Argentina - A Country Overview

Information on Argentina; its place geographically, history, government, climate, security, tourism and foreigners living in Argentina...

Geography

Argentina is a country of high mountains, jungle and flat plains. The lowest and highest points in both the western hemisphere and South America are found in the country: Laguna del Carbon at 105m below sea level and Cerro Aconcagua which reaches 6960m.

The Andean mountain chain runs from the north to the south and forms a natural border between Argentina and Chile. The mountains were formed by the folding and faulting which resulted from the convergence of the South American and Nazca tectonic plates.

East of the Andes are the scrublands of the Gran Chaco and the plains of the Pampas, which includes the capital city Buenos Aires and extends northwards into Paraguay. The name Pampas derives from an Indian word for flat surface. The dry western part of the region is largely desert, while the east, which receives plenty of rain supports grasslands which feed massive herds of cattle. The meat, milk and hides of the cattle are essential for both the domestic and export markets. The Gran Chaco is a region of cotton growing and livestock rearing and an area of wetlands, scrub and subtropical forests.

Patagonia is Argentina's most southerly region and a place of large climatic extremes and classic glaciated terrain covered in fjords, lakes and u-shaped valleys. The Patagonian ice sheet, which covers 17,000 square kilometers, is the world's third largest ice field.

Cape Horn is the most southerly point in South America. It is famed for the severity of the Roaring Forties which are strong westerly winds making the Horn one of the most treacherous shipping regions on the planet.

Argentina is an urbanized nation with the majority of the population living either in the capital city Buenos Aires, or in the fertile region surrounding it.

History

The land that makes up modern day Argentina was originally inhabited by a number of indigenous tribes. The main tribes were the Diaguita and the Guarani. The Diaguita held off the expansion of the Inca Empire into Argentina. The modern political landscape of South America reflects the endeavors of 16th century European explorers when most of the continent was claimed by Spain and Portugal.

The first European, Juan Díaz de Solís, arrived in the country in 1516. He was killed by local tribes who put up significant resistance to European invaders. Their resistance was weakened by European diseases which spread rapidly among the indigenous people of South America. However, Buenos Aires was not securely established until late in the 16th century. Spanish colonizers brought European ways of life, Catholicism and the Spanish language to the country.

The first independent government was formed in 1810, though full independence from Spain was not declared until 1816 by the United Provinces of the Rio Plata. Argentina was formed by the area left after Uruguay, Bolivia and Paraguay had separated off. The following years were characterized by military campaigns as the country fought to maintain its independence from its neighbors, particularly Chile and Peru.

Starting in the 1820s there was a period of fierce domestic struggle between different political groups which continued until the middle of the 19th century. The disputes centered around the supremacy of Buenos Aires and the ideas of Federation and Unitarianism. The Unitarians favored a strong central government while the Federalists wanted local control.

In 1833 the British invaded the Malvinas, or Falkland Islands, a group of islands in the South Atlantic 500 Km from the coast of Argentina. They expelled the local government and the Argentine inhabitants of the island.

Justo José de Urquiza became the first President of the Argentine Republic in 1853 when the National Constitution was agreed. The province of Buenos Aires joined the constitution nine years later and was made the official capital of the country in 1880.

Until the mid-20th century the history of Argentina was dominated by intense political conflicts between Unitarians and Federalists and between military and civilian factions. After World War II, Juan Domingo Perón, a military officer who led a political movement known as Peronismo or Justicialismo became President. His rule continued until September 1955 when he was ousted by armed forces. He returned and became President again after 18 years in exile. During his exile the country was ruled by a succession of military and democratic governments. He died one year later in 1974 and was succeeded by his wife Estela Martinez de Perón. She subsequently lost power in a military coup two years later.

The military junta that took power in 1976 committed major violations of human rights and political persecutions claiming it was fighting terrorist groups. The downfall of the militia government was hastened by its failed invasion and occupation of the British-owned Malvinas Islands and South Georgia in 1982. The conflict ended in Argentine surrender and the loss increased the already numerous protests against the government. Democracy returned in 1983. A series of institutional reforms have ensured that democracy has been firmly established in the country despite a major economic crisis in 2001-2 which resulted in the resignation of several presidents.

Politics and Government

Argentina is a federal republic whose president is both the head of government and the chief of state. The country is made up of 23 provinces and Buenos Aires, which is an autonomous city. Both the president and vice president are elected by popular vote every four years. A president is allowed to rule for two terms. The president appoints a cabinet of ministers. Legislative power is shared by a Lower Chamber made up of 254 members representing the people, and a Senate of 72 elected members, three for each province and Buenos Aires.

The Judiciary is independent of the government and the highest federal court in the country is the Supreme Court which has nine judges. All of the 23 provinces have their own independent governments and courts. The country's constitution dictates that the provinces follow federal legislature on matters of national scope such as foreign relations, defense, civil and commercial issues.

Economy

Argentina is rich in natural resources and agriculture is a big part of the country's economy. It is a major producer of beef with much being exported to the United States. Wheat, maize and fruit are also major agricultural products. It has good fishing in the nutrient rich waters of the South Atlantic and rich reserves of minerals, uranium, gas and oil. The country is also the world's fifth largest wine producer.

During the 20th century Argentina has experienced recurring economic crises characterized by periods of very high inflation, fiscal and current account deficits, and mounting external debt. These crises severely slowed down the growth of manufacturing in the country, and led to an increase in poverty and income gaps.

In 2001, increasing levels of public and external debt and a severe depression culminated in the country's most severe economic, social and political crisis. The interim president at the time declared the largest default in history on the country's foreign debt before resigning. The result was that 60 percent of the population lived below the poverty line. Debt restructuring and a reduced debt burden combined with industrial growth and expansionary fiscal policies led to economic growth in the following years. This was a time of rapid growth in manufacturing in the country encouraged by a number of protectionist policies affecting imports and exports. Inflation has remained high and has been in double digits since 2005. The rapid economic growth slowed down in 2007 as government policies held back exports and the world economy entered recession.

The Argentine economy has proved robust following the recent global economic crisis but the government's continued drive for expansionary monetary and fiscal policies is increasing the already high levels of inflation.

Climate

Overall the climate of Argentina is temperate although it is sub-antarctic in the south-west. There are marked variations in the climate across the country due to its size and because there are great differences in altitude between the high mountains of the Andes and the lowlands. The northern Chaco region experiences extremely hot weather while the Pampas is pleasant and the southern region of Patagonia is very cold. Across the country the average rainfall decreases from east to west. Throughout the country, June and July are the coldest months and January the warmest.

The climate of the country can be split into four regions:

  1. The Pampas region has mild winters and warm summers when more rain falls. Much of the area's rain is heavy and falls in just a few days. Extremes of temperature are uncommon though short periods of frost do occur in winter. In Buenos Aires the summers are generally hot and humid and the winters damp and chilly.
  2. The north-eastern interior region has a warmer climate than the Pampas, which is almost tropical at its northern extent. Temperatures are high here all year round and summers are typically hot and humid. Winters in the region are generally mild though short cold spells with temperatures close to zero do occur.
  3. Western Argentina has a dry climate. Surprisingly little snow falls in the northern Andes resulting in the snowline in the mountains often being very high. The eastern slopes of the Andes are semi-arid while the lowlands experience very little rainfall and are almost deserts. The summers are hot and sunny and droughts are frequent in this part of Argentina. In contrast, the southern Andes have high levels of both rain and snow resulting in the area being much more glaciated and having many more snow fields.
  4. Southern Argentina has a cool temperate climate, though it is very dry. More rain falls in the west of the region where clouds form over the Andes. In the most southerly parts of the country the summers are cool and cloudy with brief spells of good weather. The winters are long with lots of snow and frost. However the proximity of the ocean means that the periods of extreme cold are rare and short.

Security

Generally Argentina is a safe country. However, street crime including mugging, purse snatching and scam artists are a problem particularly in Buenos Aries and Mendoza. The La Boca neighborhood of Buenos Aries, where there has been an increase in violent robberies is particularly dangerous. Public transport in the country is generally safe though pickpockets are common on busses, trains and the underground rail network. People are advised to assume that criminals will be armed and not to resist their demands. Taxis should be pre-booked or hailed from an established stand.

Demonstrations are commonplace in Buenos Aries and other major cities in Argentina. Although these are usually peaceful, they can in some cases become violent. It is not uncommon for roads to be blocked and traffic delayed by demonstrations.

Foreigners Living in the Country

The majority of the Argentine population is originally of Spanish or Italian descent, though some people descend from other European nations or have Middle Eastern ancestry. The country has a history of welcoming immigrants to its shores since gaining independence from Spain in the 19th century.

The country has the fifth largest Jewish population in the world and is also home to a significant number of Syrian Lebanese people. In the early part of the 20th century many new European immigrants arrived in the country, mainly from Italy and Germany. In recent years there have been many immigrants into the country from its neighbors: Paraguay, Chile, Bolivia, Peru and Uruguay.

Today there is a large and thriving foreign community living in Argentina, particularly in Buenos Aries. Many people are attracted by the low cost of living.

Tourism

Argentina has a variety of tourist attractions which draw visitors from around the world. The most popular tourist destinations include the Andes mountain range, the Bariloche lake district, the beaches of the Atlantic coast, Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego, Buenos Aires and the Iguazú falls.

Skiing is popular at resorts in the Andes and hiking and outdoor sports are popular both there and in Patagonia. The beaches of the Mar de Plata in the region of Buenos Aires are very popular and are often very busy in the sunny summer months.

Further Information