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Mi Buenos Aires Querido | Argentina | History

The colonization of the region around Río de la Plata began in 1536 with the foundation of Buenos Aires. The efforts of the Spanish expeditions in establishing a permament colony were halted by the lack of food and the hostility of the native Indians, leading them to abandon the site five years later. Buenos Aires was definitely founded as late as in 1580 but - due to the marginal localization and the lack of precious metals - it remained ignored by the Spaniards for over 200 years.  

Second Foundation of Buenos Aires, 1580

Meanwhile, the natural fertility of the Pampa lands gave birth to huge cattle farms, known as estancias. In this scenery new social types started to proliferate - gauchos (farm workers) on one hand and an incipient rural aristocracy on the other. Thanks to the port, Buenos Aires was able to expand its boundaries and become an important stopover point in the smuggling route. In 1776 it was declared the capital of the new Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata, what represented an important step toward its political and economic emancipation. The definite breakup came with the revolution of May 25, 1810 and the formal independence in July 9, 1816.

Independence led to a civil war that lasted years on end. The federalists (conservative farmers supported by the rural working class) claimed for provincial autonomy, while the unitarists (cosmopolitan traders in search of European investments and immigrants) defended the idea of a strong government centralized in Buenos Aires. After a tyrannical administration of the federalist caudillo Juan Manuel de Rosas, national unity was at least nominally established, and a constitution was promulgated in 1853. Once the political conflict was solved, everything was set up for a formidable period of economic growth.

 

The engine of such a boom was the primary exports model, where the cultivation of cereal crops and the husbandry of sheep played a fundamental role. Massive European immigration, bulk foreign investments (especially British) and a surplus in the balance of trade were the foundations of Argentina's modernization.

Disembarkation of immigrants. Between 1901 and 1905 over 800,000 foreigners went ashore in Argentina.

Nevertheless, the external debt and its interests added vulnerability to a country that was already very dependant on the moods of international markets. Wealth was a privilege of few, while unemployment rose as many small farmers were forced to abandon their lands.

The early 1900's disclosed a flagging democracy, successive economic crisis, mistrusting rural elites and suspicious British investors, leading the country to a coup d'état in 1930 and yet another one in 1943, which paved the way for the rise of Juan Domingo Perón. A virtually unknown colonel who worked in the Labor Ministry, he won the presidency in 1946 and then in 1952. With Eva Perón, his popular and charismatic wife, he established a fascist-like agenda that highlighted the needs for industrialization and self-determination, inciting great appeal among the working mass. Perón was defeated and exiled in 1955 by another military coup and his party was banned. This was the beginning of a 30-year period when militar dictatorships switched with fragile democracies. In 1973 Perón returned to Argentina and ruled for some months until he passed away. He left the power in the hands of his third wife and vice president Isabel, in a period of extreme political, economic and social disorder. Military pressure made her resign in 1976, and a new dictatorphip took over the country.

 

The years between 1976 and 1983 went into history as the Dirty War. The leftist opponents who had started a guerilla against the regime were sistematically eradicated by militar executioners that acted on behalf of the State, vanishing tens of thousands accused of sedition. The most famous victims of this period are the self-called Madres de Plaza de Mayo, mothers who lost their offspring (desaparecidos) and who are in permanent vigilance since then. Other women struggle to identify their lost grandchildren, babies that were adopted by pro-regime families and that now are grown-ups unaware of their real identity.

One desperate mother at Plaza de Mayo being comforted by a policeman.
 

Ironically, this domestic conflict only came to an end in 1982 with the emergency state caused by the Falklands War, lands which were being disputed with England since 1833. The engagement declared by general Leopoldo Galtieri against Margaret Tatcher was in fact a nonsense political manoeuvre that took the life of many young men. A sudden hysteria and the revival of nationalist aspirations tensed the relations between both countries while distracted the public attention from the corruption and the mistakes of the military administration.

A double domestic and foreign failure caused the military government to constantly lose its strenght until the country eventually returned to democracy in 1983, electing Raúl Alfonsín as president. Peronista Carlos Menem succeeded him in office and ruled during the whole nineties. He implemented radical economic shifts, privatizing industries and public services and widely opening the economy for foreign investments. In 1991, secretary Cavallo launched a monetary plan that fixed the peso to the dollar in a parity of 1 to 1. Although these measures were successful in taming hyperinflation from 5,000% in 1989 to 1% in 1997, they also led to the progression of unemployment and to a long recession.

December 20th 2001

Fernando de la Rúa won the presidency in 1999, sustained by a image of austerity and anticorruption that meant to be diametrical to the immoderations of his predecessor. Even though he implemented endless budget cuts and adjustments, these were not sufficient to relief the severe crisis, generating a wave of strikes and popular upheaval that culminated with his resignation.

 

Being the fifth president to take office in only two weeks, Eduardo Duhalde's provisory mandate was focused on inwards assistentialism, and outwards monetary devaluation and protectionism.

On May 25th 2003, Néstor Kirchner was elected president for a mandate of 4 years and a half. His administration has been widely accepted so far, since the country is going through a very positive economic slope, mainly as a consequence of the new exports boom.

 

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