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Learn about the history, government and economy of Argentina.

Europeans arrived in the Argentina region with the 1502 voyage of Amerigo Vespucci. Spanish navigator Juan Diaz de Solias visited what is now Argentina in 1516. Spain established a permanent colony on the site of Buenos Aires in 1580, although initial settlement was primarily overland from Peru. The Spanish further integrated Argentina into their empire by establishing the Vice Royalty of Rio de la Plata in 1776, and Buenos Aires became a flourishing port. Buenos Aires formally declared independence from Spain on July 9, 1816. Argentines revere Gen. Jose de San Martin, who campaigned in Argentina, Chile, and Peru as the hero of their national independence. Following the defeat of the Spanish, centralist and federationist groups waged a lengthy conflict between themselves to determine the future of the nation. National unity was established, and the constitution promulgated in 1853.

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. As in the United States, the migrants who worked to develop Argentina's resources--especially the western pampas--came from throughout Europe.

From 1880 to 1930 Argentina became one of the world's 10 wealthiest nations based on rapid expansion of agriculture and foreign investment in infrastructure. Conservative forces dominated Argentine politics until 1916, when their traditional rivals, the Radicals, won control of the government. The Radicals, with their emphasis on fair elections and democratic institutions, opened their doors to Argentina's rapidly expanding middle class as well as to groups previously excluded from power.

The military ousted Argentina's constitutional government in 1943. Peron, then an army colonel, was one of the coup's leaders, and he soon became the government's dominant figure as Minister of Labor. Elections carried him to the presidency in 1946. He aggressively pursued policies aimed empowering the working class and greatly expanded the number of unionized workers. In 1947, Peron announced the first 5-year plan based on the growth of industries he nationalized. He helped establish the powerful General Confederation of Labor (CGT). Peron's dynamic wife, Eva Duarte de Peron, known as Evita (1919-52), played a key role in developing support for her husband. Peron won reelection in 1952, but the military sent him into exile1955. In the 1950s and 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 in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the way was open for Peron's return.

On March 11, 1973, Argentina held general elections for the first time in 10 years. Peron was prevented from running, but voters elected his stand-in, Dr. Hector Campora, as President. Peron's followers also commanded strong majorities in both houses of Congress. Campora resigned in July 1973, paving the way for new elections. Peron won a decisive victory and returned as President in October 1973 with his third wife, Maria Estela Isabel Martinez de Peron, as Vice President. Peron died on July 1, 1974. His wife succeeded him in office, but a military coup removed her from office on March 24, 1976, and the armed forces formally exercised power through a junta composed of the three service commanders until December 10, 1983. The armed forces applied harsh measures against terrorists and many suspected of being their sympathizers.

Argentina Government & Economy

Democracy returned to Argentina in 1983, with Raul Alfonsin of the country's oldest political party, the Radical Civic Union (UCR), winning the presidency. Three general elections followed in the next 16 years--a remarkable feat in Argentine political history--with the Justicialist Party (PJ) candidate Carlos Menem winning two and the UCR's Fernando De la Rua one.

Argentina consists of 23 provinces plus a federal district, the City Buenos Aires. The Argentine Constitution establishes a Republic under a representative and federal system, and three separate branches of government: executive, legislative and judicial.

Argentina's economy began a recovery in March 2002 that has been far more impressive and robust than anticipated by leading international and domestic analysts. In 2003, an export-led boom triggered an 8.7% surge in real gross domestic product (GDP). Industrial activity and construction activity also performed well, growing 17.9% and 37.8%, respectively, in 2003. Domestic car sales and exports increased 105.4% and 19.2%, respectively, in 2003. Tourism activity boomed: Argentina received 3.3 million foreign tourists in 2003, a record high. The expansion is creating jobs and unemployment dipped from 17.8% in May 2003 to 14.5% in December 2003. Investment in real terms jumped 38.1%, and capital flight has decreased. The recovery’s strong impact on revenue levels, combined with the Kirchner administration’s prudent control of spending, achieved exceptional results, with the fiscal surplus reaching 2.3% of GDP. Argentina has sound fundamentals and should continue to perform well in 2004, with growth projected to be in the 6%-8% range. Nevertheless, slowness in addressing energy, public debt, and banking compensation difficulties and a still-weak investment climate are major obstacles to sustaining the recovery.