In 1516 Juan Díaz de Solis discovered Argentina, in the following period the country slowly developed under Spanish colonial rule. Buenos Aires was founded in 1580, and cattle farming developed into an important industry in Argentina from 1600 onwards. The invasion of British forces in 1806/1807 was repulsed and after Napoleon conquered Spain (1808) the Argentines formed their own government in 1810. Independence was officially declared on July 9, 1816.
As in the First World War, Argentina remained neutral at the outbreak of the Second World War, in the last phase of the world war, but on March 27, 1945 Argentina declared war against the Axis powers. Juan D. Perón, an army colonel, became the strong man of the post-war era, winning the 1946 and 1951 presidential elections. Perón’s political strength was supported by his second wife, Eva Duarte de Perón (Evita), and her popularity with the work class. Although she never held a government post, Evita was considered the de facto Minister of Health and Labor, founded a national charity organization, and provided generous wage increases. The unions responded with political support for Perón. Resistance to the increasing authoritarian leadership of Perón led to a coup by the armed forces. Perón was exiled in 1955, three years after Evita’s death. A long period of military dictatorships began in Argentina with brief interludes from civil governments.
Peron came back to power in 1973 and his third wife, Isabel Martínez de Perón, became Vice President. After her husband’s death in 1974, she became the first woman in the southern hemisphere to become head of state and take control of a nation struggling with economic and political collapse. In 1975, terrorist acts by both left and right-wing groups killed around 700 people. The cost of living rose by 355% and there were constant strikes and demonstrations. On March 24, 1976, a military junta led by Commander Heer Lt. General Jorge Rafael Videla came to power and declared martial law.
The dirty war
The military started the “dirty war” in order to restore order and to eliminate its opponents. The Argentine Commission for Human Rights in Geneva blames the junta for 2,300 political murders, over 10,000 political arrests and the disappearances of 20,000 to 30,000 people. The economy remained badly hit. In March 1981 Videla was deposed by Field Marshal Roberto Viola, who in turn was replaced by Lt Gen Leopoldo Galtieri.
On April 2, 1982, Galtieri launched an invasion of the British Falkland Islands, also known as Las Islas Malvinas, to increase its popularity in Argentina. Britain won that war, however, and Galtieri resigned three days after Argentina was defeated. Major General Reynaldo Bignone took over on June 14, amid increasing public opinion. Before the 1983 elections, inflation reached 900% and Argentina’s external debt was at its highest level.
In the presidential elections of October 1983, Raúl Alfonsín, leader of the Radical Civic Union, inflicted its first defeat on the Peronist party since it was founded. Rising unemployment and rising inflation rates, however, led to a Peronist victory in the May 1989 elections. Alfonsín resigned a month later in the wake of unrest over high food prices in favor of the new Peronist president Carlos Menem. In 1991 Menem implemented economic deregulation measures and privatized state-owned companies. From September 1998, after eight years of Menem’s presidency, Argentina experienced the worst recession of the decade. Menem’s economic policies, tolerance of corruption and pardons for military leaders involved in the dirty war,
Recession and economic instability
In December 1999 Fernando de la Rúa was elected President. Despite tough economic austerity measures, the 2001 recession still persisted. The IMF granted $ 13.7 billion in emergency aid to Argentina in January 2001 and another $ 8 billion in August 2001. However, this international aid was not enough and by the end of 2001 Argentina was on the verge of economic collapse. There were violent protests against the austerity measures in the country, de la Rua was forced to resign in December 2001. Argentina at the time had an external debt of $ 155 billion.
In this instability, on January 1, 2002, Congress appointed Eduardo Duhalde President. Soon after, Duhalde announced that he would devalue the Argentine peso, which had been pegged to the US dollar for years. As a result of this devaluation, the banks fell into crisis and much of the savings of the middle class was destroyed – millions of Argentines fell into poverty.
Dirty war criminals to be tried
In July 2002, former junta leader Galtieri and 42 other officers were arrested and charged with torturing and executing 22 left-wing guerrillas in the 7-year military dictatorship. In recent years, judges have discovered legal loopholes that enabled them to circumvent the general amnesty laws of 1986 and 1987. This made it possible to try numerous atrocities under the military dictatorship in court. In June 2005 the Supreme Court ruled these amnesty laws unconstitutional and in 2006 numerous military and police officers appeared on trial.
According to commit4fitness, Néstor Kirchner, the former governor of Santa Cruz, became president of Argentina in May 2003 after former president Carlos Menem left the race. Kirchner promised a reform of the courts, the police and the armed forces and advocated the persecution of the perpetrators in the dirty war. Argentina’s economy recovered, and from Kirchner’s inauguration there were impressive growth rates of over 8%. In March 2005, Kirchner announced that Argentina had successfully restructured its debt. In January 2006, Argentina paid the remaining billions in the IMF debt, a drastic move that not all economists believed was the right thing to do.
In October 2007, First Lady Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was elected President with 45% of the vote. Elisa Carrió, a member of the Congress, came second with 23%.
On December 10, 2007, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner took over the presidency from her husband, Néstor Kirchner. She held many ministers already working under her husband, but also announced changes in the country. She named molecular biologist Lino Barañao Minister of Science. Fernández also wanted to set up a new Ministry of Science and Technology to encourage innovation and said it would make the “necessary corrections” to tackle Argentina’s inflation problem. Although she is as much a nationalist as her husband and is rather hostile to the IMF, Fernández has shown an interest in better relations with the US, Europe and Brazil.
On April 2, 2008, farmers temporarily suspended their 21-day strike to negotiate with the government. The strike, which began in response to increases in taxes on export goods, blocked the highways and caused severe food shortages in the country. On July 17, 2008, the government, led by Vice President Cobos, sided with the farmers and opposed the President’s proposed increase in the agricultural export tax. On October 3, 2008, however, the farmers started the nationwide strike against the government again because they felt they were not adequately supported.
In November 2008, the House of Commons approved President Fernandez’s controversial plan to nationalize more than $ 25 billion in private pension funds. President Fernandez claimed nationalization was protecting assets in the global financial crisis, while Vice President Julio Cobos disagreed. He believes this move will lead to a withdrawal of investors in Argentina.