Location/Culture Reports

Location Report – Argentina

Map of Argentina<br />
<i>[Click to enlarge]</i>
Map of Argentina
[Click to enlarge]

Argentina is the second-largest country in South America and the eighth largest in the world, about three-tenths the size of the United States. It occupies the southeasternmost portion of the South American continent and is bordered by Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay. It shares Tierra del Fuego with Chile, and continues to dispute the ownership of the Malvinas. The climate is mostly temperate, although the southwest portion of the country is subantarctic. There are four major physiographic areas: the fertile lowland north, with subtropical rain forests; the rich plains of the Pampas; the pastoral steppes and glacial regions of Patagonia; and the Andes region along the western border, with arid basins, grape-filled foothills, glacial maintains, and the Lake District. Argentina has more than 20 national parks preserving large areas of these varied environments and protected wildlife


The history of Argentina is long and complex, and deeply interwoven with that of many of its neighboring states. It's difficult to sum it up in a few paragraphs; I studied Latin American history for three semesters in college (for all the wrong reasons -- my professor was dreamy!), and still only felt as though I scratched the surface. If you're interested, there are many, many resources available; it's a fascinating part of the world, and, as we've seen now on the Race, a stunningly beautiful part as well.
The history of Argentina is long and complex, and deeply interwoven with that of many of its neighboring states.
Santa Maria del Buen Aire, or Buenos Aires as it is known today, was the first Spanish settlement in today's Argentina. It was permanently established in 1580, after several earlier efforts were rebuffed by the local Native American population (which had also managed to prevent the Incas from moving into northern Argentina). Largely neglected by Spain (in favor of the riches of Peru), Buenos Aires was forbidden to trade with foreign countries, and so languished as a backwater for two centuries. Large cattle ranches, estancias, were created, and the majority of the region's wealth stayed in the hands of the few landowners. In 1776, Buenos Aires became the capital of the newly-established Vice-royalty of the Rio de la Plata (which included today's Chile, Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay, and part of Bolivia). The British attacked Buenos Aires in 1806 and 1807 but were fought off, strengthening the region's growing sense of independence.

By 1810, a strong commercial bourgeoisie based in the port area was the driving force behind a revolutionary movement that deposed the highly unpopular viceroyalty and created the United Provinces of Rio de la Plata. Independence from Spain was declared in 1816. It took a number of years of anarchy before a stable government was formed. The greatest disparity was between the conservative landowners of the interior, who favored a federal system of government and provincial autonomy, and the cosmopolitan residents of the province of Buenos Aires, who supported a constitutional monarchy. The great hero General José de San Martin (who together with Simon Bolivar is credited with breaking the shackles of Spanish rule in South America) organized the armies that defeated the royalists and led to the independence of Chile and Peru. After a conflict with Brazil over rival claims to Uruguay, and upon the election of federalist General Juan Manuel de Rosas as governor of Buenos Aires Province in 1829, the turmoil finally lessened appreciably as he cemented friendly relations with the other provinces. The United Provinces then became known as the Argentine Confederation, and during de Rosas' regime all opposition groups were crushed or driven underground. In 1933, setting the stage for a conflict more than a century later, Great Britain occupied the Malvinas Islands (or Falkland Islands).

The overthrow of Rosas by a revolutionary group led by General Justo Urquiza in 1852 led to the adoption of a federal constitution in 1853, with Urquiza as the first president of the Argentine Republic. Buenos Aires Province refused to adhere to the new constitution and declared independence in 1854, but after a brief war in 1859 agreed to join the federation. By 1861, Buenos Aires was designated as the national capital. The War of the Triple Alliance broke out in 1865 when Paraguay invaded Argentine territory over turmoil in Uruguay, which resulted in complete victory for Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay in 1870. During the 1870s, the conquest of the Pampas as far as the Rio Negro was completed in the so-called War of the Desert, led by General Julio Roca, which resulted in elimination of Native American hostilities from that direction and opened up vast new areas for grazing and farming. Roca was elected president in 1880 and the city of Buenos Aires was separated from the province and established as a federal district and national capital. Thereafter, other than a boundary dispute with Chile, which led to the acquisition of title to the eastern half of Tierra del Fuego, a boundary dispute with Brazil, which resulted in the acquisition of 65,000 sq Kim of territory, and a controversy with Chile regarding the Patagonian frontier, Argentina entered a period of political and international stability.
The latter half of the 19th century was the beginning of a long period of growth and prosperity for Argentina, emerging as one of the leading nations of South America.
The latter half of the 19th century was the beginning of a long period of growth and prosperity for Argentina, emerging as one of the leading nations of South America. Sheep and cereal crops were introduced and European immigration, foreign investment and trade were encouraged. Argentina became one of the richest countries in the world, and with the immigration of millions of Europeans, the population reached about 85% European descent. Unfortunately, the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few as well as vulnerability to world economic downturns caused a gradual weakening of Argentina's economy. Unemployment rose, and many rural people were forced to move leave the land and head for the cities.

Eventually this economic slide led to a military coup in 1930, followed by another in 1943, which paved the way for the rise of dictator Juan Perón, who won the presidency in 1946 and again in 1952. With the aid of his charismatic wife Eva, a champion of social welfare programs (discussed below), he stressed domestic industrialization and self-determination, raising wages and encouraging the growth of labor unions. As the economy deteriorated, however, he became increasingly autocratic, and his attempts to secularize the nation brought him into conflict with the Roman Catholic Church. He was overthrown by a military coup in 1955 and was banished to Spain. For the next 30 years, Argentina was primarily ruled by the military, with only brief periods of civilian rule. Perón returned to briefly power in 1973, dying in office in 1974 and leaving power to his second wife, Isabel.

Isabel governed until 1976, but increasing economic instability, political kidnappings, and guerrilla warfare led to another military overthrow led by General Videla, ushering in a dark period in Argentina's modern history. Many thousands of citizens "disappeared" during these years, some of the most famous victims being the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, women who kept a public vigil for members of their families and often "disappeared" themselves.

General Videla was succeeded as president in 1981 by General Viola, who before the year ended was replaced by General Galtieri. By 1982, with Argentina facing economic crisis, General Galtieri used the time-honored distraction technique of failing leadership and ordered an invasion of the Malvinas (Falkland) Islands. To the junta's surprise, however, the UK sent a military task force and within three months defeated the Argentine forces and recaptured the islands (which remain in dispute to this day). Galtieri resigned in humiliation, and Raúl Alfonsin was elected president.

Under Alfonsin, the economy continued to deteriorate, and in 1989 he became the first leader in nearly a half a century to be replaced in a democratic election. He was succeeded by Carlos Saúl Menem of the Peronist party, the Partido Justicialista. Under Menem, and aided by his finance minister, who promoted free-market policies and a radical liberalization program, the Argentine economy began to undergo a transformation and the country enjoyed increasing political stability. Menem was reelected in 1995.

In 1999, the candidate of the opposition (Frepaso Aliance), Fernando de la Rua, was elected as president. He resigned after two years, however, due to public demonstrations over the government's inability to resolve the economic crisis. The Legislative Assembly voted to have Rodríguez Saa govern the country for three months, but after only 10 days in office he resigned. Eduardo Duhalde was then selected in 2002 to govern until new presidential elections could be held. His first step after taking office was to devalue the peso against the U.S. dollar by 30%, causing the economic crisis in Uruguay that I spoke of in my report on that country.

Duhalde occupied the presidency until elections were held in 2003, which resulted in the election of Nestor Kirchner as Argentina's current president. The economy has stabilized, and it is to be hoped that once again Argentina will enjoy the stability and prosperity it has struggled so long to achieve.

Eva Perón

Eva Perón has become such an iconic figure that she deserves special mention. Born Eva Maria Duarte in Los Toldos, she was the illegitimate daughter of Juana Ibarguren, although legally acknowledged by her father. Her family was very poor -- her mother and sisters working as cooks for the wealthy -- and Eva was a poor student who became interested in acting.
Eva Perón has become such an iconic figure that she deserves special mention.
When Eva was 15 and attending school in Junin, a tango singer, Agustin Magaldi, came to Junin to perform. A few days later, she left with him for Buenos Aires. Life was difficult for her and she had to take on lovers who would support her. She finally was able to obtain work modeling for magazines, and then began to act, finally landing a part on a popular radio soap opera. She became increasingly popular as a radio actress and used her popularity to make connections with the military and men in power. Through her connections, she was able to land small parts, and was mildly successful by the time she met a young army colonel named Juan Perón in 1943 at a fund-raising benefit. Eva was 24 years old.

Eva and Juan fell in love and began living together. Equally ambitious, they made a perfect political team. Perón was very popular with the people. As Secretary of Labor and Welfare, he established a minimum wage and better working conditions and made powerful alliances with union leaders. They were married in a civil ceremony in 1945, a risk move on Perón's part since many considered Eva unworthy to enter the social circles in which he moved. They were married by the church several months later.

Soon after their marriage, Juan Perón was elected president of Argentina. Eva quickly became popular with the working class, encouraging them to call her Evita and using her humble beginnings to show her sympathy for the plight of the poor. She created the Eva Perón Foundation and used that organization to distribute wealth to the poor, building hospitals and schools, helping the elderly, and becoming known by many as the "Lady of Hope.” She built a housing project for the poor known as Evita Village, which held 4,000 completely furnished new homes. She also helped a bill pass that gave women the right to vote.

Although she did much good for the poor of Argentina, the descamisados (literally, the shirtless ones), Evita became more and more powerful and ruthless. She was very vindictive, using her position as first lady to blacklist those who had snubbed her when she was a struggling actress. Those who disagreed with her and her husband were often jailed, and newspapers that opposed their rule were shut down. She didn't fare as well abroad as in Argentina, however; on a trip to Europe, while she was well-received in Spain, she was only granted a brief audience with the Pope, her reception in France was equally cool, and British royalty refused to invite her to Buckingham Palace.

Eva Perón died on July 26, 1952 of uterine cancer. She was 33 years old. The oddest part of her story, perhaps, is what happened to her body after her death. Having often told Juan of her worst fear, which was to be forgotten, after she died he hired a Spanish pathologist to embalm her body. Dr. Ara spent two years preserving her body, including her brain and other internal organs that are normally removed. Perón planned to build a huge mausoleum to place her body on display; unfortunately, he was ousted before it could be built, and the new government had Eva's body shipped to Italy and buried in a small cemetery in Milan under a false name. It was only after Perón returned to power 20 years later than her body was returned. Perón was very pleased to see her body again and kept it with him; it wasn't until after Perón's death that Isabel, his second wife, had Eva was buried with her family in Recoleta Cemetery, where she rests today.

Current Government

Today Argentina is a republic made up of 23 provinces and the federal district of Buenos Aires. The current president is Nestor Kirchner. There is a bicameral National Congress consisting of the 72-member Senate and the 257-member Chamber of Deputies. The legal system is based on a mixture of US and West European legal systems, with a nine-member Supreme Court.

Population And Economy

The population of Argentina is largely white, primarily of European descent (97%). The prevailing religion is Roman Catholic (92%, with less than 20% practicing), although there are small groups of Protestants, Jews, and others. The official language is Spanish, but English, Italian, German, French, and even Welsh are spoken, many immigrant groups taking pride in maintaining their own linguistic heritage. The population is overwhelmingly literate (97%).
The economy of Argentina isn't solely based on beef, although that still makes up a large percentage. The major industries today are food processing, motor vehicles, consumer durables, textiles, chemicals and petrochemicals, printing, metallurgy, steel, and agribusiness. Brazil, the United States, and the European Union are Argentina's major trading partners.