History of Argentina

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Template:Argentina main topics This article is about the history of Argentina. See also history of South America, history of Latin America, history of the Americas, and the history of present-day nations and states.


During the reign of the Inca

The area now known as Argentina was relatively sparsely populated until the period of European colonization. The Diaguita of northwestern Argentina lived on the edges of the expanding Inca Empire; the Guaraní lived farther east.

Spanish colonial era

See Also: Government of Río de La Plata, Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata, May Revolution

Europeans arrived in the region with the 1502 voyage of Amerigo Vespucci. Spanish navigator Juan Díaz de Solís visited the territory which is now Argentina in 1516. Spain established a permanent colony on the site of Buenos Aires in 1580 as part of the Viceroyalty of Peru; initial settlement was primarily overland from Peru.

The natural port of the Río de la Plata estuary could not be used because all communications and commerce were meant to be made through Lima's port, a condition that made contraband the usual way of commerce in cities such as Asunción, Buenos Aires, and Montevideo.

The Spanish raised the status of this region by establishing the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata in 1776. This short-lived viceroyalty comprised today's Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay, as well as much of present-day Bolivia.

During this era, Buenos Aires became a flourishing port only after the creation of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata, as the revenues from the Potosí, the increasing maritime activity in terms of goods rather than precious metals, the production of cattle for exports of leather and other products, and other political reasons, made Buenos Aires to gradually become one of the most important commercial centers of the region.

However the viceroyalty was shortlived, due to lack of internal cohesion among the many regions that constituted it and lack of Spanish support. It crashed when Napoleon successfully invaded Spain and overthrew the Spanish monarchy.

The failed British invasions in Río de la Plata in 1806 and 1807 had also boosted the confidence of the colonists, because they successfully stood up against one of the world powers.

Birth of a nation state

News of the French Revolution and the American Revolutionary War brought liberal ideas to Latin America. After the French seized the power in Spain, Buenos Aires formed its own junta on May 25, 1810 and invited the other provinces to join. However, the reluctance of some factions and the centralist tendencies of the more radical activists delayed a formal declaration of independence. In the meantime, Paraguay made its own declaration of independence in 1811.

Military campaigns led by General José de San Martín between 1814 and 1817 made independence increasingly a reality. Argentines revere San Martín, who campaigned in Argentina, Chile, and Peru, as the hero of their national independence. On July 9, 1816, a Congress gathered at Tucumán finally issued a formal declaration of independence from Spain. Bolivia declared itself independent in 1825, as did Uruguay in 1828.

Following the defeat of the Spanish, centralist unitarios waged a lengthy conflict against federalists to determine the future of the nation. The dominant figure of this period was the federalist Juan Manuel de Rosas, generally accounted a tyrant. He ruled the Buenos Aires province from 1829 to 1852 while acting as a caretaker of the external relations of the whole country, who lacked any other form of federal government. Rosas was far more concerned with establishing his own dominance in Buenos Aires than with any principled federalism. He developed a paramilitary force of its own, La Mazorca ("the Corncob"), which earned the federalists the derogatory nickname of mazorqueros, even if they preferred to be known as The Holy Federation instead.

After a revolution under General Justo José de Urquiza, a defecting federalist supported by Uruguay and Brazil, Argentine national unity was at least nominally established, and a constitution promulgated in 1853.

During the early part of this period Argentina was largely a country of Spanish immigrants and their descendants, known as criollos, some of them gathered in the Buenos Aires and other cities, others living on the pampas as gauchos. The rural economy at this time was based almost entirely in animal husbandry (cattle and sheep). Meanwhile Indians continued to menace the Southern frontier. As Borges has written, Argentina had achieved its independence from Spain, but the Spanish conquest of Argentina was still incomplete. Economically, as Fernand Braudel suggested (1984, p. 413) Argentina exchanged Spanish masters for a new dependence, on British capital; the end of Spanish rule became indelibly visible with the heavy investment in Argentina by the City of London, in 1824-1825 (see also Economy of Argentina).

The emergence of modern Argentina

Two forces combined to create the modern Argentine nation in the late 19th century: the introduction of modern agricultural techniques and integration of Argentina into the world economy. Foreign investment and immigration from Europe aided this economic revolution. Investment, primarily British, came in such fields as railroads and ports, but the foreign owners expected to retain controls. The migrants who worked to develop Argentina's resources (especially the western pampas) came from throughout Europe, just as in the United States.

By 1859 the unity of Argentina was generally secured, although it would be two decades before the centralists completed their victory over the federalists. In 1862 the National Assembly selected the liberal politician Bartolomé Mitre as president; in 1868 he was succeeded by Domingo Faustino Sarmiento.

During this period (1865-1870) the bloody War of the Triple Alliance was fought by Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay against Paraguay. In the following decade General Julio Roca established Buenos Aires's dominance over the pampas and the unitarios victory over the federalists; in 1880 Roca became president.

The years from 1880 to 1929 brought Argentina intensified economic prosperity, mainly by way of trade with Europe. The economy was increasingly oriented toward export of raw materials and import of manufactured products.

Roca's government and those that followed were aligned with the Argentine oligarchy, especially the great land owners. From about 1900 Argentine nationalism began to identify Argentina with Europe and the United States of America rather than with the rest of Latin America. Conservative forces dominated Argentine politics until 1916, when their traditional rivals, the Radicals, led by Hipólito Yrigoyen, won control of the government. The Radicals, with their emphasis on fair elections and democratic institutions, opened their doors to Argentina's expanding middle class as well as to elites previously excluded from power.

The Great Depression and World War II

These years of prosperity ended with the Crash of 1929 and the ensuing worldwide economic crisis. The Argentine military forced aged Hipólito Yrigoyen from power in 1930 and ushered in another decade of Conservative rule.

The collapse of international trade led to an industrial growth focused on import substitution, leading to a stronger economic independence (relatively, because oil production in the country was dominated by foreign companies, mostly from the USA, something that Yrigoyen wanted to stop and one of the possible reasons of external support to the military coup). At the same time a climate of increasing political conflict arose, with confrontation between right-wing fascists and leftist radicals, with military-oriented conservatives controlling the government. Roberto Ortiz was elected president in 1936, followed by Ramón Castillo. Argentina was officially neutral during most of the Second World War; much of the public sympathized with the Allied side, however the military governments that ruled between the years 1943-1946 favoured the Axis Powers, although towards the end of the war Argentina entered on the Allied side.

The rise of Juan Perón

Using fraud and force when necessary, the governments of the 1930s (then retrospectively known as Década Infame, the Infamous Decade) attempted to contain the currents of economic and political change that eventually led to the ascendance of Juan Domingo Perón. New social and political forces were seeking political power, including a modern military and labor movements that emerged from the growing urban working class.

The military ousted Argentina's constitutional government in 1943. Perón, then an army colonel, was one of the coup's leaders, and soon became the government's dominant figure as Minister of Labor. Mass protests in 1945 led to Perón's victory in elections on February 20, 1946. He aggressively pursued policies aimed at giving an economic and political voice to the working class and greatly expanded the number of unionized workers. In 1947, Perón announced the first 5-year plan based on the growth of nationalized industries. He helped establish the powerful General Confederation of Labor (Confederación General del Trabajo, CGT). Perón's dynamic wife, Eva Perón, known as Evita, was a former actress from a working class background. Evita helped her husband develop strength with labor and women's groups; it was by mostly through her influence that women obtained the right to vote in 1947.

In 1949 Perón pushed through a constitutional amendment to allow him to run for a second term, which he won in 1952, but a military coup (Revolución Libertadora) led by Eduardo Lonardi deposed him in 1955. He was forced to exile, eventually settling in Spain. Even in exile, he remained popular with the Argentine masses.

Struggle between Peronist and anti-Peronist forces

Through the 1960s, military and civilian administrations traded power, trying, with limited success, to deal with diminished economic growth and continued social and labor demands. When military governments failed to revive the economy and suppress escalating terrorism (Montoneros) in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the way was open for Perón's return.

Lonardi held power only briefly and was succeeded by Pedro Aramburu. In 1956, special elections were held to reform the constitution. The Radical Party under Ricardo Balbín won a majority, although 25% of all ballots were turned in blank as a protest by the banned Peronist party. Also in support of Peronism, the left wing of the Radical Party, led by Arturo Frondizi left the Constitutional Assembly, which was severely damaged by that defection and was only able to restore the Constitution of 1853 with the sole addition of the Article 14 bis, which ennumerated some social rights. Afterwards, Frondizi won the presidential elections of 1958 with support from Peronists.

Frondizi's government ended in 1962 with intervention yet again by the military, after a series of local elections were won by the Peronist candidates. José María Guido, chairman of the senate, claimed the presidency on constitutional grounds before the deeply divided Armed Forces were able to agree on a name. In new elections in 1963, neither Peronists nor Communists were allowed to participate. Arturo Illia of the Radical People's Party won these elections; regional elections and by-elections over the next few years favored Peronists. Along with worker unrest, this led to another coup in June 1966.

This led to a series of military-appointed presidents. The last of these, Alejandro Lanusse, was appointed in 1971 and attempted to re-establish democracy amidst an atmosphere of continuing Peronist worker protests.

On March 11, 1973, Argentina held general elections for the first time in 10 years. Perón was prevented from running, but voters elected his stand-in, Dr. Hector Cámpora, as President. Perón's followers also commanded strong majorities in both houses of Congress. Amidst escalating terror from right and left alike and with Perón back from exile, Cámpora resigned in July 1973, paving the way for new elections. Perón won a decisive victory and returned as president in October 1973 with his third wife, María Estela Isabel Martínez de Perón, as vice-president. Terrorist acts continued to threaten public order. The government resorted to a number of emergency decrees, including the implementation of special executive authority to deal with violence. This allowed the government to imprison persons indefinitely without charge.

Perón died on July 1, 1974. His wife succeeded him in office, but her administration was undermined by economic problems, Peronist intra-party struggles, and growing acts of terrorism by insurgents and paramilitary movements. A military coup removed her from office on March 24, 1976.

The Dirty War

Main article: Dirty War

Following the coup against Isabel Perón, the armed forces formally exercised power through a junta led consecutively by Videla, Viola, Galtieri and Bignone until December 10, 1983. These de facto leaders termed their government programme Proceso de Reorganización Nacional ("National Reorganization Process").

The armed forces applied harsh measures against all who opposed or were suspected of opposing the dictatorship. The costs of what became known as the "Dirty War" were high in terms of lives lost and basic human rights violated. Conservative counts list over 30,000 persons as "disappeared" (i. e. arrested and secretly executed without trial) during the 1976-1983 period; still others went into exile. Few dared to speak out, until finally in 1978 the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, mothers of the dead and disappeared, began holding vigils and demanding (unsuccessfully) an accounting for these crimes.

Serious economic problems, mounting charges of corruption, public revulsion in the face of human rights abuses and, finally, the country's 1982 defeat by the UK in an unsuccessful attempt to seize the Falkland/Malvinas Islands all combined to discredit the Argentine military regime. Under strong public pressure, the junta lifted bans on political parties and gradually restored basic political liberties.

The return to democracy

On October 30, 1983, Argentines went to the polls to choose a president; vice-president; and national, provincial, and local officials in elections found by international observers to be fair and honest. The country returned to constitutional rule after Raul Alfonsín, candidate of the Radical Civic Union (Unión Cívica Radical, UCR), received 52% of the popular vote for president. He began a 6-year term of office on December 10, 1983.

In 1985 and 1987, large turnouts for mid-term elections demonstrated continued public support for a strong and vigorous democratic system. The UCR-led government took steps to resolve some of the nation's most pressing problems, including accounting for those who disappeared during military rule, establishing civilian control of the armed forces, and consolidating democratic institutions. However, constant friction with the military, failure to resolve endemic economic problems (such as chronic inflation), and an inability to maintain public confidence undermined the effectiveness of the Alfonsín government, which left office six months early after Peronist candidate Carlos Saul Menem won the 1989 presidential elections.

As President, Menem launched a major overhaul of Argentine domestic policy. Large-scale structural reforms dramatically reversed the role of the state in Argentine economic life. Ironically, the Peronist Menem oversaw the privatization of many of the industries Perón had nationalized. A decisive leader pressing a controversial agenda, Menem was not reluctant to use the presidency's powers to issue "emergency" decrees (formally decretos de necesidad y urgencia) when the Congress was unable to reach consensus on his proposed reforms. Those powers were curtailed somewhat when the constitution was reformed in 1994 as a result of the so-called Olivos Pact with the opposition Radical Party. That arrangement opened the way for Menem to seek and win reelection with 50% of the vote in the three-way 1995 presidential race.

The 1995 election saw the emergence of the moderate-left FrePaSo political alliance. This alternative to the two traditional political parties in Argentina was particularly strong in Buenos Aires but lacked the national infrastructure of the Peronists and Radicals. In an important development in Argentina's political life, all three major parties in the 1999 race espoused free market economic policies. In October 1999, the UCR-FrePaSo Alliance's presidential candidate, Fernando de la Rúa, defeated Peronist candidate Eduardo Duhalde. Having taken office in December 1999, De la Rúa not only continued the previous administration's ultra-neo-liberal free market economic policies but followed an IMF-sponsored program of government spending cuts, revenue increases, and provincial revenue-sharing reforms to get the federal fiscal deficit under control. De la Rúa pursued labor law reform and business-promotion measures aimed at stimulating the economy and increasing employment, but with catastrophical results. The effect of these measures was absoluely opposite to what was expected; the recession that had started during the last part of Menem's term grew deeper.

Towards the end of 2001, Argentina faced a grave economic crisis. The IMF pressed Argentina to service its external debt, effectively forcing Argentina to devalue the Argentine peso, which had been pegged to the U. S. dollar. On November 1, 2001, as people's fears that the peso would be devalued caused massive withdrawal of bank deposits and capital flight, de la Rúa's Minister of Economy Domingo Cavallo passed regulations severely limiting withdrawals, effectively freezing the peso-denominated assets of the Argentine middle class, while the dollar-denominated foreign accounts of the wealthy were shielded from devaluation. (The freezing of the bank accounts was informally named corralito.)

The overall economy declined drastically during December 2001. The resulting riots led to dozens of deaths. The Minister of Economy Domingo Cavallo resigned, but that did not prevent the collapse of De la Rúa's administration. On December 20 de la Rúa also resigned, but the political crisis was extremely serious, as a result of the resignation of the vice-president Carlos Álvarez in 2000. The president of the Senate became interim president until the National Congress elected, two days later, Adolfo Rodríguez Saá to finish De la Rúa's term. But Rodríguez Saá resigned a week later on December 31, leaving the power to the president of the Chamber of Deputies (as the Senate was undergoing their annual renovation of its president) as interim. Finally, on January 2, 2002, the National Congress elected the Peronist Eduardo Duhalde, a losing candidate in the most recent presidential election, as president.

Elections in April 2003 brought Néstor Kirchner to power. He took office in May 2003. Several pundits have pointed out that Kirchner appears to be part of a new group of leaders in Latin America who have a sometimes testy to downright hostile relationship with Washington because of their opposition to what they see as destructive neoliberal and free market policies. Speculation has emerged about a possible anti-U.S. coalition of Latin American countries including Brazil under da Silva, Cuba under Castro, Venezuela under Chávez, and Kirchner's government. Kirchner's victory appears to be the result of the dissatisfaction of impoverished Argentines in response to previous presidents' pro-American, free-market reforms.

See also


  • Much of the material in this article comes from the CIA World Factbook 2000 and the 2003 U.S. Department of State website.
  • Braudel, Fernand, 1984. The Perspective of the World, vol. III of Civilization and Capitalism (1979)

External link

de:Geschichte Argentiniens es:Historia de Argentina fr:Histoire de l'Argentine lt:Argentinos istorija no:Argentinas historie pt:História da Argentina


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