Known to much of the world as the home of legendary footballers like Lionel Messi, Alfredo Di Stefano, and Diego Maradona, Argentina is one of the most influential nations on the planet. The eighth-largest country globally, the Argentine Republic has Buenos Aires as its capital and largest city. It is seen as a middle power today on the global scene, and as a stable regional influence in Latin America, this is its story.
Archeologists believe that the first humans to settle in what is now Argentina did so about 13,000 years ago during the Paleolithic. Outstanding discoveries like the indigenous artwork done thousands of years ago at the Cave of the Hands in the country’s Santa Cruz province is one of the pieces of evidence backing up this claim.
Before European colonizers stepped into the area, Argentina was a vast region of different cultures with other social systems. There were those like the Yaghans that concentrated on pottery, and there were the Serranos and Querandi known for being sophisticated food gatherers and experienced hunters. There was also the Guarani and the Charrua, known for their skills in agriculture. In the late 15th century, Quebrada de Humahuaca Natives were conquered by the Inca, under Topa Inca Yupanqui, to ensure metals such as zinc, silver, and copper. The Incan domination of the area lasted for about half a century and ended with the Spanish arrival in 1536.
The Colonial Period (1530 – 1810)
The history would change forever with the landing of the first Europeans in 1502 during the iconic Italian explorer’s voyage, Amerigo Vespucci. However, it was navigators Sebastian Cabot and Juan Diaz de Solis who visited modern-day Argentina in the period between 1516 and 1526.
The Spanish colonists did not relent in their efforts to colonize the area, and by 1580, Buenos Aires was re-established by Juan de Garay. Over time, the Spanish Empire expanded its control over all Argentina, Peru, and Bolivia, fusing them into what was then referred to as Peru’s Viceroyalty.
The Nation Building Period (1810 – 1880)
However, by 1810, it was apparent that the people of Argentina were not comfortable with their lands’ Spanish domination. From 1810 to 1880, the focus was on the war for independence and a string of civil wars. It all started in 1810 with the May Revolution in which locals replaced the viceroy of Buenos Aires.
Later on, the brains behind the revolution split and broke into two mutually-opposing groups known as the Federalists and Centralists. It was this that molded the initial stages of demand for independence. By 1820, there was the Battle of Cepeda between these two rules. A new constitution had to be enacted in 1826, with Bernardino Rivadavia emerging as the nation’s first president. But locals from the hinterland soon rebelled against him, chased him out of the office, and got rid of the constitution.
In 1861 at the Battle of Pavon, Bartolome Mitre was able to restore the prestige of Buenos Aires, and he emerged as the first president of a country that was reunited again. After Mitre was Presidents Domingo Faustino Sarmiento and then Nicolas Avellaneda- the governments of these three presidents set the stage for what is now the modern state of Argentina.
Start of Modern Era (1880)
This phase of the history of Argentina commenced with the presidency of Alejo Julio Argentino Roca Paz in October 1880. He would be followed by nine federal governments that focused on liberalizing the Argentine economy. This led to a massive influx of immigrants from Europe. The liberalist economic policies were so successful that by 1908, Argentina was already the seventh wealthiest country globally.
The introduction of immigrants from Europe led to a swelling of the population up to five times while the economy increased by 15. In no time, Argentina surpassed every other nation in Latin America. By 1908, Argentina was even performing more than countries like Canada, Denmark, and the Netherlands.
Decline from the 1930s
The steady growth of the Argentine economy continued until around 1930 when President Hipolito Yrigoyen was overthrown in a military coup led by Lieutenant General Jose Felix Uriburu. At this point, things started turning upside down politically and economically for a once prosperous nation.
The Peronist Years
No history of Argentina is complete without mentioning Juan Domingo Peron and his charismatic wife, Eva Peron. Juan Peron was the minister of welfare who was relieved of his job and imprisoned because he was too famous. The same masses would ensure his release, and in 1946, he ran in the elections, won, and became president.
Under Peron’s government, he instituted what is now called Peronism. He focused on nationalization and worker welfare, and he was able to restart the economy, but it started declining again in 1950. In 1951, Peron was also re-elected and did very well, but after a failed attempt to assassinate Peron, he resigned and went to Spain, where he lived in exile.
After Peron’s exit, his policies were proscribed by new governments, which only worsened for the country. By the 20th century, Argentina was already a nation of coups and military dictators with increasing repression. By 1976, the military-led by General Rafael Videla stepped in again and overthrew President Isabel Peron.
The 1980s till Date
By 1983, the nation was making attempts to continue with democracy, and Raul Alfonsin won the elections, but his government was still under the generals’ heavy influence. The economy collapsed, and citizens reeled under the influence of hyperinflation. In 1989, Carlos Menem won the elections, but by 1995, the economy started declining again. Fernando de la Rua won the 1999 elections, but the market did not improve, and by December 2001, the riots were so destructive that he had to resign. Things would not improve until the election of Nestor Kirchner in the early 2000s, and he was able to end the economic crisis and grow the economy.
When he left office, his wife, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, was elected president, the first woman in the country’s history to hold such a position. She would remain in office until 2015 when Mauricio Macri took over and handed over to the current president Alberto Fernandez in 2019. Steadily, Argentina is on its way to building a better future for all its citizens.