What distinguishes Argentina
In search of the "silver land"
Argentina is still a blank spot on the map for most Europeans when the Spaniards already rule large parts of the South American continent. They exploit the gold mines in Peru on a large scale and ship the precious metal back home.
But that's not enough for them. They suspect immense silver deposits in the southern part of the continent. So one treasure hunter after the other sets out to discover these riches. The name "Argentina" also points to this hope: It is derived from the Latin word for silver, "argentum".
After unsuccessful expeditions by the sailors Juan Diáz de Solís (1516) and Sebastián Caboto (1526), the Spanish admiral Pedro de Mendoza set out in 1536 with a crew of 1,500 to finally salvage the legendary silver treasures. He founded the fort "Nuestra Señora del Buen Ayre" ("Our Holy Virgin of the Good Air"), the forerunner of today's Buenos Aires.
But Mendoza soon made the acquaintance of the warlike natives. They besiege the fort and starve the Europeans. Soon afterwards the admiral leaves South America and leaves 500 Spaniards behind in the fort. Over the next few years, they laboriously subsisted on agriculture and cattle breeding, until the Spanish crown caused the settlement to be dissolved in 1541.
From smugglers' nest to the viceroyalty
Since there are apparently no rich silver deposits on the Río de la Plata, the interest of the Spaniards in further settlement has waned for the time being. The South American continent is ruled from Peru and Bolivia. The Atlantic side only plays a subordinate role.
It was not until 1580 that Juan de Garay founded Buenos Aires a second time to set up a trading base on the Atlantic. But the city cannot use its locational advantages as the Spanish crown prohibits free foreign trade. She does not want to go to great lengths to protect the ships on the Atlantic route from pirate attacks.
But it was precisely this trade ban that made the city rich in the period that followed. Buenos Aires becomes a first-rate smuggling center.
Since the Spanish crown cannot effectively prevent the black market, it restructures its entire colonial administration in South America. In 1776 Buenos Aires became the capital of the new viceroyalty Río de la Plata, which stretches from today's Bolivia to Paraguay and Uruguay.
The city is experiencing an enormous economic boom. And the country is booming too. Huge estates are being developed by wealthy families from Buenos Aires in order to farm and raise cattle on a large scale.
The umbilical cord of Spain
Due to the economic boom, the residents of the viceroyalty are becoming more and more self-confident, and the paternalism of distant Spain is becoming more and more annoying to them.
At the beginning of the 19th century they seized the opportunity to break the influence of the motherland. War is raging in Europe at this time. The Spanish King Carlos IV fought on Napoleon's side against the English and lost almost his entire naval force.
When the English stand in front of Buenos Aires in 1806, the Spanish king cannot and does not want to help the city. In two decisive battles, however, the Argentines manage to fight back the English.
This success confirms that they will rise up against the Spaniards as well. In 1810 they deposed the viceroy and disempowered all Spanish officials. But it took another six years before the Argentines officially break away from Spain at a meeting in the city of Tucumán.
The way to independence
The formation of a unified Argentine state is accompanied by many power struggles. On the one hand there are the liberal Unitarians who want Argentina as a unified state with Buenos Aires as the central hub. On the other hand, there are the conservative federalists who prefer strong, independent provinces.
A civil war breaks out, in which a provincial governor excels through particular brutality: Juan Manuel de Rosas. The high-handed dictator has been in power for more than 20 years thanks to his secret police "Mazorca".
During this time he wages a merciless war against the indigenous population and enlarges the territory of Argentina many times over. Much fertile land is now available to a few upper-class families.
It wasn't until 1852 that another governor, Justo José de Urquiza, was able to stop Rosas. Urquiza convenes a meeting of all provincial governors a year later. The basic features of the constitution adopted at this meeting are still in force today.
But because of the rivalries, it will take nine years before the unitary state is perfect. The Unitarians finally prevailed in 1862, and Bartolomé Miter became the first president of Argentina.
The Golden age
Argentina is now strengthened domestically. A long period of economic boom begins. More and more immigrants from Europe are drawn to the country in South America. But the immigrants mostly stay in the big cities.
In contrast to the USA, they are not allowed to purchase land in Argentina. That is reserved for a few influential families. And the conquest of these families goes on and on. At the end of the 19th century, General Julio Argentino Roca subjugated the last indigenous tribes in the south of the country, took possession of their pastures and expanded the Argentine territory to Patagonia.
In the period that followed, Argentina earned very good income from exports of agricultural products. During and after the end of the First World War, trade with the economically bled-out Europe flourished. Argentina is one of the ten richest countries in the world at this point in time.
However, due to the global economic crisis in 1929, raw material prices plummeted. Argentina's economy is tumbling, and with it politics too.
The Perón era
A military coup took place in Argentina for the first time in the 1930s. Alternating, moderately successful military governments followed until Juan Domingo Perón entered the political arena. Together with his charismatic wife Evita, he succeeds in getting the numerous workers to his side and in 1946 to be democratically elected president.
He stayed in power for nine years, but the numerous welfare and social programs cost too much money. In 1955 he was chased out of office, a time of uncertainty and terror began. Conservative military governments and left-wing guerrilla forces fight each other to the point of blood.
In 1973 the seemingly overpowering Perón returned from exile in Spain and was re-elected President. However, he dies soon afterwards and his third wife María Estela Martínez de Perón takes over the presidency. Within a short period of time, it ran down the country until the military staged another coup in 1976.
Military dictatorship and economic crisis
The following eight years went down in Argentine history as the "Proceso" (the trial). The dictators have more than 30,000 people arrested, kidnapped and murdered. A whole generation of leftists, intellectuals and those who think differently are victims of systematic state terror. But after the lost Falklands War against Great Britain, the dictatorship surprisingly gives up in 1983.
The military leaves the new democratic government a politically, morally and above all economically deeply shattered country. In the years that followed, the democratic governments tried to use various means to get the economy and the immense foreign debts under control - but nobody had the right recipe for success.
In 2001 Argentina is practically bankrupt. The anger of the people erupts in looting and street battles. The President Nestor Kirchner, who ruled from 2003 to 2007, only succeeds with difficulty in bringing the economy into reasonably calm waters.
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