country’s years under military rule.
The National Party’s Luis Alberto Lacalle won the 1989 presidential election and amnesty for human rights abusers was endorsed by referendum. Sanguinetti was then re-elected in 1994. Both presidents continued the economic structural reforms initiated after the reinstatement of democracy and other important reforms were aimed at improving the electoral system, social security, education, and public safety.
In 2009, José Mujica, a former left-wing guerrilla leader (Tupamaros) who spent almost 15 years in prison during the country’s military rule, emerged as the new president as the Broad Front won the election for a second time. Abortion was legalized in 2012, followed by same-sex marriage and cannabis in the following year.
In 2014, Tabaré Vázquez was elected to a non-consecutive second presidential term, which began on 1 March 2015. In 2020, he was succeeded by Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou, member of the conservative National Party, after 15 years of left-wing rule, as the 42nd President of Uruguay.
With 176,214 km2 (68,037 sq mi) of continental land and 142,199 km2 (54,903 sq mi) of jurisdictional water and small river islands, Uruguay is the second smallest sovereign nation in South America (after Suriname) and the third smallest territory (French Guiana is the smallest). The landscape features mostly rolling plains and low hill ranges (cuchillas) with a fertile coastal lowland. Uruguay has 660 km (410 mi) of coastline.
A dense fluvial network covers the country, consisting of four river basins, or deltas: the Río de la Plata Basin, the Uruguay River, the Laguna Merín and the Río Negro. The major internal river is the Río Negro (‘Black River’). Several lagoons are found along the Atlantic coast.
The highest point in the country is the Cerro Catedral, whose peak reaches 514 metres (1,686 ft) in the Sierra Carapé hill range. To the southwest is the Río de la Plata, the estuary of the Uruguay River (which river forms the country’s western border).