Freedom in the World 2021 - Uruguay

/ 100
Political Rights 40 / 40
Civil Liberties 58 / 60
98 / 100 Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.


Uruguay has a historically strong democratic governance structure and a positive record of upholding political rights and civil liberties while also working toward social inclusion. Although all citizens enjoy legal equality, there are still disparities in treatment and political representation of women, transgender people, Uruguayans of African descent, and the indigenous population.

Key Developments in 2020

  • Uruguay’s COVID-19 response was lauded for much of the year, as the country avoided the devastation experienced by neighboring countries. However, cases began rising rapidly late in the year. According to researchers at the University of Oxford, the country had registered over 19,000 cases and 180 deaths at year’s end.
  • President Luis Lacalle Pou, a member of the center-right Partido Nacional, took office in March 2020 following his election victory in November 2019.
  • Human rights activists criticized the Law of Urgent Consideration, a broad-based public sector reform passed in July, for weakening freedom of association and empowering police to expand the use of force.

Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 4 / 4

The president is directly elected to a five-year term, and may hold nonconsecutive terms. The most recent general elections were held in two rounds in October and November 2019. The ticket of Luis Lacalle Pou and Beatriz Argimón of the center-right Partido Nacional captured the presidency and vice presidency after a close runoff decided by approximately 37,000 votes. Lacalle Pou—a senator and son of a former president—defeated former Montevideo mayor Daniel Martínez of the center-left Frente Amplio in the runoff. The election took place peacefully and stakeholders accepted the results, and Lacalle Pou was inaugurated in March 2020.

A2 0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 4 / 4

The bicameral General Assembly consists of the 99-member Chamber of Representatives and the 30-member Senate, with all members directly elected for five-year terms. No single party achieved a majority in the October 2019 elections. The Frente Amplio retained the most representatives, but went from 50 seats in the Chamber of Representatives to 42, and from 15 to 13 seats in the Senate. Lacalle Pou’s Partido Nacional built a predominantly center-right coalition with four other parties—the Partido Colorado, the newly formed Cabildo Abierto, the Partido de la Gente, and the Partido Independiente—that together won 57 seats in the Chamber of Representatives and 17 seats in the Senate. The elections took place peacefully, and stakeholders accepted the results.

A3 0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 4 / 4

Uruguay’s Electoral Court serves as the highest authority on elections and supervises the National Electoral Office, which oversees voter registration and has one office in each of the country’s regional departments. Electoral laws are generally fair, and the Electoral Court, whose nine members are elected by both houses of Parliament with a two-thirds majority, is generally viewed as impartial. Voting is compulsory. In September 2020, Uruguay held municipal elections after delaying voting from May due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 4 / 4

Uruguay’s multiparty system is open and competitive. The major political groupings are the Colorado Party, the Frente Amplio coalition, the Independent Party, and the Partido Nacional (also known as Blanco). The Partido Nacional, accompanied by its coalition partners, took power in early 2020.

B2 0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 4 / 4

Opposition parties are competitive.

B3 0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 4 / 4

People’s political choices are generally free from undue influence from undemocratic actors.

B4 0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 4 / 4

The Afro-Uruguayan minority, which accounts for approximately 8 percent of the population, is significantly underrepresented in government and professional jobs. In 2019, voters elected the first Afro-Uruguayan women senator. Indigenous peoples are also severely underrepresented, although there is a currently a grassroots campaign that aims to gain formal government recognition of the Indigenous Charrúa people.

Representation of women in national, regional, and local government is low. Eight out of 30 senators and 19 of 99 representatives (21 percent of total legislators) elected in 2019 were women, a slight decrease from the number elected in 2014.

C Functioning of Government

C1 0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 4 / 4

The head of government and national legislature determine the policies of the government without undue interference.

C2 0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 4 / 4

The level of corruption in Uruguay is low by regional standards. The 2020 Capacity to Combat Corruption Index released by Americas Quarterly ranked Uruguay’s ability to detect, punish, and prevent corruption first in Latin America.

C3 0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 4 / 4

Government institutions have established a robust record of accountability to the electorate. Enforcement of the Transparency Law, which prohibits a range of offenses related to abuse of office, is relatively strong at the national level. However, civil society groups criticized the government for insufficient transparency in the administration of the COVID-19 Solidarity Fund in 2020.

Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 4 / 4

Constitutional guarantees regarding free expression are generally respected. The press is privately owned; the broadcast sector includes both commercial and public outlets. There are numerous daily and weekly newspapers, some of which are connected to political parties. The Center for Archives and Access to Public Information registered 26 press freedom violations between April 2019 and March 2020, the majority of which involved denials of access to information or threats and assaults. Freedom of expression advocates also criticized a provision of the Law of Urgent Consideration (LUC) passed in July that criminalizes insulting the police.

D2 0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 4 / 4

Freedom of religion is legally protected and broadly respected.

D3 0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 4 / 4

Academic freedom is upheld.

D4 0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 4 / 4

Discussion of personal and political topics is generally open and robust, and there is little fear of government surveillance or retribution.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 4 / 4

Freedom of assembly is protected by law, and the government generally respects this right in practice. The LUC contains provisions that, according to human rights advocates, could result in greater police use of force to disperse protests.

E2 0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 4 / 4

A wide array of community organizations and national and international human rights groups are active in civic life, and do not face government interference. The conduct of state agents during Uruguay’s military dictatorship (1973–85) remains a sensitive topic; in September 2020, a human rights group, the Mothers and Relatives of Detained Uruguayans, denounced a social media smear campaign—in which a sitting senator was an allegedly central participant—targeting the group for its efforts at pursuing justice for dictatorship-era crimes.

E3 0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 4 / 4

Workers are free to exercise the right to join unions, bargain collectively, and hold strikes. Unions are well organized and politically powerful. Labor advocates were among the most vocal opponents of the LUC, and following its approval the country’s main labor union began mobilizing for a referendum to overturn dozens of articles in the law, including provisions that place limits on strike activity.

F Rule of Law

F1 0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 4 / 4

Uruguay’s judiciary is generally independent.

F2 0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 3 / 4

The courts in Uruguay remain backlogged, and prisons are violent and operate at or near capacity. However, recent changes to criminal procedure have reduced pretrial detention, and proposals to divert people convicted of low-level drug crimes from prisons to addiction treatment centers were under discussion in 2020. Some prisoners convicted of minor offenses were released to house arrest during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to limit the virus’s spread inside prisons.

Efforts to seek justice for human rights violations committed under the military regime have been slow and inconsistent. In September 2020, human rights groups denounced the right-wing Cabildo Abierto party’s introduction of a proposed amnesty law for members of the military, and in December 2020 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) expressed concern at Uruguay’s lack of compliance with rulings requiring judicial processes for dictatorship-era rights violations.

F3 0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 4 / 4

Uruguay is free from large-scale violence and civil strife. The LUC included language that was criticized by domestic observers as well as multiple United Nations special rapporteurs for potentially granting members of the security forces overly broad discretion to use coercive force.

Criminal violence and insecurity have increased in Uruguay in recent years, although murders in 2020 were down roughly 20 percent from the record set in 2018.

F4 0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 4 / 4

Transgender people have historically been discriminated against in Uruguay. However, in 2018 the executive promulgated a law allowing transgender people to change relevant information on their identification documents. The law also allows minors to have gender confirmation hormone therapy without parental or guardian permission, and set aside funds to help ensure that transgender people have access to education and health care, and to provide a pension for transgender people who were persecuted by the military dictatorship. However, violence against transgender people remains widespread.

The Afro-Uruguayan minority continues to face economic and social inequalities. While a 2013 affirmative action law was enacted to combat persistent inequality, Afro-Uruguayans experience high unemployment rates, and they were disproportionately affected by the economic dislocation resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. In November, antiracism groups criticized the violent dispersal of a gathering of largely Afro-Uruguayan people by the police, which resulted in 11 arrests.

Women enjoy equal rights under the law but face discriminatory attitudes and practices, including a persistent wage gap.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 4 / 4

Freedom of movement is protected, and individuals are free to change their residence, employment, and institution of higher education without interference.

G2 0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 4 / 4

The right to own property and establish private business is respected.

G3 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 4 / 4

Violence against women remains a serious concern, but authorities are making efforts to combat gender-based violence. The legislature in 2017 voted to designate femicide a special circumstance that can increase sentences, and has begun confiscating guns from policemen who have been convicted of domestic violence. However, levels of gender-based violence have risen in the country, sparking calls for stronger protections. In December 2019, President Vázquez issued a resolution declaring a national emergency on gender-based violence, which would expand monitoring and rehabilitation programs for convicted offenders. The issue remained prominent in 2020, as calls to domestic abuse hotlines and formal gender-based violence complaints rose substantially amid the isolation induced by COVID-19 lockdowns.

The legislature voted overwhelmingly to legalize same-sex marriage in 2013. Abortion for any reason during the first trimester has been legal since 2012. However, many women, especially in rural areas, lack access to legal abortions. Stigma connected to the procedure continues to impede full access for women.

G4 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 3 / 4

Individuals generally enjoy equality of opportunity, although certain barriers persist for Afro-descendants, women, transgender, and Indigenous Uruguayans. The LUC was criticized by labor rights advocates for allegedly weakening labor protections and the public education system.

According to reports, the government is not doing enough to combat transnational trafficking, and laws do not prohibit internal trafficking.