Concise History of Argentina - from Araucanians to today

The history of Argentina is colourful and varied.

When the news turns to Argentina, images of the tango, world-renowned film, and the European-inspired architecture of Buenos Aires collide with images of riots, runaway inflation, and governments being forced out in disgrace.

Amazingly, those images are all accurate representations of the same country.

Depending on how you look at it, Argentina has either accomplished great things despite its trouble, or gotten itself in a lot of trouble despite its enormous achievements.

But no one can deny that this has long been one of the most exciting countries on earth and the history of Argentina reflects this.

History of Argentina Before the Spaniards

The Araucanians, Incas, Jujuy, and the Mysterious Hunters and Fishers of the South

The very earliest Argentines are a mystery.

They did not create great pyramids, unlike civilizations such as the Mayans and Aztecs in Mexico, nor did they build cities or highways, as the Incas did elsewhere in South America.

The Diaguita people had an agricultural society, ruins of which survive near Jujuy in the Argentina's northwest.

We also know, from the descriptions of Europeans, that the inhabitants of southern Argentina hunted and fished. Otherwise, the archaelogical record is blank and the history of Argentina of this period is sparse.

The first explorers and invaders of Argentina did not come from Europe, but from South America itself.

The Incas, from their base in Peru, built farming settlements in the northwest of Argentina, and a highway that connected it to the rest of their empire.

The Araucanians, coming from what is today Chile, established a large presence shortly before the arrival of the Spanish. The Araucanians eventually become the largest group of indigenous South American inhabitants in Argentina.

Their fierce battle for independence against the Europeans and their descendents would last three centuries, until the Araucanians were wiped out in the genocidal massacres of the late 19th century, a bleak and bloody chapter in the history of Argentina.

Argentina's History under the Spaniards

The first group of Europeans to visit Argentina was most likely the expedition under Amerigo Vespucci in 1502.

Over the next 35 years, Juan Díaz de Solás, Ferdinand Magellan, and Sebastian Cabot followed. None of them settled.

Cabot, however, may have been the one who named Argentina (which means "silver," possibly after the jewelery the natives wore), and Rio de la Plata ("silver river").

Buenos Aires, today the country's capital, was founded by Pedro de Mendoza in 1536. It was soon abandoned after a drought and attacks by the indigenous people of the area.

Asuncion, today the capital of Paraguay, became the main settlement in the Rio de la Plata area.

Several other settlements followed, and in 1580 Buenos Aires was founded all over again.

Still, the real center of colonial South America at this period in the history of Argentina, was Peru.

Argentina, along with the rest of the southern cone countries - Uruguay, Paraguay, and Child - was kept a backwater through restrictions on settlement and trade until 1776.

In that year, Spain decided to develop the region.

The Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata was created out of present-day Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Bolivia. Trade was legalized. Buenos Aires boomed. Cattle hides and Peruvian silver were shipped out of the city, and many African slaves were brought in. It was a prosperous period in Argentina's history.

History of Argentina's Independence

In 1806, the British invaded Buenos Aires, even managing to briefly take control before a citizen militia repelled them.

It would be the first of many battles for control of the country.

Meanwhile, back in Europe Napolean ousted King Ferdinand the Second from the Spanish throne in 1807.

Buenos Aires refused to accept the new king, Napolean's brother, as its ruler.

In 1810, Buenos Aires's militia overthrew the local representatives of Napolean's brother's government and replaced them with a provisional council acting in the name of King Ferdinand.

Thus, the Argentine war for independence actually was begun in the name of the King of Spain, and it marked another major turning point in the history of Argentina.

However, opinions changed during the long battle to remove Napolean's supporters from power in the rest of the country, and in 1816, Argentina declared independence. The revolutionaries finally defeated the Spaniards in 1824.

In the meantime, there was almost as much fighting amongst the Argentines as there was against the Spaniards.

Unitarians wanted to unify the country with a strong central government in Buenos Aires, which they established in 1820.

Federalists wanted a weak central government that would not give Buenos Aires much power.

During the fighting, Buenos Aires was actually invaded and held briefly by provincial militia.

There was also a war with Brazil over Uruguay, which ended with an agreement to make Uruguay an independent country in 1828.

Argentina's Dictators and their history

In 1829, the central government was overthrown, and Rosas, the first of a long series of dictators, took hold.

Rosas based his iron rule on provincial dictators called caudillos, and small armies of gauchos (cowboys).

In 1852, Rosas was overthrown, and the new ruler, Urquiza, tried to establish himself as President. But Buenos Aires refused to recognize him.

The country was plunged into civil war and another bloody period of the history of Argentina ensued.

The civil war ended in 1862 with the creation of the Republic of Argentina, but it wasn't long before Argentina was fighting again.

The War of the Triple Alliance
In the 1865 War of the Triple Alliance, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil ganged up on Paraguay, mostly destroying it.

In 1879, General Julio Roca, under orders from the central government, invaded the southern Pampas, the vast fields in the south of the country.

They systematically massacred the indigenous people who had lived there and fended off the Spaniards and Argentines for centuries.

The Pampas turned Argentina in to a granary
The Pampas were turned into farm and grazing land, solidifying Argentina's position as one of the world's leading beef and grain producing countries.

The economy kept growing, and the country mostly stopped fighting. A national train network was built.

At the turn of the century, one of the world's first underground train systems was built in Buenos Aires.

"Universal male suffrage," the right for every adult male citizen to vote, went into effect in 1912.

Argentina was enjoying one of the world's highest standards of living. It was a period of prosperity and growth. Many of the farmers were so wealthy, the phrase was coined,"....as rich as an Argentine."

During this time there was an enormous influx of millions of Europeans, particularly from Germany and Italy attacted by the prospect of work, hope, prosperity.

Italians were so numerous that it is widely believed that they are the ones that gave Argentines their melodic, sometimes almost songful, accent of Spanish speech.

Culture & the TangoThe culture of the Italians and Germans were fused with older Argentine traditions to create the tango. The slow, sad dance and the music that accompany it each borrow a little from each culture, creating one of the most unique forms of music in the West.

New Troubles for Argentina

But with the Depression of the 1930s, the rapid progress of the preceeding fifty years was quickly reversed. A dictator took power, followed by a series of sometimes-elected authoritarian rulers, culminating in Juan Peron's presidency from 1944-1956.

Peron began as a popular reformer, but when the economy went downhill two years into his administration, he resorted to violence, censorship, and intimidation to keep control.

In 1955, segments of the military rebelled, bombing Buenos Aires and killing many people.

Eventually, the rest of the military joined them and forced Peron to resign.

The country lived through a series of short-term presidents punctuated by coups.

Finally, Peron was brought back from exile and re-elected president in 1973. His wife, Isabel, was made Vice President.

She became the first female head of state in the Americas when her husband died in 1974.

History of Argentina's Dirty War

Terrorism rocked the country for the next few years.

In 1976, the military overthrew the government, and began kidnapping, torturing, and murdering thousands of people, in what was called "the dirty war."

In 1982, the regime tried to gain popularity by invading a group of islands, called Las Malvinas in Spanish, and the Falklands in English.

Though long claimed by Argentina and located not far off the country's Atlantic coast, the British had occupied the islands since the 1830s and were not keen to give them up.

The British quickly defeated the often starving Argentine troops, and the dictatorship finally collapsed.

Modern History of Argentina

Argentina Today: Twenty-plus Years of Difficult, But Lasting, Democracy

A democratic government replaced the military regime and democracy has remained for what is a reasonable period in the modern history of Argentina.

Argentina's economy improved from its abysmal state under the regime, though it has suffered through many ups and and downs.

The country briefly experimented with a new currency, the austral, and then tried pegging the value of the national currency, the peso, to the US dollar.

Both experiments tried to get around Argentina's notorious currency inflation problems, but ended up failing badly.

In 2001, Argentina's financial situation hit a new level crisis ushering in another difficult chapter in the history of Argentina.

Unemployment was high, pensions and government benefits were being slashed, and poverty engulfed about half the population.

A riot killed 20 people and forced the president from power. There was a revolving door for the presidency over the next year.

Fortunately, the country has since calmed down and the economy has improved. At the start of the 21st century, Argentina looks poised to regain the position it held at the start of the 20th century, as one of the world's best places to live.

History of Argentina's neighbours and other Spanish speaking countries.


More Histories of Spanish Speaking Countries
History of Andorra | History of Argentina | History of Belize | History of Bolivia | History of Chile | History of Colombia | History of Costa Rica | History of Cuba | History of Dominican Republic | History of Ecuador | History of El Salvador | History of Guatemala | History of Honduras | History of Mexico | History of Nicaragua | History of Panama | History of Paraguay | History of Peru | History of Puerto Rico | History of Spain | History of Uruguay | History of Venezuela |
History of Argentina
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