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Country of the Week: Argentina

In Countries by Continental StaffLeave a Comment

For our Country of the Week this time we’ve traveled down to South America to visit Argentina. Stay with us and we’ll delve into the country’s colonial and modern history, explore its culture, and much more!

  • Capital (and Largest City): Buenos Aires
  • Population (2015): 43,131,966 (31st)
  • Total Area: 2,780,400 km² (8th)
  • Official Language: Spanish
  • Currency: Argentine peso ($) (ARS)
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Aconcagua with a vineyard in the foreground – Mendoza province

History

Unlike some other countries in the pre-Columbian Americas, Argentina was relatively disorganized, with numerous diverse tribes spread throughout the vast region. Some were basic hunter-gatherers, others slightly more advanced, while some had begun farming and trading.

A party led by Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci arrived in what is now Argentina in the year 1502, followed by the Spanish about 14 years later. The Spaniards founded Buenos Aires in the year 1536, though it was abandoned 5 years later. As the Spanish Empire went about colonizing most of the continent, they worked their way into Argentina too. The land was relatively overlooked due to the gold and silver immediately available in Bolivia and Peru however. As the strength of Spain waned, Argentina grew in stature and was able to repel two British invasions. During this time, the first rumblings of dissatisfaction with the monarchy began.

A revolution in May 1810 brought the First Junta into power. They were able to defeat the royalists, however the revolutionaries soon divided into two separate groups – the Centralists and the Federalists. Gervasio Antonio de Posadas ruled as Supreme Dictator until his overthrow following the Federalist victory in the 1820 Battle of Cepeda. Rulers continued to come and go over the next few decades as civil strife persisted amongst the two groups. Buenos Aires even seceded from the nation at one point, though it was later forced back.

In 1861, the modern state began to take shape. The country was reunified under Bartolomé Mitre. In addition, mass immigration and a huge increase in economic output turned Argentina into the seventh wealthiest country in the world by the year 1908 – despite relatively slow industrialization. Things continued to be fairly stable throughout the next couple decades (Argentina was neutral in WWI). This all ended with the beginning of the ‘Infamous Decade’.

After President Hipóito Yrigoyen was ousted following a 1930 military coup, Argentina began a precipitous social and economic decline. Numerous military coups took place and power struggles were common – even as the country remained neutral in WWII. The jailed minister Juan Domingo Perón was eventually released from prison and rode a wave of popularity amongst the workers to power. He created the political movement known as ‘Peronism’ which consisted of nationalization and improved wages and working conditions, among other boons. He too was eventually ousted in a coup, and his successors met varying fortunes as the struggles between Peronists and the military continued.

This eventually led to the ‘Dirty War’, a period of harsh state crackdowns on any perceived threats to its power. This included left-wing journalists, students, Peronists, Marxists, trade unions, and many other populist groups and individuals. The number of those killed or missing varies, but it is believed to have numbered around 20,000-30,000 or so. Clashes continued for decades, with Perón himself returning from exile to take power in 1973 – though this didn’t last either. The ruling junta that followed, known as Proceso, found itself in dire straits soon as well. After launching Operation Rosario (invasion of the Falkland Islands), things soon escalated into an all out war against the United Kingdom. After Argentina’s defeat, the junta’s days were numbered and the transition to democratic rule soon began.

Raúl Alfonsín won the 1983 election and began to prosecute those suspected of human rights violations during the junta rule. However, economic problems and riots led to an early resignation. The next two presidents also endured economic hardship, which worsened their popular domestic support substantially. Under current President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her predecessor (her husband), Argentina has come through their financial crisis and taken actions to purge the army of those suspected of human rights abuses. There remain persistent questions of corruption and media censorship (among other issues), though the country as a whole has remained relatively stable as of late – and enjoys its status as a middle power on the world stage.

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A traditional Argentine barbecue

Culture

Argentina features a diverse culture with many European characteristics. Besides the obvious Spanish undertones from centuries of colonization, there are many Italian, British, French, and German influences found thanks to large amounts of immigration. The capital of Buenos Aires stands as a great example of the role Europe has played in the shaping of Argentine culture – with architecture that wouldn’t look out of place in the Old World.

Argentine food is also European influenced – but has a wide variety of regional twists. Indigenous and other traits can be found in Argentine cuisine, with some similar dishes to other Latin American countries and some altogether unique creations. Argentine barbecue (known as asado) is very popular in the country and features a wide array of succulent meats. This has contributed to Argentina having the largest consumption of red meat in the world.

Like many other South American countries, the most popular sport is soccer. The national team is one of the most successful in the world with two triumphs in the World Cup – and they recently finished second in 2014. Some of the best players in the world (past and present) hail from Argentina – not least among them Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi. It should be noted that the national sport is actually pato, which is played on horseback and shares elements of polo and basketball – though it is not hugely popular.

Geography

Argentina is a very large country and features one of the most varied and spectacular landscapes on earth. The country is home to some of the most mountainous terrain on the continent, with the Andes in the west among many other smaller ranges. The southern end of Argentina – Patagonia – is renowned for its spectacular and steep peaks and cliffs. The country also plays host to deserts, grasslands, steppes, an abundance of natural lakes and rivers, glaciers, rainforests, and a long coastline.

Argentina also features multiple large cities, four of which have populations greater than 1 million. The capital of Buenos Aires is the second largest metropolitan area on the continent (numbering over 13 million) and even ranks ahead of Rio de Janeiro for amount of visitors annually. Urban centre’s have a reputation as lively hotbeds of culture; whether it’s the bars and clubs, performances, dance studios, or great food.

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The Patagonian landscape in southern Argentina

Did you know?

  • Argentina is the largest Spanish speaking country in the world
  • The tango began in the slaughterhouse district of Buenos Aires
  • The Argentine film El Apóstol, released 1917, was the first animated film
  • Ushuaia is the most southerly city in the world
  • Argentina celebrates Friend’s Day on July 20th
  • Political parties in Argentina have their own beer brands
  • Pope Francis once worked as bar bouncer in Buenos Aires
  • There is a Welsh speaking enclave in Argentina with its own dialect
  • People in Messi’s hometown are not allowed to name their children after him
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Buenos Aires – one of South America’s major cities

Last Word

Despite a very chaotic and brutal 20th century, Argentina has stabilized over the years and now looks towards the future. A unique culture and impressive landscape help to make the country appealing to both residents and visitors from around the world.

Stay tuned to the Current for our Country of the Week. We’ll explore the familiar and the foreign, plus uncover some hidden gems.

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