The South American country of Uruguay takes its name from the Uruguay River. Before its Independence in 1828, it was known as ‘Banda Oriental del Uruguay’ which translates as on the eastern side of the Uruguay River. Uruguay is a relatively wealthy country which has always had a high standard of living, although its economy suffered during the 2002 economic crisis and during the military dictatorship between 1973 and 1985. 90% of the population of Uruguay is of European origin, with the majority of Spanish and Italian descent, whilst 6% are of Native American descent; most of the indigenous population was exterminated in the 19th century during the Spanish conquest. The rest are descendants of the Africans brought over to work as slaves in the ports, and as servants. There are still several colonial icons evident in Uruguay such as the Gaucho figure which was idealized as a symbol of Independence, and the historic quarters of Colonia del Sacramento which was founded in 1680 by the Portuguese and was the first city in the Uruguayan territory, and which UNESCO has declared a World Heritage City.
Uruguay has a relatively large literary production, and has given birth to many international renowned authors. Mario Benedetti’s poems are appreciated around the world. Cristina Peri Rosi is also famous for her poems and has published novels such as Panic Strings. Juan Carlos Onetti was one of the most important Uruguayan writers and journalists; he also participated in the Spanish Civil War after which he published his first novels including A Brief Life, which is considered to be his best work. Carmen Posadas is another notable literary figure and her novels Little Indiscretions and Child’s Play have been widely acclaimed. Her novel La Bella Otero was also adapted into a film. Another Uruguayan writer, Eduardo Galeano, is considered one of the most important figures of Latin American literature. His works transcend orthodox genres combining documentary, fiction, journalism and history, the most important of which is The Open Veins of Latin America and Mirrors.
Uruguay was also the birthplace of famous musicians as Carlos Gardel, the most famous interpreter of the tango, and most recently known Jorge Drexler, the first Uruguayan to win an Oscar for the song Al Otro Lado del Río from the movie Motorcycle Diaries, a film based on the early years of Che Guevara’s life.