INTRODUCTION OF ARGENTINA
Argentina or Argentine Republic, country in South America, occupying most of the southern half of the continent east of the Andes Mountains. It is the second largest country in area in South America, after Brazil, and the eighth largest country in the world. Argentina’s capital and largest city is Buenos Aires.
Argentina consists of diverse landscapes, stretching from the tropics in the north to the subpolar region in the south. Within it are the rugged Andes and the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere, Aconcagua. But most of the people live in cities on the Pampas, the vast fertile prairies that cover the middle of the country. The Pampas traditionally produced much of the country’s agricultural wealth and became famous as the home of the gaucho, the South American cowboy.
From the late 19th century on, Argentina exported large amounts of agricultural goods, including meat, wool, and wheat. It also became the first South American country to industrialize and was long the wealthiest country on the continent, enjoying a living standard equivalent to that of European countries. From the 1940s on, however, Argentina has experienced recurring economic difficulties, including severe inflation, high unemployment, and a large national debt.
Argentina has had a volatile political history. Its most famous president, Juan D. Perón, was very popular with working-class and poor Argentineans. However, he ruled as a dictator and suppressed all opposition. The country’s economic decline eventually led to Peron’s ouster in 1955. An infamous military dictatorship that ruled from 1976 to 1983 tortured and executed many Argentineans without trial. After the military stepped down in 1983, Argentina recommitted itself to democratic government but struggled with economic problems. In the early 2000s Argentina was still trying to revitalize its economy.
LAND AND RESOURCES OF ARGENTINA
Argentina covers an area of 2,780,400 sq km (1,073,518 sq mi). It is bounded on the north by Bolivia and Paraguay; on the northeast by Brazil and Uruguay; on the east by the Atlantic Ocean; on the south by the Atlantic Ocean and Chile; and on the west by Chile. The length of Argentina from north to south is about 3,330 km (about 2,070 mi); its greatest width is about 1,384 km (about 860 mi). The country includes the province of Tierra del Fuego, which comprises the eastern half of the Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego and a number of adjacent islands to the east, including Isla de los Estados. The Argentine coastline measures about 4,989 km (about 3,100 mi) long.
Argentina also claims a total of 2,808,602 sq km (1,084,407 sq mi) of disputed territory. Since the 1950s, Argentina has claimed a pie-shaped section of Antarctica between longitude 25° west and longitude 74° west. Argentina also claims several sparsely settled southern Atlantic islands, including the Falkland Islands, or Islas Malvinas, currently controlled by Britain. The two nations fought a brief war in 1982 over control of the islands, and sporadic discussions about the political fate of the islands continue. A number of nations, including the United States, do not recognize Argentine claims to Antarctica and these South Atlantic islands.
Natural Regions in Argentina
Argentina is divided into four major natural regions: the Andes, the northern plains and Andes foothills, the Pampas, and Patagonia.
The Andes, the great mountain system of South America, rise in crumpled blocks along Argentina’s western border. In Patagonia, they form a natural boundary between Argentina and Chile. The mountains are highest and widest in the north, where a number of peaks rise above 6,400 m (21,000 ft). Aconcagua (6,960 m/22,834 ft), the highest of these peaks, is the highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere.
Other noteworthy peaks are Ojos del Salado (6,880 m/22,572 ft) and Tupungato (6,635 m/21,768 ft), on the border between Argentina and Chile, and Mercedario (6,770 m/22,211 ft). Argentina’s lake district is in the southern Andes. The resort town of Bariloche, along Lake Nahuel Huapi, is the tourist center of the lake district. Despite their lower elevations, the southern Andes are extremely rugged.
Several parallel ranges and spurs of the Andes project deeply into northwestern Argentina. Here, rivers with sources in the snowfields atop the peaks have cut through the eastern face of the mountains and carved deep valleys. Salt lakes occupy many of the basins between mountains. The country’s only other highland of consequence is the Sierra de Córdoba, in central Argentina. Its highest peak is Cerro Champaquí (2,880 m/9,449 ft).
Northern Plains and Foothills
The northern plains region of Argentina lies east of the Andes. It is part of a huge lowland that extends northward into Bolivia, Paraguay, and Brazil. The Gran Chaco (also called Chaco) and Mesopotamia make up its two subregions. The Chaco is the larger subregion. Extending eastward from the foothills of the Andes to the Paraná River, the Chaco is an area of scrub woodland with large areas of grassy savanna and subtropical forest. Several rivers cross the Chaco, and parts of it flood extensively during summer. Salty soils in much of the Chaco limit the amount of land that can be used for farming. Much of the Chaco is wilderness used for grazing.
Mesopotamia, which means “between the rivers” in Greek, lies between the Paraná and Uruguay rivers. It was named after the ancient region of Mesopotamia in southwestern Asia. Argentina’s Mesopotamia is a humid lowland of gently rolling prairies, and it rises to an area of forested tablelands in the northeast. Also in the northeast, rivers plunge over the edges of the great Paraná Plateau and produce spectacular waterfalls. These waterfalls include Iguaçu Falls, one of the great natural wonders of South America, on the border with Brazil.
The Pampas, also known as the Pampa, are a vast fertile prairie south of the Chaco. They stretch west from Buenos Aires in a huge semicircle for hundreds of miles. Their flat or gently rolling surface is broken only in the south, where a range of hills rises to about 1,200 m (about 4,000 feet) above sea level. The Pampas contain the majority of Argentina’s population, most of its cultivated land, and many of its industries.
The windswept plateaus of Patagonia make up the tapering lower part of Argentina. Patagonia extends from the Atlantic Ocean on the east to the foothills of the Andes on the west. Deep canyons and grass-covered valleys cross the sparsely settled, treeless plateaus at intervals. The stony plateaus rise from low cliffs along the Atlantic coast to more than 1,500 m (5,000 ft) at the base of the Andes. Sea animals form colonies in gulfs and bays along the coastal cliffs. To the north Patagonia ends in the lake district. The Río Colorado (Colorado River) forms a natural boundary between Patagonia and the northern two-thirds of Argentina.
Patagonia lies in the rain shadow of the Andes and so receives little moisture. As a result it is used primarily for grazing sheep, although some crops are grown on small farms in irrigated valleys. Several major oil fields also are in Patagonia. At the southern tip of Patagonia is Tierra del Fuego, a large mountainous island shared by Argentina and Chile.
Rivers and Lakes in Argentina
Most of Argentina’s rivers empty into the Atlantic Ocean. Three rivers—the Paraná, Paraguay, and Uruguay—flow generally southward and form a major South American river system. The Paraguay joins the Paraná north of the city of Corrientes in Argentina. The Paraná then continues south and east until it joins the Uruguay River near Buenos Aires to form the huge Río de la Plata. This estuary, which carries the rivers to the Atlantic Ocean, forms part of the border between Argentina and Uruguay. The Paraná-Uruguay system is navigable for about 3,000 km (about 2,000 mi). A famed scenic attraction, the Iguaçu Falls, is on the Iguaçu River, a tributary of the Paraná.
Other important rivers of Argentina are the Río Colorado, which forms the northern boundary of Patagonia; the Río Salado in the Chaco of northern Argentina; and the Río Negro in Patagonia. In the area between the Río Salado and the Río Colorado and in the Chaco region, some large rivers empty into swamps and marshes or disappear into sinkholes.
In the south, the Argentine lake district extends from the Andes to the Patagonian plateaus. This popular resort area is noted for its many lakes and thick evergreen forests, which lie against a backdrop of snowcapped mountains and glaciers. One of the largest lakes is Nahuel Huapí, in northern Patagonia. The lake and the surrounding area make up the Nahuel Huapí National Park. Other lakes in the area are Lake Buenos Aires, which lies on the border between Argentina and Chile, and lakes Viedma and Argentino, which are fed by alpine glaciers. The lake district draws visitors for summer holidays and for winter sports.
Climate in Argentina
Temperate climatic conditions prevail throughout most of Argentina, except for a small tropical area in the northeast and the subtropical Chaco in the north. In Buenos Aires the average temperature range is 20° to 30°C (67° to 86°F) in January and 8° to 15°C (46° to 60°F) in July. In Mendoza, in the foothills of the Andes to the west, the average temperature range is 16° to 32°C (60° to 90°F) in January and 2° to 15°C (36° to 59°F) in July. Considerably higher temperatures prevail near the Tropic of Capricorn in the north, where extremes as high as 45°C (113°F) are occasionally recorded. It is generally cold in the higher Andes, Patagonia, and Tierra del Fuego. In the western section of Patagonia winter temperatures average about 0°C (32°F). In most areas along the Atlantic coast, however, the ocean exerts a moderating influence on temperatures.
Precipitation in Argentina is marked by wide regional variations. More than 1,520 mm (60 in) fall annually in the extreme north, but conditions gradually become semiarid to the south and west. In the vicinity of Buenos Aires annual rainfall is about 950 mm (about 37 in). In the vicinity of Mendoza annual rainfall is about 190 mm (about 7 in).
Natural Resources of Argentina
The traditional wealth of Argentina lies in the vast Pampas, which are used for extensive grazing and grain production. However, Argentine timber and mineral resources, especially offshore deposits of petroleum and natural gas, have assumed increasing importance.
Plants and Animals in Argentina
The indigenous vegetation of Argentina varies greatly with the different climates and geographic regions of the country. The warm and moist northeastern area supports tropical plants, including such trees as the palm, rosewood, lignum vitae, jacaranda, and red quebracho. Grasses are the principal variety of indigenous vegetation in the Pampas. Trees, excluding such imported drought-resistant varieties as the eucalyptus, sycamore, and acacia, are practically nonexistent in this region and in most of Patagonia. The chief types of vegetation in Patagonia are herbs, shrubs, grasses, and brambles. In the Andean foothills of Patagonia and parts of Tierra del Fuego, however, conifers—notably fir, cypress, pine, and cedar—flourish. Cacti and other thorny plants predominate in the arid Andean regions of northwestern Argentina.
Argentina’s animal life is most diverse and abundant in the northern part of the country. Mammals here include monkeys, jaguars, pumas, ocelots, anteaters, tapirs, peccaries, and raccoons. Indigenous birds include the flamingo and various hummingbirds and parrots. The Pampas have armadillos, foxes, martens, wildcats, hare, deer, American ostriches (rheas), hawks, falcons, herons, plovers, and partridges; some of these animals are also found in Patagonia. The cold Andean regions are the habitat of llamas, guanacos, vicuñas, alpacas, and condors. Fish abound in coastal waters, lakes, and streams.
Environmental Concerns in Argentina
About two-fifths of Argentina’s population lives in metropolitan Buenos Aires alone, where heavy traffic leads to significant air pollution. In rural areas, access to safe water and sanitation is limited. Rivers are becoming polluted due to an increase in pesticide and fertilizer use.
Argentina has a relatively complex policy on land protection. There are 190 protected sites, covering a total of 4.4 percent of the country, with a mixture of federal, provincial, and municipal administration. Universities and private individuals also administer a few reserves. Only 1.7 percent (1997) of the land receives significant protection, and only about half of the recognized ecotypes in Argentina are represented in the protected land system. Major ecological threats are hunting and logging in the north, excessive tourism in the south, overgrazing in virtually all areas, and salinization (contamination with salt) of grazing and croplands as a consequence of damming and irrigation projects.
PEOPLE OF ARGENTINA
About 97 percent of Argentina’s population is of European origin. Unlike most Latin American countries, Argentina has relatively few mestizos (people of mixed European and Native American ancestry). However, the number of mestizos has increased in recent decades, primarily through emigration, mostly from Paraguay and Bolivia. Argentina also has a small number of indigenous peoples and its 1994 constitutional reforms guaranteed them certain rights, including the right to bilingual and intercultural education.
Argentina’s government has long encouraged European immigration, and for decades the country’s stable government, good communications, and economic opportunities attracted new residents. From 1850 to 1940, more than 6 million Europeans settled in the country. Spanish and Italian immigrants predominated, with significant numbers of French, British, German, Russian, Polish, and Syrian immigrants. Since the 1950s more than 50,000 Asians, primarily South Korean, have migrated to Argentina. However, since the 2002 economic collapse, many thousands of Argentines have left the country, migrating back to Italy, Spain, Germany, and other countries outside the region.
In 2009, Argentina had a population of 40,913,584, giving the country an overall population density of 15 persons per sq km (39 per sq mi). More than one-third of the population lives in or around Buenos Aires; 91 percent of the people live in urban areas.
Argentina’s people enjoy levels of per capita income, urbanization, literacy, and social welfare that rank among the highest in Latin America. The country’s entrepreneurial class, large middle class, and comparatively well-organized working class, together with a small indigenous population and the absence of a significant rural peasantry, distinguish Argentina from most other Latin American societies. Nevertheless, in few countries has the population been so clearly divided as in Argentina between the residents of the largest city and those living in the rural areas and smaller cities. Buenos Aires resembles a European capital with its wide boulevards and cafes, and its residents, who identify themselves as porteños or “people of the port,” are oriented more toward Europe and the United States in outlook than toward the rest of Argentina or South America.
With the growth of manufacturing, large numbers of rural laborers moved to Buenos Aires in search of a better life. These laborers have crowded into mushrooming slums on the edges of the capital, living in neighborhoods known as “villas miserias.” In many cases they have found only part-time employment.
Principal Cities of Argentina
Buenos Aires is Argentina’s capital and largest city. In 2005 the population of the City of Buenos Aires was 3,018,102; in 2007 the urbanized area surrounding and including the city held an estimated 12.8 million people. Other important cities include Córdoba (population, 2001, 1,368,109); San Justo (1,253,921), a suburb of Buenos Aires; the river port of Rosario (908,163); La Plata (520,647), capital of Buenos Aires Province and part of the Greater Buenos Aires metropolitan area; Mar del Plata (519,707), a resort city on the Atlantic coast; San Miguel de Tucumán (527,150), a diversified manufacturing center; Salta (462,051), famous for its colonial architecture; and Mendoza (110,993), hub of an important agricultural and wine-growing region.
Languages spoken in Argentina
Spanish is the official language of Argentina and is spoken by the overwhelming majority of the people. Lunfardo, a local dialect mixing Italian and Spanish, is widely spoken in Buenos Aires. Italian, English, Korean, Yiddish, and a number of indigenous languages are also spoken.
Religion in Argentina
Roman Catholics make up 91 percent of the Argentine population. Judaism, Protestantism, and a number of other Christian and non-Christian religions are practiced. Although the constitution guarantees freedom of worship, the Roman Catholic Church has long enjoyed a privileged position similar to that of an established church. The 1994 constitution repealed the requirement that the president and vice president of Argentina must be Roman Catholic. However, the reform maintained the clause mandating that the “federal government shall uphold the Roman Catholic Apostolic faith.”
EDUCATION AND CULTURE OF ARGENTINA
Argentina’s culture reflects many influences. The Argentine elite has always regarded Paris (France), rather than Madrid (the capital of Spain), as its second home, and French influence has always been particularly strong in the intellectual life of the country. During the 19th century French political and philosophical thought penetrated deeply into Argentine literature and thought. Italian and English influences have also been important in both cultural and economic life. However, the most prominent figure in the arts and heritage of Argentina is that of its native gaucho (cowboy).
Although European ideas and culture remain the dominant factor in the evolution of the Argentine national identity, popular culture, particularly from the United States, has had a strong influence on Argentina since the 1960s. This influence has been felt in the areas of music, film, fashion, and food. The indigenous cultures also contribute, if only in a small way, to the national culture; indigenous peoples have had a significant influence on folk art.
Gaucho Folk Culture
The culture of Argentina today reveals very few non-European elements, unlike the strong Native American influence found in the culture of Mexico and the Andean countries of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru. The basis for the economy and culture of colonial Argentina was not gold and slaves, since the Spaniards found no rich mines or advanced Indian civilizations upon their arrival. Instead, the source of Argentina’s wealth was mainly the immense herds of wild cattle and horses that roamed the Argentine pampas and the men who, sometimes pursued by the law, went from the cities to the pampas. These adventurers became the wild horsemen and folk singers known as gauchos.
Home-grown Argentine culture began with the gaucho. With an easily available food supply and with horses and hides for trade, the gauchos lived an isolated and independent life along the perimeter of civilization, improvising poems and songs about their deeds. They often accompanied their songs on the guitar. The gaucho folk culture flourished between 1750 and 1850 and ended with the fencing off of the Pampas. However, the gaucho remained a source of inspiration for Argentine literature, music, and art.
Education in Argentina
Argentina has one of the finest educational systems in the Western Hemisphere, although its quality has eroded as budgets tightened in the late 20th century and the conservative influence of successive military governments has shaped the curriculum. Primary education is free and compulsory from ages 5 to 14. In 2005, 4.7 million pupils attended primary schools; 3.5 million attended secondary and vocational schools. Argentina’s literacy rate of 98 percent is one of the highest in Latin America.
In the early 2000s Argentina had about 30 national (federal government-funded) universities and about 20 private universities. The largest public university is the University of Buenos Aires, founded in 1821. Others are located at Córdoba (1613), La Plata (1905), Mendoza (1939), and Rosario (1968). The Catholic University of Argentina (1958) and National Technological University (1959) are both located in Buenos Aires. Since the 1980s Argentina’s state-run universities and colleges have suffered from inadequate investment in facilities, a lack of full-time faculty, and a failure to modernize the curriculum.
Libraries and Museums in Argentina
The leading library of Argentina is the National Library, built in 1810 in Buenos Aires. The library has more than 2 million volumes. Prominent museums in Buenos Aires include the Argentine Museum of Natural Sciences, the National Museum of Fine Arts, the National Museum of Decorative Art, and the Museum of Latin American Art. Elsewhere in Argentina, the city of La Plata has a museum of natural history that is noted for its collections of reptile fossils.
Literature in Argentina
Argentine literature, originally a derivative form of Spanish literature, took on a markedly nationalistic flavor in the 19th century when the gaucho heritage asserted itself. The poem Fausto (1866), by Estanisláo del Campo, is a gaucho version of the Faust legend, inspired by the opera Faust by French composer Charles Gounod. Fausto is one of the best-loved works in Argentine literature. But it was the poem El gaucho Martín Fierro (1872; The Departure of Martin Fierro, 1935) by José Hernández that established the gaucho as a national genre in Argentine literature. Many people consider Martín Fierro the national epic of Argentina. In the sociological essay Facundo (1845; translated 1868), Domingo Faustino Sarmiento studies how the rural life of the Argentine Pampas helped shape the national character. While Sarmiento sympathizes aesthetically and emotionally with the gaucho, he presents a program for national reconstruction through education, European immigration, and technical progress.
In the 20th century the gaucho reappears as the protagonist of the novel Don Segundo Sombra (1926; translated as Don Segundo Sombra, Shadows on the Pampas, 1935), by Ricardo Güiraldes. Other notable Argentine writings from the 20th century include Rayuela (1963; Hopscotch, 1966), a novel by Julio Cortázar that many consider the most important Latin American novel of the 1960s; El beso de la mujer araña (1976; translated as Kiss of the Spider Woman, 1979), a novel by Manuel Puig that was made into a popular motion picture (Kiss of the Spider Woman, 1985); and the stories of Ernesto Sábato. Eduardo Mallea, a novelist who wrote on existentialist themes, and Jorge Luis Borges, internationally renowned for his short stories, were major literary figures of the late 20th century. The best-known Argentine poet is Leopoldo Lugones, who wrote both symbolist and naturalist verse. Contemporary writers include Guillermo Martínez, who wrote Infierno Grande (1989), a collection of short stories; Marcos Aguinis, who explored Argentina and Germany in the 1930s in La matriz del infierno (1997); and Alicia Steimberg, who chronicled a woman searching for her identity in Cuando digo Magdalena (1992; translated as Call Me Magdalena, 2001).
Art in Argentina
Gaucho themes and scenes of town life dominated Argentine painting in the 19th century. Prilidiano Pueyrredón was the principal artist of the period. Artists of the 20th century included realist painter Cesareo Bernaldo de Quirós, known for colorful canvases of gauchos and vivid folk scenes; Benito Quintela Martín, painter of port life in Buenos Aires; and cubist painter Emilio Pettoruti. The works of sculptors Rogelio Yrurtia, Carlos Dorrien, and Alicia Penalba are widely known. Julio Le Parc experimented with movement, light, and optical effects in his sculptures.
Argentina is an important center for contemporary art, particularly in the vibrant cultural center of Buenos Aires but also in the provincial capitals. Modern Argentine artists are known around the world and have consistently absorbed global artistic trends without losing their national identity. Argentina’s most innovative contemporary artists include Luis Benedit, Juan Carlos Distéfano, Guillermo Kuitca, León Ferrari, Víctor Grippo, Miguel Angel Rios, and Rubén Santantonin.
Music and Dance in Argentina
Traditional Argentine music has many components. The most important are the gaucho folk song and folk dance, Native American music from the northern provinces, European influences, and, to a minor extent, African music. The most famous of all Argentine dance forms is the tango, which developed in Buenos Aires and became a favorite ballroom dance throughout much of the world. It evolved from the milonga, originally a song of the slums of Buenos Aires. Early 20th-century singer Carlos Gardel was revered in Argentina as “king of the tango.” Ástor Piazzolla, a prolific 20th-century tango composer, bandleader, and performer, incorporated jazz and classical influences in his works.
Symphonic music and opera are important features of Argentine musical culture. The National Symphony Orchestra is based in Buenos Aires, and the opera company of the city performs in the Colón Theater, which opened in 1908. The great tide of Italian immigration to Argentina made opera extremely popular in the country, starting toward the end of the 19th century. The Colón opera built an international reputation for excellence.
Leading figures in the classical music field are three brothers: José María Castro, Juan José Castro, and Washington Castro, all conductors and composers. Together with associates, they founded a group to promote modern music. Alberto Williams, the founder of the Buenos Aires Conservatory, is the best-known Argentine composer of the first half of the 20th century. Alberto Ginastera is well known internationally for his symphonic, ballet, operatic, and piano music, and Eduardo Alonso-Crespo has emerged as one of Argentina’s most popular modern conductor-composers. Argentine musicians have contributed to the nation’s vibrant popular music scene; the best-known popular musicians include soloists such as Fito Paéz, Nito Mestre, and León Gieco, and groups such as Soda Stereo, Virus, and Serú Girán.
Sports in Argentina
Since the days of the gaucho, horse racing has been the great national spectator sport of Argentina. Soccer is the national competitive sport, played in both small and large venues such as the River Plata Stadium in Buenos Aires, which seats 100,000 people. The Argentine national soccer team has won many international competitions, including the World Cup championships in 1978 and 1986. Diego Maradona is the most famous of Argentina’s soccer stars.
Polo is a popular pastime, and Argentine horses bred especially for this sport are among the finest in the world. The Argentine Open is an important polo event.
In recent years tennis and golf have gained in national importance, and several Argentine players have excelled in international competitions. Guillermo Vilas won four Grand Slam titles in tennis in the late 1970s. Argentine golfer Roberto de Vicenzo won the British Open in 1967.
Rugby is also a major sport in Argentina, and field hockey is popular among females.
ECONOMY OF ARGENTINA
Argentina was long one of the most prosperous nations in Latin America. Its prosperity originated with agriculture in the Pampas, the economic heartland of the country. Argentina is one of the world’s leading cattle- and grain-producing nations. Manufacturing grew substantially in the mid-20th century. Argentina’s economy in that period was based on the production and export of agricultural products and livestock, machinery and manufactured goods, fuels and chemicals, and minerals. Since the 1980s, however, nonindustrial activities such as financial services, tourism, commerce, and telecommunications have grown considerably.
At the beginning of the 21st century, Argentina faced considerable economic difficulties. In the 1990s the government changed the primarily state-controlled economy to one that was mostly privately controlled. Successive global and domestic crises battered the Argentine economy and contributed to its instability. In addition, declining domestic tax revenue from a global economic slowdown created a drag on the economy. In 2002 the economy collapsed as Argentina defaulted on its public debt, froze bank accounts, and devalued the peso by 30 percent.
Argentina’s national budget in 2004 had revenues of $28 billion and expenditures of $27.8 billion. Argentina’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2007 was $262.5 billion.
Labor in Argentina
In 2007 the total labor force numbered 18.3 million. In 2005 services employed 75 percent of the workforce, while industry employed 24 percent and agriculture, forestry, and fishing employed less than one percent. The movement in the 1990s to privatize many public companies in Argentina changed the structure of Argentina’s labor force. In 2000 approximately 1 million people were employed in the public sector (federal, provincial, and municipal levels), compared to 5.1 million in 1991. Employment in the private sector increased from about 8.1 million in 1991 to more than 12 million in 2000.
Most of Argentina’s 1,100 labor unions are affiliated with the Confederación General del Trabajo (General Confederation of Labor), known as the CGT. The government suspended the right to unionize in 1976, but restored it in 1982. The labor movement included nearly 4 million workers by the late 1990s, with the highest participation rates in the manufacturing sector. By the late 1990s privatization programs had resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs and a national unemployment rate of 15 percent in 2000. Unemployment in Buenos Aires had risen to more than 25 percent by the end of 2002.
Agriculture of Argentina
Argentina’s agricultural output not only fills the nation’s domestic needs but also provides exports for foreign markets. Of Argentina’s land area of about 274 million hectares (about 676 million acres), 10 percent is cultivated, 12 percent forested, and about one-half is used for pasturing cattle and sheep. The most important agricultural zone of the country is the Pampas, where wheat and other cereal grains are grown. Irrigated areas, from the Río Negro north through Mendoza, San Juan, Tucumán, and San Salvador de Jujuy, are rich sources of fruit, vegetables, sugarcane, and wine grapes.
Livestock raising and slaughtering are major enterprises in Argentina, as are the refrigeration and processing of meat and animal products; total annual meat production is about 3 million metric tons, three-quarters of it from cattle. In 2007 there were some 50.8 million head of cattle, 12.4 million sheep, and 2.3 million pigs in Argentina. In addition, there were about 3.7 million horses; Argentine horses have won an international reputation as racehorses and polo ponies.
Livestock exports play an important role in foreign trade. Earnings from meat, hides, and live animal exports in the early 21st century were about $1.9 billion annually, or about 7 percent of total export earnings. Argentina has long ranked as a world leader in the export of raw meat. Cooked and canned meats are also increasingly important exports.
Argentina also produces and exports large quantities of wool; in 2006, 60,000 metric tons of wool were produced. The Patagonia region is home to about 40 percent of all sheep in Argentina.
Wheat is Argentina’s most important crop. The country is among the major producers of wheat in the world. In 2007, the wheat crop totaled 14 million metric tons. Other major cash crops were maize, soybeans, and sorghum. Other major field crops include barley, sunflower seeds, sugarcane, potatoes, rice, and tobacco, as well as grapes, oranges, apples, lemons, and grapefruit.
Forestry and Fishing in Argentina
Situated mainly in mountain areas distant from centers of population, Argentina’s 33 million hectares (81.6 million acres) of forest are relatively unused. Among the most harvested trees are elm and willow, for cellulose production; white quebracho, for fuel; red quebracho, for tannin (used for tanning leather); and cedar, for the manufacture of furniture. Other economically important trees are oak, araucaria, pine, eucalyptus, and cypress.
Argentina’s fisheries, potentially highly productive, have not been fully exploited, although production has increased steadily since the 1960s. In 2007 the catch was 1,184,713 metric tons. Argentine hake and squid are an important part of the catch.
Mining in Argentina
Although Argentina has a variety of mineral deposits, mining has historically been of only modest importance to the nation’s economy. Since the 1990s, however, production of petroleum and natural gas has increased significantly. In 2006 fuel products accounted for 14.6 percent of national exports. In addition to petroleum and natural gas, relatively small quantities of iron ore, gold, silver, lead, zinc, copper, and boron are also mined in Argentina.
In terms of value, the chief mineral product is petroleum. In 2004 production of crude petroleum was 271 million barrels, furnishing the country’s needs and allowing Argentina to become a net energy exporter. Major petroleum reserves are located in Patagonia and offshore near the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas). Natural gas production has doubled since the 1980s to about 41 billion cubic meters in 2003, with reserves located mainly in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego.
Manufacturing in Argentina
Most industry in Argentina is centered along the Paraná River from Rosario to the city of Buenos Aires, and industry employs 24 percent of the national labor force. The country’s oldest industry is the processing and packaging of foodstuffs. By the early 1990s the production of petroleum products had exceeded food processing in value. Other important manufactured goods are motor vehicles; consumer goods such as refrigerators, washing machines, and television sets; pharmaceuticals and cosmetics; electronic equipment; and fibers.
Energy in Argentina
Although most rivers and falls with potential energy are located far from industrial centers, Argentina is developing its water resources at a rapid rate. Major hydroelectric projects include the Yacyretá Dam on the Paraná River (in cooperation with Paraguay) and the Salto Grande on the Uruguay River (in cooperation with Uruguay). The first of 20 generators at Yacyretá, one of the world’s largest hydroelectric facilities, was activated in 1994, but cost overruns, corruption, environmental problems, and construction delays slowed the completion of the project considerably. In early 2005 the governments of Argentina and Paraguay agreed to complete the Yacyretá hydroelectric project by 2008.
While most electricity is generated by hydroelectric or thermal power plants, Argentina has one of the most advanced nuclear energy programs in Latin America, providing 7 percent of the country’s electrical needs. Overall, Argentine power plants generated 109.4 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2006.
Currency and Banking of Argentina
Argentina’s currency is the peso argentino, consisting of 100 centavos. The Central Bank, which was established in 1935 and came under government control in 1949, functions as the national bank and has the sole right to issue currency. After an economic collapse Argentina in 2002 abandoned a law that had pegged the peso to the U.S. dollar on a one-to-one basis. The peso was devalued by 30 percent and allowed to float freely.
Commerce and Trade in Argentina
The trade balance tends to be favorable to Argentina when world demand for food is high. The country’s exports were worth $55.6 billion in 2007. Exports are principally animals and animal products, including meat, hides, and wool; grains, including wheat and corn; oilseed; petroleum products; and automobiles. Imports are typically machinery and equipment, chemicals, metals, and airplanes and other vehicles; in 2007 imports cost $44.8 billion. Chief purchasers of exports are Brazil, the United States, Chile, China, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, and Uruguay; leading sources for imports are Brazil, the United States, China, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Spain.
Argentina is a member of the Latin American Integration Association (LAIA, known in Spanish as Asociación Latinoamericana de Integración, ALADI), which governs regional trade. It is also a member of the Southern Cone Common Market (also known by its Spanish acronym, MERCOSUR). Founded in 1991, MERCOSUR eliminates tariffs on many goods traded between Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay. A large portion of Argentina’s imports and exports are with its MERCOSUR partners. Chile is also an important trading partner with Argentina and other members of MERCOSUR.
Tourism of Argentina
Argentina has a number of tourist attractions, but the country’s distance from Europe and the United States has limited the development of the tourism industry. Even so, several million tourists visit Argentina each year. The top destinations are Buenos Aires, the Andes and the lake district around Bariloche, and Patagonia. Buenos Aires is a vibrant, sophisticated city that offers many urban pleasures and has long prided itself on being the “Paris of South America.”
Adventuresome travelers may choose to travel through Patagonia on horseback, stopping to fish and camp out, or hike in the Andes Mountains. Skiers flock to resorts in the mountains to enjoy their sport during Argentina’s winter months of June, July, and August. The lake district and Atlantic beaches draw Argentineans as well as visitors from abroad. Iguaçu Falls, on the border with Brazil, is another popular tourist site. National parks preserve many of the country’s natural wonders.
Transportation in Argentina
The government of Argentina owned and operated the entire Argentine railroad system from 1948 until 1992, when it privatized most of the rail system. By 1994 the government had privatized most of the state-owned freight rail network and transferred several of the intercity passenger services to provincial control. The system has a total length of 35,753 km (22,216 mi). Only one functioning line crosses the Andes, providing a connection with northern Chile; railroad links also connect Argentina with Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Brazil, although direct services are not possible because of differences in operating gauges. As a result of privatization, passenger service in many areas of the country is no longer available.
Aerolíneas Argentinas, once the national airline and now part of Spain’s Iberia Airlines, is Argentina’s largest air carrier. It operates flights within Argentina and to international destinations. There are also several smaller, domestic airlines. Argentina has about 11,000 km (about 6,800 mi) of waterways along navigable rivers, especially those in the Paraná region. The most important waterway development project in the region is the Hidrovía system, which links waterways in the Pantanal lowlands of Brazil with the Paraguay, Paraná, and Uruguay river systems.
The combined length of all roads and highways is 400,000 km (248,548 mi). A variety of private companies operate toll roads throughout Argentina, with freeways located primarily in and around the Buenos Aires metropolitan region. In 1998 there were 140 passenger cars for every 1,000 people in Argentina.
A network of private buses, subways, and suburban railroads serves the Buenos Aires metropolitan area. Both the subway and railroad systems have been privatized, and improvements in service frequency and quality have led increasing numbers of passengers to use public transportation. No other city in Argentina has a suburban rail or subway system.
Communications in Argentina
The government maintains a system of postal services throughout the country. In the early 1990s the number of telephone lines in service grew significantly when the government privatized the telecommunications sector. By 2005 there were 227 telephone mainlines in use for every 1,000 persons. There were 681 radios and 292 television sets in use per 1,000 people in 1998. Since 1990, use of the Internet has grown rapidly, as has cellular phone usage.
Argentina has more than 30 daily newspapers; the principal ones are published in Buenos Aires and circulate throughout the country. La Prensa and La Nación are famed internationally for their independent views and objectivity. Other leading Buenos Aires papers are Clarín, Crónica, Página 12, and La Razón. Argentina’s only English-language newspaper is the Buenos Aires Herald. The provincial capitals and other secondary centers all have daily papers with strong local followings. A number of magazines containing both news and features are published in Buenos Aires and circulate throughout the country.
GOVERNMENT OF ARGENTINA
According to the constitution of 1853, Argentina is a federal republic headed by a president. Legislative powers are vested in a National Congress consisting of a Senate and a Chamber of Deputies. All citizens 18 years of age or older are entitled to vote. The 1853 constitution has been revised on several occasions.
Since 1930 Argentina’s democratic institutions have been rescinded or suspended during different periods of authoritarian rule. In 1949 the constitution of 1853 was replaced by one devised by the government of Juan Perón. Under the Peronist constitution the president’s powers were enlarged, the provincial governors were made agents of the president, and the legislature and judiciary were reduced to impotence. After Perón was overthrown in 1955, the 1853 constitution was reinstituted. However, as before Perón, several subsequent leaders suspended or disregarded provisions of the constitution that interfered with their goals. The military junta that took power in 1976 also incorporated a number of extraordinary laws into the constitution.
In 1983, when democratic political life was restored in Argentina, the 1853 constitution was once again reinstituted in essentially its original form. A constituent assembly, agreed to by the main political parties in the congress, was held in 1994 for the purpose of introducing a number of reforms to the original 1853 charter.
Executive of Argentina
Prior to the 1994 constitutional reforms, the president and vice-president were chosen for a six-year term—with no possibility of immediate reelection—by an electoral college whose members were elected by popular vote. The president and vice president are now elected directly by popular vote for a four-year term with the option of seeking immediate reelection for one period only. The 1994 reforms also placed limitations on certain presidential prerogatives concerning decrees, and strengthened the roles of the legislature and judiciary in relation to the president.
The president appoints a cabinet of ministers to head executive departments. The president enacts the laws and may participate in drawing up legislation. The president also serves as the commander in chief of the armed forces.
Legislature of Argentina
The National Congress consists of a lower chamber (the 257-member Chamber of Deputies) and an upper chamber (the 72-member Senate). Deputies are elected by the people to four-year terms through a system of proportional representation. Each province has three senators with one-third of the senators elected every two years to six-year terms. Two of these senators are directly elected and the third represents the province’s largest minority party. Three senators represent the city of Buenos Aires.
Judiciary in Argentina
The judicial system in Argentina is headed by the Supreme Court, which has nine judges. Other federal courts in Argentina include the appellate courts, and district and territorial courts. Supreme Court judges and other federal judges hold lifetime appointments and cannot be removed except through impeachment by Congress. The federal courts have the power of judicial review over constitutional issues. The president appoints federal judges, subject to confirmation by the Senate. The provincial court systems are organized similarly to the federal system and consist of supreme, appellate, and lower courts.
Local Government of Argentina
Argentina comprises 23 provinces; the City of Buenos Aires, which is an autonomous federal district; and the Argentine-claimed sector of Antarctica and several South Atlantic islands.
The provinces are grouped into five major areas: the Pampas, or Littoral, provinces, comprising the provinces of Buenos Aires (which is a separate entity from the city of the same name), Córdoba, Entre Ríos, La Pampa, and Santa Fe; the Northwest provinces, comprising Catamarca, Jujuy, Salta, Santiago del Estero, and Tucumán; the Northeast provinces, comprising Chaco, Corrientes, Formosa, and Misiones; the Andes, or Cuyo, provinces, comprising La Rioja, Mendoza, San Juan, and San Luis; and the Patagonian provinces, comprising Chubut, Neuquén, Río Negro, Santa Cruz, and Tierra del Fuego.
Under the constitution, the provinces of Argentina elect their own governors and legislatures by popular vote. The City of Buenos Aires, which is an autonomous federal district, has a popularly elected mayor and legislature.
Political Parties of Argentina
Throughout the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, Argentina was one of the few nations in Latin America with well-established and fully functioning political parties. However, between 1930 and 1983 the armed forces were a much more powerful factor in Argentine politics than any political party. Almost all of Argentina’s governments during this period were directly military or military backed, and almost all changes in government resulted from military coups d’etat rather than competitive elections. In 1982, after the Argentine armed forces suffered a humiliating defeat in a war with Great Britain, political parties regained the right to function freely in preparation for national elections in 1983.
The oldest political party in Argentina is the Unión Cívica Radical (UCR), or Radical Party, which was founded in 1890. The other major party is the Partitido Justicialista (PJ), also called the Justicialist or Peronist Party, which was founded in 1945 by military leader Juan Perón. Traditionally, the UCR has represented the middle class, and the PJ has drawn its support from the urban working class, but both parties today have much broader support. Until the 1990s, when the PJ began to embrace free-market economics, the Peronists were known as a fiercely nationalistic party that exalted the memory of their founder. Argentina also has a number of smaller parties and parties that represent particular provinces.
Health and Welfare in Argentina
The National Institute of Social Welfare has administered most Argentine welfare programs since its founding in 1944. Labor unions provide health insurance for medical services to its members, while other people receive medical care from free hospital clinics. Medical standards are relatively high in the major cities, and efforts are constantly being made to improve medical facilities in rural areas. The government has privatized many health-care facilities since 1990, and it is generally withdrawing from providing major social welfare services.
Defense of Argentina
The Argentine military establishment is one of the most modern and best equipped in Latin America and has historically played a prominent, and often controversial, role in national affairs. Drastic cuts in military spending in the 1990s, however, prompted Argentina’s armed forces to initiate a number of profit-making ventures to raise money, including offering tours of Patagonia on navy ships. Military conscription was abolished in 1995. In 2006 the army had 41,400 troops. The navy had a strength of 17,755. The air force had about 12,500 members in uniform.
HISTORY OF ARGENTINA
Prior to European contact, Argentina’s indigenous peoples were far less numerous and generally had less-developed cultures than indigenous peoples in Mexico and Peru. Most were hunter-gatherers. Some highly developed indigenous peoples lived inland, far away from the coast. The Diaguita of western and northwestern Argentina practiced agriculture. Their societies and cultures bore traces of influence from the Inca Empire. In northeastern Argentina, bordering on contemporary Paraguay, the Guaraní peoples practiced slash-and-burn agriculture, clearing forestland by cutting down and burning the existing vegetation.
The Colonial Era
In 1516 the Spanish navigator Juan Díaz de Solís, then searching for a southwest passage to the East Indies, piloted his ship into the great estuary now known as the Río de la Plata. He claimed the surrounding region in the name of Spain. Sebastian Cabot, an Italian navigator in the service of Spain, visited the estuary in 1526. In search of food and supplies, Cabot and his men went up the Paraná River close to the site of the modern city of Rosario. They constructed a fort and explored up the river as far as the region now occupied by Paraguay. Cabot, who remained in the river basin for nearly four years, obtained small quantities of silver from the native peoples. He named the estuary the Río de la Plata, which is Spanish for “silver river.”
In 1536 Pedro de Mendoza, a Spanish soldier appointed as the military governor of all land in South America south of the Río de la Plata, founded Buenos Aires. The members of his expedition encountered hostile indigenous peoples, severe hardships, and great difficulties in obtaining food. They abandoned the site in 1541.
In 1537 Domingo Martínez de Irala, one of Mendoza’s lieutenants, founded Asunción (now the capital of Paraguay), which became the first permanent settlement in the La Plata region. In 1553 Spanish settlers from Peru established the first permanent settlement on Argentine soil at Santiago del Estero in the Andean foothills. The Spanish founded Santa Fe in 1573, and in 1580 they resettled Buenos Aires. Administratively, the La Plata region formed part of the Viceroyalty of Peru, based in Lima.
Throughout the 17th century and most of the 18th century Spain funneled all overseas trade with its colonies through Lima, where the viceroy resided. Despite the advantages of Buenos Aires as a more direct link between Europe and the colonial settlements east of the Andes, the Río de la Plata area was legally closed to all overseas trade. The Spaniards in the area lived on small subsidies from the Spanish government and from an illegal silver trade with Peru. They exploited the enormous herds of wild cattle descended from animals the Spanish brought to the region decades earlier.
In 1776 Spain made Buenos Aires the capital of the newly formed Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata, a region comprising present-day Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Spain also allowed trade. Free at last from the control of Lima, Buenos Aires began to prosper, not only through legal trade with Spain and other Spanish colonies, but also through a brisk illegal trade. The La Plata region then began exporting Peruvian silver and cattle hides from the wild herds of the Pampas, and Buenos Aires became a major port for importing African slaves. These changes attracted Spanish merchants and a large number of senior Spanish administrators to Buenos Aires.
End of Spanish Rule
After about 20 years of economic expansion and stability, the La Plata region attracted the attention of Britain, which was at war with France and Spain. In 1806 a British fleet attacked Buenos Aires. The British took control of the city, but a citizen militia quickly ousted them. The following year the British tried to regain control of the city but failed. The defeat of the British filled the citizens of Buenos Aires with confidence in their fighting ability.
Revolutionary sentiment in La Plata escalated after the French emperor Napoleon overthrew and imprisoned King Ferdinand VII of Spain in 1808. The people of Buenos Aires refused to recognize Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother, as Ferdinand’s legitimate successor. On May 25, 1810, they rejected Bonaparte’s rule by overthrowing the government and installed a provisional governing council in the name of Ferdinand VII.
The new government launched a military campaign to win the support of the cities in the interior. The campaigns of 1810 marked the beginning of the wars of independence that continued for more than a decade. Argentina declared independence in 1816, although the revolutionaries did not finally defeat the Spanish in South America until 1824. See also Latin American Independence.
The Unitarians and Federalists
In the northern city of Tucumán, on July 9, 1816, a congress of delegates from the Argentine provinces declared the independence of the United Provinces of South America (later called the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata). However, the delegates failed to establish a stable government. A long struggle ensued between the people of Buenos Aires, who wanted to unify the country with Buenos Aires as the capital, and the people of the interior provinces, who did not want to be dominated by Buenos Aires. People in Buenos Aires who mostly favored a centralized system were known as Unitarians, while those in the provinces who wanted a loose confederation with provincial self-government were known as Federalists. Friction between the two factions mounted steadily, culminating in a civil war in 1819 and the so-called year of anarchy in 1820 when provincial forces invaded and occupied Buenos Aires. Peace was restored in 1820 but the central issue, formation of a stable government, remained unresolved.
In the 1820s the Unitarians of Buenos Aires under Bernardino Rivadavia tried to establish a centralized government. A man of liberal views, Rivadavia aspired to modernize Argentina. However, he became distracted when his army challenged Brazil for possession of the east bank of the Río de la Plata. The war between Argentina and Brazil ended in stalemate, and both countries guaranteed the independence of the east bank, which became the independent nation of Uruguay in 1828. Rivadavia was deposed, and Argentina collapsed into bankruptcy and civil unrest.
In 1829 dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas took power in Buenos Aires. A Federalist, Rosas cemented friendly relations with other provinces, winning broad support from fellow caudillos (dictators) and from the small armies of gauchos (cowboys) who dominated the provinces. He established an iron grip over Buenos Aires, demanding rigid obedience of the population and commonly murdering anyone who dared to resist. With few exceptions, his surviving enemies fled abroad. From Chile and Uruguay, and as far away as France and the United States, Rosas’s enemies waged a propaganda war against him. They denounced Rosas for his repressive policies and for failing to promote economic development.
In 1852 General Justo Urquiza, a former governor of Entre Ríos province, led an uprising that toppled Rosas. Urquiza received assistance from exiled Unitarians in Uruguay and from Brazil. In 1853 Argentina adopted a federal constitution, and Urquiza became the first president of the Argentine Confederation. However, Buenos Aires refused to acknowledge Urquiza’s authority and reinstituted self-rule. The main dispute concerned finances. Buenos Aires collected nearly all the country’s revenues from foreign trade, but its leaders refused to hand over the revenues to the Confederation.
Formation of the Republic
In 1859 hostility between Buenos Aires and the Confederation flared into civil war. The Confederation initially proved stronger. Following defeat in the Battle of Cepeda in 1859, Buenos Aires agreed to join the Confederation. In 1861 civil war erupted again, and in the Battle of Pavón the forces of Buenos Aires under General Bartolomé Mitre defeated the army of the Confederation under Urquiza. As the Confederation collapsed, Mitre created the Republic of Argentina. In 1862 the provinces elected Mitre president of the republic. He ruled under an amended version of the constitution of 1853 and made Buenos Aires the nation’s capital.
As president, Mitre pledged to develop Argentina economically through railroad construction and European immigration. He faced lingering opposition in the interior to a political system dominated by Buenos Aires, but conflict with Paraguay brought war on a large scale. In 1865 Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay declared war on Paraguay. This conflict, known as the War of the Triple Alliance, continued for almost five years until Paraguay was largely destroyed. Despite almost continual warfare, the Argentine economy grew until an economic depression occurred in the mid-1870s.
In 1879 General Julio A. Roca led an invasion of the southern Pampas, known as the Conquest of the Desert, in which his troops subdued and destroyed the indigenous peoples and opened vast new areas for grazing and farming. This campaign marked the beginning of a decade of unprecedented expansion. In 1880 Roca was elected president. Unlike Mitre, who dominated the country from Buenos Aires, Roca drew his power mainly from the provinces, and his victory provoked his opponents in Buenos Aires into revolt. Backed by the army, Roca’s followers put down the rebellion. To placate the people of Buenos Aires, Roca’s government made the city a federal district. This move effectively separated the city of Buenos Aires from the province of the same name.
Era of Prosperity
In the 1880s Argentina made rapid economic progress. British capital financed one of the largest railroad systems in the world. European immigrants flowed into Argentina; by 1914 nearly 6 million people had come to the country. Argentina became a major exporter of wool, wheat, and beef. In the first decade of the 20th century, Argentina became the richest nation in Latin America, its wealth symbolized by the opulence of its capital city. The growth of Argentina occurred rapidly but not smoothly. Following a steep upturn in growth during the late 1880s, the economy crashed in 1890. Five years elapsed before growth finally resumed.
The early 20th century in Argentina had some features in common with the 1880s and 1890s. A period of economic disruption followed an era of rapid growth. From 1901 to 1913, Argentina achieved greater prosperity. The population swelled, particularly in Buenos Aires. In response to social unrest in urban areas, the conservative ruling class adopted political reforms. In 1912 legislation known as the Sáenz Peña law democratized the political system by granting universal male suffrage (right to vote). This law enabled wider political participation for the middle class and segments of the working class. In 1916 the Radical Party under Hipólito Irigoyen took power.
At the time of Irigoyen’s election, Argentina was suffering the ill effects of World War I (1914-1918). In the early stages of the war, European countries imported fewer Argentine products, which caused a recession in Argentina and resulted in declining living standards for workers. Workers held strikes to protest economic conditions, and in early 1919 the army fired on the participants of a widely supported general strike. People who opposed the strike also attacked the Jewish community of Buenos Aires in an episode known as the Tragic Week. Instability continued until 1924 when Argentina experienced another burst of rapid prosperity sustained by foreign investment, immigration, and rising exports.
The Great Depression and World War II
The world economic crisis that began in 1929 had serious repercussions in Argentina. In 1930 a military coup ousted Irigoyen’s second administration and instituted a brief military dictatorship. Falling foreign trade and unemployment intensified the prevailing sense of insecurity. In the 1930s earnings from agriculture declined, and thousands of people were forced to leave rural areas. They moved to cities, especially Buenos Aires. Former farm workers joined an emerging manufacturing economy that developed as imports declined. Economic conditions improved substantially during the administration of General Agustín P. Justo from 1932 to 1938, but political unrest continued.
During the 1930s Argentina had a very active right-wing nationalist movement that its opponents denounced as pro-fascist (see Fascism). The appeal of liberal democracy declined as the lure of authoritarian dictatorship grew. In 1943 a nationalist military junta, suspecting that the government was about to abandon its policy of neutrality and join the Allied Powers in World War II, overthrew the president.
The coup of 1943 dethroned the political system instituted almost a century earlier with the constitution of 1853. Right-wing nationalists led the new government. President Pedro Ramírez abolished all political parties, suppressed opposition newspapers, and stifled the remnants of democracy in Argentina. Then in 1944 Allied pressure forced Ramírez to break diplomatic relations with Germany and Japan. Local opposition to the break led to the president’s fall and instatement of another military government committed to neutrality.
The Perón Era
During this period, army colonel Juan D. Perón emerged as the leading figure in Argentine politics. Perón achieved prominence as an instigator of the 1943 coup. He increased his influence by serving as secretary for labor and social welfare under Ramírez and by enlisting the support of organized labor. Perón found his main support among poor urban industrial and agricultural workers, popularly known as descamisados (Spanish for “shirtless ones”). He founded a new political movement later named the Justicialist Party, also known as the Peronist Party. Perón promised his supporters, known as Peronistas, that the Peronist Party could achieve social justice by rapidly improving living conditions. In 1944 and 1945 Peronism emerged as a powerful mass movement.
In October 1945 Perón married the former actress Eva Duarte. As first lady of Argentina, Eva Perón, known as Evita, managed labor relations and social services for her husband’s government until her death in 1952. Adored by the masses, which she manipulated with great skill, she became, as much as anyone, responsible for the enduring popular following of the Perón regime.
Following his election as president in 1946, Perón put forth an ambitious five-year plan to expand the economy through industrial production and to increase government control over the national economy. His government built steel mills, textile mills, and other factories. It also nationalized the banking system and private companies such as the British-owned railroads and the U.S.-owned telephone company.
During its first two years, the plan appeared brilliantly successful as industrial output increased and wages climbed. Problems emerged in 1948 when European countries began importing fewer Argentine products, and both industrial production and living standards stagnated. The Perón regime lost much of its initial popularity and resorted to force and threats to uphold its position.
In 1949 Perón put through a new constitution permitting the president to succeed himself in office. When the Peronistas renominated Perón as the presidential candidate for 1952, the opposition parties and press grew increasingly critical of the government. The Perón government responded with legislation authorizing prison terms for people who showed “disrespect” for government leaders, as well as measures curbing the freedom of the press. Many opponents of the regime were jailed. In 1951 the government took over the newspaper La Prensa, a leading critic of the Perón government. The political parties that opposed Perón in the presidential elections faced growing restrictions. Unsurprisingly, Perón easily won reelection, and the Peronistas gained an overwhelming majority in the Chamber of Deputies.
In 1953 the government inaugurated a second five-year economic plan emphasizing agricultural output as opposed to all-out industrialization. That year produced increased agricultural exports and the first favorable trade balance since 1950, but the economy suffered from severe inflation. As political tensions grew, in 1954 Perón accused a group of Catholic priests of plotting against the government. In retaliation the government enacted several anticlerical measures, which included legalizing divorce and prostitution. The schism between the church and the Perón government steadily widened.
On June 16, 1955, opponents of the Perón government in the Argentine navy and air force launched a revolt in Buenos Aires that led to the bombing of the downtown area and killed many people. The army remained loyal, however, and the uprising collapsed. Tension continued to increase, and on September 16 insurgents in all three branches of the armed forces staged a rebellion. After several days of civil war and more casualties, Perón resigned. On September 20 the insurgent leader Major General Eduardo Lonardi took office as provisional president, promising to restore democratic government. Perón went into exile, first in Paraguay and later in Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and finally Spain.
After less than two months the Lonardi government fell in a coup led by Major General Pedro Eugenio Aramburu. Aramburu restored the constitution of 1853 and persecuted the Peronistas, particularly those in the labor unions. The government banned the Peronist Party from participating in the 1958 elections, and Arturo Frondizi of the Radical Party won the presidency with Peronist and Communist support. By 1960 Frondizi had achieved a degree of economic stability. However, he found it difficult to curb labor unrest and inflation, and his popularity declined throughout 1961. In the 1962 election, Frondizi allowed the Peronist Party to participate, and it polled about 35 percent of the vote. The prospect of the Peronistas returning to power triggered the military to overthrow Frondizi. Argentina returned to civilian rule the next year after Arturo Illía, a moderate, became president. He promoted a program of national recovery and regulation of foreign investment. However, he was unable to control inflation.
In 1966 another military coup occurred, and the military set up a government under General Juan Carlos Onganía, who sought radical change. Onganía pledged to rescue the economy, reform the social structure, and then restore “true” democracy purged of Communist and Peronist influences. His government dissolved the National Congress and disbanded all political parties. Onganía’s program enjoyed great success but suddenly collapsed in mid-1969 when workers and students in the city of Córdoba held massive demonstrations.
The country shook as waves of popular unrest hit many of its leading cities. Guerrilla groups made up of leftists and Peronistas carried out audacious assassinations and kidnappings. Eventually, the military named General Alejandro Agustín Lanusse president; he took office in early 1971. The Lanusse government pledged a return to civilian rule and promised to hold elections. Violence continued in the form of strikes, popular riots, and terrorist activities, and the economy suffered renewed crisis. In an effort to stem the opposition, Lanusse allowed the Peronistas to participate in the election. In the 1973 election Hector J. Cámpora of the Peronist Party was elected president with almost 50 percent of the vote.
Return and Death of Perón
The return of civilian government failed to curb political conflict. Leftist and Peronist terrorism escalated. Rightist vigilantes, also pledging support for Perón, kidnapped and murdered opponents. In June 1973 Perón returned to Buenos Aires, but a violent fight broke out at the airport where he landed and resulted in about 400 deaths. Cámpora then resigned. Perón won the presidency in September elections with more than 60 percent of the vote. His third wife, Isabel de Perón, became vice president.
The physical strain of the presidency proved too much for the aging Perón, who died on July 1, 1974, leaving his wife as the first female chief executive in the Western Hemisphere. During her brief presidency, political and economic conditions deteriorated rapidly. In 1975 terrorist activities by right- and left-wing groups resulted in the deaths of more than 700 people. The cost of living climbed steeply, and strikes and demonstrations continually threatened stability. In 1976 a military junta, led by Lieutenant General Jorge Rafael Videla, seized power, dissolved the National Congress, and proclaimed martial law.
The “Process of National Reorganization,” as the new military junta called its program, proved more repressive than any previous government in Argentina. The armed forces and the police hunted down opponents and imposed a reign of terror on the population in what became known as the “dirty war.” An estimated 30,000 people disappeared into secret prisons and were executed after weeks of torture. They became known as the desaparecidos (Spanish for “disappeared ones”)—people who vanished without trace under the military government.
When a new military government under General Roberto Viola took over in 1981, the Argentine economy collapsed completely. The government devalued the currency, which led to a flight of foreign capital. At the end of 1981 General Leopoldo Galtieri overthrew and replaced Viola. Unable to control the economy, Galtieri feared an outbreak of popular opposition and the resurgence of leftist opposition. Signs of popular protest appeared in 1982 when the hitherto repressed unions organized street demonstrations against the government.
Galtieri sought to deflect the popular challenge by seizing the Falkland Islands, known in Argentina as the Islas Malvinas, territories that Argentina claimed but Britain had occupied since 1833. On April 1, 1982, Argentine troops forced a token British force to surrender and took possession of the islands. The apparent success of the campaign converted swelling opposition to the government into massive popular support. However, Britain struck back and dispatched a large military and naval force to the South Atlantic. Many efforts to settle the conflict through diplomacy failed. In early June 1982 British troops landed on the islands. In three weeks, they defeated the poorly led, often starving Argentine soldiers.
Within days of the surrender, Galtieri resigned. Another junta announced elections while trying to protect military officers from reprisals as they left the government. A year after the Falkland Islands debacle, the elections of 1983 brought an unexpected result. As the Peronistas remained divided, the smaller Radical Party under Raúl Alfonsín gained its first absolute majority since 1928.
The Alfonsín Government
By December 1983, as Alfonsín took power, military rule had been totally discredited. Throughout Argentina, a determination prevailed to make democracy successful. Despite his strong support, Alfonsín faced some daunting obstacles. The economy remained mired in recession, and the country faced a massive foreign debt. To pay the debt, the government had to restrict imports and create a large trade surplus, but in doing so it limited the recovery of the manufacturing sector by preventing the acquisition of necessary parts and supplies.
The government established a national commission to examine the fate of the desaparecidos of the mid-1970s. In 1985 the government supported indictments of the military leaders from 1976 to 1983. Lengthy trials ended in long prison terms for Videla, Galtieri, and several other former military leaders. However, the military opposed these trials, and military protests led the Alfonsín government to pass a law that granted amnesty to lower-ranking military officials for atrocities committed during the “dirty war.”
Alfonsín faced growing opposition from the unions and the church, along with economic unrest. In 1985 the Alfonsín government introduced the Austral Plan in an effort to stop inflation by freezing prices and wages, but labor opposition gradually undermined the plan. Strikes forced the government into conceding higher wages, and inflation mounted once more. Alfonsín’s popularity drained away.
The Menem Government
In 1989 Carlos Menem, the presidential candidate of the Peronist Party, won a landslide election victory. Before Menem took office, another wave of hyperinflation struck, and mobs of poor people looted supermarkets in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area. Facing more outbreaks of military unrest and renewed leftist activity, Alfonsín abandoned his office before his term expired, and Menem was sworn in as president.
As president Menem set a new direction for Argentina’s economic policy. Campaigning for the presidency, he appeared to be an old-style Peronista, promising more government control and higher wages. However, Menem changed his position in response to hyperinflation. To rescue the economy, he had to seek external financial support from organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF). He could only obtain such support by promising to undertake drastic economic reform. Menem announced a cabinet dominated by so-called neoliberals, who supported a free-market economy and minimal government interference.
The neoliberals argued that the main cause of Argentina’s long economic decline lay in the excessive role of government in the economy. They argued that cuts in the public sector were essential first steps to restore the country’s economic health. A growing public acceptance of such ideas represented a revolutionary change of attitude in Argentina. From Perón’s time, the country stood out as a model of state ownership and government intervention. State corporations dominated large areas of the economy, including many manufacturing sectors as well as transportation and utilities. National and local governments provided the main source of employment. The government regulated wages and prices and protected manufacturing through high tariffs. The government also influenced social development through numerous subsidies to social welfare programs.
Led by Domingo Cavallo, who became minister of the economy in 1991, the Menem administration wanted to increase foreign investment and economic growth. To accomplish this, it reduced tariffs and subsidies and sought to stabilize federal revenues through tax reform. In an effort to eliminate national deficits the government brought the federal budget more closely into balance, although it put more responsibilities on local authorities, which resulted in spending increases in the provinces. The government also sold numerous state-owned corporations to private investors. Privatized corporations included Aerolíneas Argentinas, the national airline, and YPF (Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales), the state oil monopoly.
Cavallo also sponsored an initiative to try to control inflation. The government linked the exchange value of the Argentine peso to the U.S. dollar on a one-to-one basis. Known as convertibility, this plan attempted to eliminate inflation by linking the supply of local currency to dollar reserves. To make convertibility work, the government had to stop printing money and devaluing the peso.
Privatization and convertibility gained popular acceptance during a period of rapid economic growth in the early 1990s. However, they lost popularity later in the decade as the growth rate fell. Critics argued that privatization substituted foreign-owned private monopolies for public monopolies and that convertibility intensified the recession by overvaluing the peso. Attempts to reduce public spending proved unpopular from the start.
In 1994 Argentina revised its constitution to allow the president to seek a second consecutive term. Menem won reelection in 1995, and he served as president for a longer stretch than any of his predecessors. He displayed great skill in steering the Peronistas into accepting policies directly opposite to those of Perón. Under Menem the standard of living of many Argentines either fell or stagnated. Critics denounced Menem’s government as corrupt and depicted the regime as a new oligarchy, a government in which power is vested in a few individuals. Nevertheless, the president retained much of his popularity until his term ended in 1999.
In the 1999 presidential election Fernando de la Rúa, a Radical who headed the center-left Alliance coalition, defeated Eduardo Duhalde, the Peronist candidate. De la Rúa, a former mayor of Buenos Aires, was determined to continue the economic policies of Menem, but he faced growing difficulties as the economy remained mired in recession. The de la Rúa administration remained heavily dependent on external financial support. In August 2001 devaluation of the peso appeared imminent until the Inter-American Development Bank provided a loan of $502 million. At that time, the economy was suffering a third year of continuous decline.
De la Rúa’s government instituted an austerity program, which included slashing government salaries and seizing pensions to pay creditors. In December 2001 protests and riots broke out in the streets of Buenos Aires and throughout the country in response to the austerity program and the country’s high unemployment rate. More than 20 people were killed in the protests. Shortly after the protests began, de la Rúa resigned as president. Three politicians served briefly as president before the National Congress chose Eduardo Duhalde of the Peronist Party as president in January 2002.
In one of his first acts as president, Duhalde ended the practice of convertibility. Many critics believed this practice had contributed to the country’s economic problems by causing the peso to be overvalued. With an overvalued currency, Argentina’s imports and exports became more expensive, and the country sold fewer goods abroad. By ending the practice of pegging the peso to the U.S. dollar the government was able to sharply devalue the peso, making the cost of Argentina’s products more competitive on the global market. Argentina also defaulted on more than $80 billion of its public debt early in 2002.
Duhalde served as president until 2003, when Argentina held a presidential election. In the first round, former president Carlos Menem of the Peronist Party finished first but he did not win enough of the vote for an outright victory. Menem then faced a run-off election against fellow Peronist Néstor Kirchner, the governor of Santa Cruz province. Before the runoff took place, however, Menem withdrew from the race after polls indicated that he would not win. Menem’s withdrawal gave the presidency to Kirchner, who pledged to improve the country’s economy by creating jobs and protecting the country’s industrial sector. Kirchner restructured Argentina’s debt, offering new bonds to creditors on terms favorable to the government.
Revisiting the ‘Dirty War’
In 2005 Argentina repealed legislation that had granted a blanket amnesty to military and police personnel accused of human rights violations during the country’s “dirty war.” The military dictatorship that lasted from 1976 to 1983 resulted in the disappearances of about 30,000 people, mostly leftists, and the torture and imprisonment of thousands more. In 2006 the first trial for human rights abuses led to the conviction of a Buenos Aires provincial police officer. In 2007 a three-judge panel found a Catholic priest guilty of taking part in 7 murders and 42 kidnappings and assisting torture in 31 interrogation sessions. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. In July 2008 an Argentine court sentenced a former army general and commander of the Third Army Corps, Luciano Benjamín Menéndez, to life imprisonment for his role in the murder of four left-wing activists in 1977. The four were taken to a secret torture center, where they were killed. Their bodies were then dumped on the street, and the Argentine military claimed they were killed in a firefight. The court also convicted six other military officers and a civilian for atrocities committed under the military dictatorship. Four were sentenced to life imprisonment.
2007 and 2009 Elections
Argentina’s first lady, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, won the presidential elections in first-round balloting in October 2007, handily defeating her nearest opponent by nearly 22 percentage points. In succeeding her husband, Kirchner became Argentina’s first elected female president. Nestor Kirchner declined to seek a second term, although polls had given him favorable ratings. His decision to promote his wife’s candidacy rather than his own was never explained. Cristina Kirchner was a senator from Buenos Aires province prior to the election. During the election campaign, she vowed to continue her husband’s center-left policies.
In the June 2009 elections the Peronist Party suffered a massive defeat, losing control of both houses of Congress. In addition, Nestor Kirchner was defeated in his bid for a seat in the lower house of Congress; following this he resigned as head of the Peronist Party. This defeat made it highly unlikely that Cristina Kirchner would be able to win reelection in the 2011 presidential elections.