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
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 (Virreinato del 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 of the 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 Argentina
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 1812.
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 (the Congress of Tucumán) finally issued a formal declaration of independence from Spain. Bolivia declared itself independent in 1825, as did Uruguay in 1828 after the Argentina-Brazil War.
The United Kingdom officially recognized Argentinian independence in 1825, with the signing of a Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation on February 2; the British chargé d'affaires at Buenos Aires, Woodbine Parish, signed on behalf of his country.
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 dictator. He ruled the Buenos Aires province from 1829 to 1852 while acting as a caretaker of the external relations of the whole country, which 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. This feared band was also known "underground" by the Spanish homophonic phrase más horca ("more gallows").
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. Descendants of African slaves were present in significant numbers, but of most eventually merged with the broader population. Indigenous peoples inhabited the mountainous northwestern and remote southern regions.
The rural economy at this time was based almost entirely in animal husbandry (cattle and sheep). While Argentina's fertile lands were ideal for the cultivation of cereal crops, the country lacked a large enough labor force to support an arable sector. As a consequence, capital-intense economic activities such as livestock raising dominated domestic production. 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 Argentino Roca established Buenos Aires's dominance over the pampas (see Conquest of the Desert) and the unitarios victory over the federalists; in 1880 Roca became president.
The years from 1880 to 1929 brought Argentina intensified economic prosperity (see Economy of Argentina), mainly by way of export-led growth. The economy was increasingly oriented toward exports of agricultural commodities, particularly goods like beef and wheat, while the growth in domestic industry remained hindered by imports of cheap manufactured products. While international demand for Argentine agricultural goods was central to economic development, equally important was the flow of foreign capital, particularly from Great Britain. At the time, Argentina received some of the highest levels of foreign investment in Latin America. In the midst of this economic expansion, the Law 1420 of Common Education of 1884 guaranteed universal, free, non-religious education to all children.
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 reasons of the 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. Thanks to fraudulent polls, Roberto Ortiz was elected president in 1937 and took office the next year, but due to his fragile health he was followed (de-facto in 1940, de-jure in 1942) by his vice-president Ramón Castillo. Argentina was officially neutral during most of the Second World War; the public remained divided, 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. Through her influence women obtained the right to vote in 1947. Her death from cancer in 1952 cost Perón a key political ally.
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 Francoist Spain. Even in exile, he remained popular with the Argentine masses.
Struggle between Peronist and anti-Peronist forces
Eduardo Lonardi held power only briefly and was succeeded by Pedro Aramburu, president from November 13, 1955 to May 1, 1958. In June 1956, two Peronist generals, Juan José Valle and Raul Tanco, attempted a coup against Aramburu, criticizing an important purge in the army, the abrogation of social reforms and persecution against trade-union leaders. They also demanded liberation of all political and labor activists and the return to the constitutional order. The uprising was quickly crushed, and General Valle and other members of the military were executed; twenty other civilians were arrested at their residence and their bodies thrown in the Leon Suarez dumping ground. Along with the June 1955 Casa Rosada bombing on the Plaza de Mayo, the Leon Suarez massacre is one of the important events that started a cycle of violence. Pedro Aramburu was later kidnapped and executed for this massacre, in 1970, by Fernando Abal Medina, Emilio Angel Maza, Mario Firmenich and others, who would later form the Montoneros movement . 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. The Assembly 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 enumerated some social rights. Frondizi, UCRI's candidate, won the presidential elections of 1958, obtaining approximately 4,000,000 votes against 2,500,000 for Ricardo Balbín (with 800,000 neutral votes). From Caracas, Peron supported Frondizi and called upon his supporters to vote for him, as a means toward the end of prohibition of the Peronist movement and the re-establishment of the workers' social legislation voted during Peron's leadership.
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, which established general Juan Carlos Onganía as de facto president.
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.
Perón returns from exile
On March 11, 1973, Argentina held general elections for the first time in ten years. Perón was prevented from running, but voters elected his stand-in, Dr. Hector Cámpora, as President. Cámpora defeated his Radical Civic Union opponent. Cámpora acceeded to his functions on May 25, which was saluted by a massive popular gathering of the Peronist Youth movement, Montoneros, FAR and FAP (Fuerzas Armadas Peronistas) in the Plaza de Mayo. Cámpora assumed a strong stance against right-wing Peronists, declaring during his first speech: La sangre derramada no será negociada ("Spilled blood will not be negotiated"). Cuban president Osvaldo Dorticós and Chilean president Salvador Allende were present at his inauguration, while William P. Rogers, U.S. Secretary of State, and Uruguayan president Juan Bordaberry, could not attend, blocked in their car by demonstrators. Political prisoners were liberated on the same day, under the pressure of the demonstrators. Cámpora's government included progressive figures such as Interior Minister Esteban Righi and Education Minister Jorge Taina, but also included members of the labor and political right-wing Peronist factions, such as José López Rega, Perón's personal secretary and Minister of Social Welfare, and a member of the P2 Masonic lodge. Perón's followers also commanded strong majorities in both houses of Congress.
Hector Cámpora's government followed a traditional Peronist economic policy, supporting the national market and redistributing wealth. One of José Ber Gelbard's first measures as minister of economics was to augment workers' wages. However, the 1973 oil crisis seriously affected Argentina's oil-dependent economy. Almost 600 social conflicts, strikes or occupations occurred in Cámpora's first month.
Amidst escalating terror from right and left alike, Perón decided to return and assume the presidency. On June 20, 1973, two million people waited for him at Ezeiza airport. From Perón's speaking platform, camouflaged far-right gunmen, some of them from the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance (Triple A, founded by José López Rega), fired on the masses, shooting at the Peronist Youth movement and the Montoneros, killing at least thirteen and injuring more than three hundred (this became known as the Ezeiza massacre) . Cámpora and vice-president Solano Lima resigned on July 13. Deputy Raúl Alberto Lastiri, José López Rega's son-and-law and also a P2 member, was then promoted to the Presidency to organize elections. Cámpora's followers such as Chancellor Juan Carlos Puig and Interior Minister Esteban Righi were immediately replaced by Alberto J. Vignes and Benito Llambi, and the Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo' (ERP - People's Revolutionary Army) declared a "dissolved terrorist organization". On September 23, Perón won the elections with 61.85% of the votes, with his third wife, María Estela Isabel Martínez de Perón, as vice-president.
Peronist right-wing factions won a decisive victory and Perón assumed the Presidency in October 1973, a month after Pinochet's coup in Chile. Violent acts, including by the Triple A, continued to threaten public order. On September 25, José Ignacio Rucci, CGT trade-union's Secretary General and one of Perón's friend, was assassinated, allegedly by the Montoneros. 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 downfall (inflation was skyrocketing and GDP contracted), Peronist intra-party struggles, and growing acts of terrorism by insurgents such as the ERP and paramilitary movements. Montoneros, led by Mario Firmenich, cautiously decided to go underground after Peron's death. A military coup d'état removed Isabel Perón from office on March 24, 1976.
The 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 "National Reorganization Process". On the basis of this programme, the ruling junta tried to start economic recovery by favouring some pro-market reforms and deregulation. The aim was also to attract foreign investment.
Using the terrorist tactics adopted by the Montoneros (left-wing Peronists) and Trotskyist Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo (Revolutionary Army of the People or ERP) as justification, the armed forces, among them the Batallón de Inteligencia 601 and SIDE, applied harsh measures against all who opposed or were suspected of opposing the dictatorship. The "ideological war" doctrine of the Argentine military focused on eliminating the social base of insurgency. In practice that meant liquidating many middle class students, intellectuals and labor organizers, most of whom had few ties to the guerrillas. By the end of the 1970s, such tactics had suppressed the insurgents, but Argentina suffered terribly from the ends-justifies-the-means attitude adopted by the military (see also Doctrine of the two demons).
The costs of what became known as the "Dirty War" were high in terms of lives lost and basic human rights violated. About 1,500 deaths can be attributed to various guerrilla attacks and assassinations. The 1984 Commission on the Disappeared documented the disappearance and probable death at the hands of the military regime of about 11,000 people, relatively few of whom were likely Montonero or ERP cadres. About 900 more disappeared during the right-wing Peronist government prior to the coup. Human rights groups estimate that over 30,000 persons became "disappeared" (i. e. arrested and secretly executed without trial) during the 1976–1983 period; still others went into exile. Few dared to speak out, except the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, mothers of the dead and disappeared, who began holding vigils in April 1977, 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 the Falklands War following Argentina's unsuccessful attempt to seize the Falkland 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 Raúl 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. Five days later, he created the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons (CONADEP), led by Argentine writer Ernesto Sábato. However, it was also under Alfonsín's presidency that the December 24, 1986 Ley de Punto Final ("Full Stop Law") was voted, granting amnesty to all acts committed before December 10, 1983. It would not be until June 2005's Supreme Court decision to overturn all amnesty laws that investigations could be started again .
During the Alfonsín administration a Peace and Friendship Treaty with Chile was signed and the roots of the Mercosur trade bloc were established.
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 Saúl Menem won the 1989 presidential elections.
As President, Carlos 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. Carlos Menem's neoliberal policies were heavily contested, giving rise to the Piquetero movement.
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 neoliberal 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 catastrophic results. The effects of these measures were the absolute opposite of what was expected. The recession that had started during the last part of Menem's term grew deeper.
The economic crisis
Towards the end of 2001, Argentina faced grave economic problems. 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 previous resignation of the vice-president Carlos Chacho 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. The peso was first devalued by 29%, and then the dollar peg was abandoned; by July 2002 the national currency had depreciated to one-quarter of its former value.
President Duhalde faced a country in turmoil. His administration had to deal with a wave of protests (middle-class cacerolazos and unemployed piqueteros), and did so with a relatively tolerant policy, intending to minimize violence. As inflation became a serious issue and millions of Argentinians sank into unemployment and poverty, Duhalde chose a moderate, low-profile economist, Roberto Lavagna, as his Minister of Economy. The economic measures worked to control prices, and encouraged import substitution to provide jobs, re-create the industrial base of the country, and provide basic goods and services.
After a year, Duhalde deemed his tasks fulfilled and, pressured by certain political factors, called for elections, which in April 2003 brought Néstor Kirchner to power.
President Kirchner took office on 25 May 2003. Several pundits have pointed out that he 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.