Mar de Plata

Mar de Plata

With Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the Americas ushering in Spanish colonialism through much of the Americas, Spanish explorers arrived in the sparsely-populated South American country now known as Argentina in 1516 (at a geographic site known as Rio de la Plata).  Since Argentina was not known for having significant deposits of gold (unlike Peru), no major consolidation of the Spanish presence in that country occurred until 1776 – when the Spanish crown established the Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata that year.  With that viceroyalty consisting of present-day Argentina and neighboring Uruguay, Paraguay and portions of Bolivia, the port city of Buenos Aires gained prominence.


Argentina, like other Latin American colonies, won independence from Spain (in that country’s case, by 1816 – when it declared independence from the Spanish crown, as part of its war for independence).  By the late 1800s, Argentina was going through various changes, such as its economic transition toward industrial agriculture and a massive wave of immigrants from Europe (mainly Spanish and Italian immigrants – the latter influencing the culture, language and even cuisine of the country).  There were also waves of Germans, Poles, Irish and French going into the country.  The Argentine Constitution of 1853, which promoted European immigration into the then-sparsely populated country, laid the groundwork for this.


From 1880 to 1930, Argentina became one of the world’s 10 wealthiest countries as a result of the rapid expansion of agriculture and foreign investment in infrastructure.  The Great Depression of the 1930s brought a halt to this period of booming expansion, and combined with other social and political changes to usher in a period of less stable governance.  The governments of that decade attempted to contain the currents of economic and political change that eventually led to a military coup and the subsequent emergence of Juan Domingo Peron (who was first elected as president of Argentina in 1946).  His political organization, which became known as the Peronist Party, implemented policies aimed at empowering the working class and greatly expanded the number of unionized workers.  This, along with introducing a wave of nationalizations of various industries.


Peron’s charismatic wife, Eva Duarte de Peron, known as Evita (1919-52), played a key role in developing support for her husband.  Peron won re-election in 1952, but the military sent him into exile in 1955. 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 domestic terrorism in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the way was open for Peron’s return to the presidency in 1973.


With Peron’s death in 1974, and his third wife (Maria Estela Isabel Martinez de Peron) assuming the presidency for less than two years (before falling victim to a military coup in March 1976), a military junta ruled over Argentina until December 1983.  During that period, the Argentine military, in order to prevent what they called as a Communist, or extremist, takeover of the country’s, carried out a campaign of detaining and “disappearing” those they suspected of subversion (with the number of “disappeared” ranging from 9,000 to 30,000).  A year before Argentina’s return to democracy in 1983, the country’s military was further discredited when it tried but failed to launch a war against Great Britain over the ownership of the Falkland Islands (in the south Atlantic Ocean).


With political issues out of the way, Argentina then fell victim to a wave of currency devaluations and other economic problems that lingered into the 1990s.  Then, Argentine President Carlos Menem imposed peso-dollar parity (convertibility) in 1992 to break the back of hyperinflation and adopted far-reaching market-based policies.  Menem dismantled a web of protectionist trade and business regulations and reversed a half-century of statism by implementing an aggressive privatization program.


Such reforms contributed to significant spurts of investment and growth with stable prices through most of the 1990s.  Also, while convertibility defeated inflation, its permanence undermined Argentina’s export competitiveness and created chronic deficits in the current account of the balance of payments, which were financed by massive borrowing. The impact of the Asian financial crisis of 1998 caused an outflow of capital that gradually grew into a 4-year depression — climaxing in a financial panic in November 2001.  The month after, amidst bloody riots, President De la Rua resigned.  The election of Nestor Kirchner into the presidency in 2003 helped the country’s economy recover.  With his wife (Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner) assuming the presidency in 2007, she grappled with health problems in 2013, along with returning inflation and other structural problems to the country’s economy.


Despite these woes and politically troubled history in previous times, today’s Argentina is in the midst of a tourism boom, especially Buenos Aires – which is regarded as the “Paris of South America,” offering elegant architecture, exquisite cuisine, a legendary nightlife, and fashionable shopping.  Tourists are drawn to Buenos Aires for these reasons, as well as the country’s cheap peso, which makes the country more affordable for Dollar & Euro-wielding visitors, in particular.  As a result, tourism represents 4% of the country’s GDP (despite its distance from sources of visitors, such as Europe and USA)