History, Early-20th-Century Domestic and Foreign Issues
single president, Axis powers, separation of church, Blancos, League of Nations
In the early 20th century, membership in the two rival political groups ceased to be merely a matter of traditional loyalties. The Blancos became the conservative party, attracting chiefly the rural population and the clergy, and the Colorados became known as progressive and proponents of advanced social legislation. During the second presidential term of Jose Batlle y Ordonez, between 1911 and 1915, social legislation was enacted, and Uruguay soon became known as the most progressive nation in South America.
Batlle's moderately socialist program included the establishment of many government-owned businesses, some of which were monopolies. His program also promoted retirement and medical-aid programs; free education; extensive labor legislation; and public health measures. Much of this program was put into effect by Batlle's successors. Batlle never succeeded in establishing a policy of agrarian reform because rural landowners had sufficient power in the legislature to block such reforms.
In 1917, during World War I, Uruguay broke off relations with Germany and leased German ships, seized in the harbor of Montevideo, to the United States. In that year a new constitution, dividing the executive authority between the president and the national administrative council and providing for the separation of church and state, was promulgated. Uruguay joined the League of Nations in 1920.
In 1933 President Gabriel Terra, who had taken office in 1931, demanded that the Uruguayan constitution be amended to allow the president wider powers. His demands brought threats of revolution, and he thereupon established a dictatorship with the cooperation of Luis Alberto de Herrera, the Blanco Party leader. The two men ruled together in a mild dictatorship in which all government positions and spoils were divided among their followers. A new constitution adopted in 1934 made this agreement law and curtailed individual liberties.
General Alfredo Baldomir, the leading Colorado, began the restoration of democratic government. He was elected president in 1938. A new constitution adopted in 1942 provided for a single president, no special status for either party, and the full restoration of liberties. During World War II (1939-1945), Uruguay severed diplomatic, financial, and economic relations with the Axis powers. In 1945 the country joined the United Nations (UN).
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