Overview of Buenos Aires

History of Buenos Aires

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The name of Argentina is derived from the Latin argentum (silver). The first use of the name Argentina can be traced back to the first voyages made by the Spanish and Portuguese conquerors to the Río de la Plata which means "Silver River", on the first years of 16th century. European explorers arrived in 1516. Spain established a permanent colony on the site of Buenos Aires in 1580, and the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata was created in 1776. This area was largely a country of Spanish immigrants and their descendants, known as criollos, and others of native cultures and of descendants of African slaves, present in significant numbers. A third of Colonial-era settlers gathered in Buenos Aires and other cities, others living on the pampas as gauchos. Indigenous peoples inhabited much of the rest of Argentina.

Buenos Aires

From its earliest days, Buenos Aires depended on trade. During most of the 17th and 18th centuries, Spain insisted that all trade to Europe pass through Lima, Peru so that taxes could be collected. This scheme frustrated the traders of Buenos Aires, and a thriving contraband industry developed. Sensing these feelings, Charles III of Spain progressively eased the trade restrictions and finally declared Buenos Aires an open port in the late 1700s. British forces attacked Buenos Aires twice, in 1806 and 1807, but were repelled both times by local militias. Ultimately, on 25 May 1810, while Spain was occupied with the Peninsular War and after a week of mostly peaceful demonstrations, the citizens of Buenos Aires successfully ousted the Spanish Viceroy and established a provisional government. Formal independence from Spain was declared in 1816.

During most of the 19th century, the political status of the city remained a sensitive subject. It was already capital of Buenos Aires Province, and between 1853 and 1860 it was the capital of the seceded State of Buenos Aires. The issue was fought out more than once on the battlefield, until the matter was finally settled in 1880 when the city was federalized and became the seat of government, with its Mayor appointed by the President. In addition to the wealth generated by the fertile pampas, railroad construction in the second half of the 19th century increased the economic power of Buenos Aires as raw materials flowed into its factories. Buenos Aires became a multicultural city that ranked itself with the major European capitals.

A wave of foreign investment and immigration from Europe after 1870 led to the development of modern agriculture and to a near-reinvention of Argentine society and the economy, leading to the strengthening of a cohesive state. The rule of law was consolidated in large measure by Dalmacio Vélez Sársfield, whose 1860 Commercial Code and 1869 Civil Code laid the foundation for Argentina's statutory laws. However, the Conquest of the Desert in the 1870s subdued the remaining indigenous tribes throughout the southern Pampas and Patagonia and left 1,300 indigenous dead. Argentina increased in prosperity and prominence between 1880 and 1929, while emerging as one of the 10 richest countries in the world, benefiting from an agricultural export-led economy.

The most famous leader in Argentina's history, General Juan Peron, was elected president in 1946. He created a big tent movement known as Peronism. His wife, Evita was extremely popular and played a large role in Peron's government until her untimely death in 1952. Buenos Aires was the cradle of Peronism: the demonstration of 17 October 1945 took place in Plaza de Mayo.

During Perón's tenure, wages and working conditions improved appreciably, the number of unionized workers quadrupled, government programs increased and urban development was prioritized  However, the peso lost about 70% of its value from early 1948 to early 1950, and inflation reached 50% in 1951.Foreign policy became more isolationist, and Perón intensified censorship as well as repression: Over time, he rid himself of many important and capable advisers, while promoting patronage. On 16 June 1955, a splinter faction of the Navy bombed the Plaza de Mayo area, killing 364 civilians. This was the only time the city was attacked from the air; this event was followed by a military uprising which deposed President Perón three months later in 1955. He fled into exile, eventually residing in Spain.

Elections in 1958 brought Arturo Frondizi to office. Frondizi enjoyed some support from Perón's followers, and his policies encouraged needed investment in energy and industry, both of which were chalking up sizable trade deficits for Argentina. The military, however, frequently interfered and results were mixed.  Frondizi was forced to resign in 1962. Arturo Illia, elected in 1963, enacted expansionist policies and brought prosperity. However, his attempts to include Peronists in the political process resulted in the armed forces' retaking power in a 1966 coup. The economy grew strongly, and income poverty declined to 7% by 1975, a record low level.

Nonetheless, political violence began to escalate and, from exile, Perón skillfully co-opted student and labour protests, which eventually resulted in the military regime's call for free elections in 1973 and his return from Spanish exile. Perón died in July 1974, leaving his third wife Isabel, the Vice President, to succeed him in office. Mrs. Perón had been chosen as a compromise among feuding Peronist factions who could agree on no other running mate. However, the conflict between left and right-wing extremists led to mayhem and financial chaos and, on 24 March 1976, a coup d'état removed her from office. The "Dirty War" resulted in 30,000 desaparecidos (people kidnapped and killed by the military during the years of the junta).

Political instability persisted until the 1980s, with a series of short-term heads of state. A recent leader, Raúl Alfonsín's government took steps to account for the "disappeared", political prisoners who had been kidnapped and killed, and their bodies disposed of in the Atlantic Ocean. He also re established civilian control of the armed forces and consolidated democratic institutions. The members of the three military juntas were prosecuted and sentenced to life terms. The previous regime's foreign debt, however, left the Argentine economy saddled by the conditions imposed on it by both its private creditors and the IMF, and priority was given to servicing the foreign debt at the expense of public works and domestic credit. Alfonsín's failure to resolve worsening economic problems caused him to lose public confidence. Following a 1989 currency crisis that resulted in a sudden and ruinous 15-fold jump in prices, he left office five months early.

Following a 1993 agreement, the Argentine Constitution was amended to give Buenos Aires autonomy and rescinding, among other things, the president's right to appoint the city's mayor (as had been the case since 1880). On 30 June 1996, voters in Buenos Aires chose their first elected mayor.  Most recently Governor Néstor Kirchner, a social democratic Peronist, was elected president in May 2003 and during Kirchner's presidency Argentina restructured its defaulted debt with a steep discount (about 66%) on most bonds, paid off debts with the International Monetary Fund, renegotiated contracts with utilities and nationalized some previously privatized enterprises. Kirchner and his economists, notably Roberto Lavagna, also pursued vigorous income policies and public works investments.

Argentina has since enjoyed economic growth but despite his popularity, Néstor Kirchner forfeited the 2007 campaign in favor of his wife Senator Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. She became the first woman elected President of Argentina.  Fabiana Ríos, a center-left candidate in Tierra del Fuego Province became the first woman in Argentine history to be elected governor. President Cristina Kirchner, despite carrying large majorities in Congress, saw controversial plans for higher agricultural export taxes defeated by Vice President Julio Cobos surprise tie-breaking vote against them on 16 July 2008. Following massive agrarian protests and lockouts from March to July robust economic growth quickly returned and double-digit inflation eased somewhat. The global financial crisis has since prompted Mrs. Kirchner to step up her husband's policy of state intervention in troubled sectors of the economy.

Update 29/05/2009

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