History, International Rivalry During the Colonial Period
Juan Antonio Lavalleja, Republica Oriental, Portuguese conquest, caudillos, French emperor Napoleon
Between 1680 and 1683, contesting Spanish ownership of the region, Portuguese colonists in Brazil established several settlements, such as the Novo Colonia del Sacramento, along the Rio de la Plata opposite Buenos Aires. However, the Spanish made no attempt to dislodge the Portuguese until 1723, when the latter began fortifying the heights around the Bay of Montevideo. A Spanish expedition from Buenos Aires forced the Portuguese to abandon the site, and there the Spanish founded the city of Montevideo in 1726. Spanish-Portuguese rivalry continued in the 18th century, ending in 1777 with the establishment of Spanish rule in the territory under the jurisdiction of the viceroyalty of La Plata.
A crisis occurred in the colony after French emperor Napoleon imprisoned Spanish king Ferdinand VII and invaded Spain in 1808. After French troops captured the last royalist stronghold in Spain in 1810, a group of leading citizens in Buenos Aires rejected the authority of the viceroy and established a caretaker government to rule over the colony in the name of King Ferdinand. In reality, many of the leaders of the new government were determined to make the colony independent of Spanish rule. Buenos Aires was unable to establish its influence over several outlying areas, including Uruguay, where the Spanish viceroy had moved his court. In 1810 and 1811, Uruguayan revolutionaries, led by General Jose Gervasio Artigas, joined in the revolt against Spain. The Spanish governor was driven from Montevideo in 1814.
In 1816 the Portuguese in Brazil—perceiving that the newly emancipated territory, known as the Banda Oriental del Uruguay (Eastern Shore of Uruguay), was weak after its struggle with Spain—invaded the territory, ostensibly to restore order. The Portuguese conquest was completed in 1821, when the Banda Oriental was annexed to Brazil. However, the so-called Immortal 33, a group of revolutionaries led by Juan Antonio Lavalleja, began fighting the Brazilians and driving them from the countryside. In 1825 representatives from the Banda Oriental’s provincial legislature declared the territory’s independence. Argentina intervened on Uruguay's behalf, and war broke out between Brazil and Argentina. British mediation brought about a peace treaty, by which both Brazil and Argentina guaranteed Uruguay's independence. As a result, the Republica Oriental del Uruguay was established in 1828; its first constitution was adopted in 1830.
However, Uruguay has never been entirely free of the influence of its neighbors. During much of the 19th century, the warring factional leaders (caudillos) appealed to either Argentina or Brazil for help against each other, and civil war was frequent until 1872. The followers of Jose Fructuoso Rivera, the country's first president (1830-1834), who were distinguishable by their red (colorado) hatbands, appealed to Brazil for support. The followers of Manuel Oribe, the country's second president (1835-1838), who were distinguishable by their white (blanco) hatbands, turned to Argentina. From these factions arose Uruguay's traditional political parties, the Blancos and the Colorados.
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