Controlled by Argentina and Brazil to the north and northwest, and Spanish colonies along the Rio de la Plate, Uruguay declared its independence in 1810 (though it didn't truly achieve it until 1828). Unfortunately, as soon as the country gained its freedom, it lapsed into a civil war between early liberals and conservatives that lasted until the early 1850s.
Over the next few decades, the nation was dominated by a liberal Colorado military leader, both the liberals and the conservatives evolved, and the country became a leading exporter of meat and wool. Additionally, several social reforms, such as free public education, were enacted. In 1890, the outgoing president pointed Uruguay in a more democratic direction by supporting a civilian successor, virtually ending military control. Another liberal candidate, Jose Batlle y Ordoñez, was elected president in 1903 and attempted to model the nation after Switzerland. He focused on major political and socioeconomic restructuring, establishing peace between the political parties, and forming a plural executive system. Batlle also managed to convert Uruguay into a welfare state and passed a number of social and labor legislation.
Batlle's socialist economy continued until 1958, when the conservative Nationalists claimed their first victory. The new administration was unable to properly manage the nation and caused a deepening inflation and the emergence of a "violent Marxist guerrilla group" by the 1960s and 1970s, leading to the decision by then-President Bordaberry to agree to military control in 1973. He was later removed by the forces in 1976 and civilian rule wasn't reestablished until 1985.
Finally, a leftist coalition known as the "Broad Front" emerged in the post-military era and the Colorado and Nationalist parties joined forces to support a single presidential candidate. However, 2004 saw the first Broad Front candidate named President, who promised to focus on the issue of poverty. (1)
(1) David Clawson, Latin America and the Caribbean: Lands and Peoples, 4th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006).