Argentina had been independent of Spain since 1816. The country remained politically and economically unstable. From 1966 there was a military dictatorship, which was abandoned after protests by the population in 1973. Juan Perón, a general who had power in the country between 1951 and 1955 but then had to flee, returned in 1973 and became president again.
After a few months, he died and his wife Isabel was appointed President, but was completely overwhelmed. In the background, others were pulling the strings. A paramilitary group already ensured that opponents of the regime were tortured and murdered during this time. On the other hand, guerrilla troops carried out assassinations and raids. Civil war-like conditions prevailed. Argentina’s economy was also down.
The military dictatorship
In 1976, the military once again seized power. General Videla was in charge. Open state terror was the result. Those suspected of being political opponents were persecuted, tortured and killed. Trials did not take place. The press was censored, many artists went into exile. Despite various measures, the economy did not recover.
Thousands of people disappeared without a trace, being kidnapped, taken to a secret prison and murdered. Their relatives were not informed where the husband, daughter or son had gone. They wondered desperately for years whether the loved one was still alive. The mothers who met every Thursday since 1977 in front of the government building in Buenos Aires became known. Dressed in white headscarves, they made their rounds on the Plaza Mayor square and silently protested against the disappearance of their children.
The end of the dictatorship
Under Videla’s successor, Roberto Viola, a little more freedom came for a short time, but soon he was replaced by hardliner Leopoldo Galtieri. Under him, Argentina occupied the Falkland Islands, leading to war with Great Britain. After the defeat, the military dictatorship continued to lose support. Galtieri was replaced by Bignone, who announced the transition to democracy. Free elections were held for the first time in 1983. The first democratically elected president was Raúl Alfonsín, under whom the crimes began to be dealt with.
Argentina occupies almost the entire southern tip of South America. The republic extends in a north-south direction over a length of 3 799 km, this corresponds to distances in Europe converted to the distance between North Cape and Madrid. The country is similar in shape to a long triangle and reaches 1 432 km at its widest point along the 27th parallel. Argentina’s surface area of 2 780 403 km² is eight times that of Germany.
To the east, Argentina borders the Atlantic Ocean with a coastline of 4,725 km, while the western border is formed by the elongated Andes mountain range behind which Chile is located. In the north the country borders clockwise on the two only landlocked countries of South America, Bolivia and Paraguay, then on Brazil and Uruguay.
Three landscape types characterize the geological form: geologically old mountains in the east, younger chain mountains in the west and a large plain in between, which was created by accumulation and deposition. The large plains are divided into the subtropical dry forest and bush savannahs of the Gran Chaco (Quechua for “hunting ground”) in the north, the marshy fertile intermediate river country that lies between the rivers Uruguay and Paraná, and the fertile pampa (which in Quechua means plain). The Paraná is the most important river system in Argentina.
The wide grasslands of the Pampa are both historically and economically the core area of Argentina. To the south, a barren steppe landscape joins this region, which rises up to 1,500 m: Patagonia. A rocky steep coast reaches the Cape Horn, once feared by seafarers, at the southernmost point of the continent. Over the entire length of the continent, the mountain range of the Andes stretches parallel to the Pacific Ocean, in which the Cerro Aconcagua, Argentina’s highest mountain at 6,959 m, is also located. Over 50 volcanoes, including Ojos del Salado, with 6 880 m the highest volcano in the world, can be found here.
Of the country’s 40.8 million inhabitants, 13.2 million (agglomeration) live in Buenos Aires alone, the country’s capital. Almost a third of all Argentinians live in the capital and its immediate surroundings. Also in the rest of the country the majority of the population lives in the big cities (Córdoba, Rosario, Morón etc.).
With approx. 15 inhabitants per km² Argentina belongs to the sparsely populated states of the earth. The population consists of about 95 % whites as well as mestizos, Indios and people of other descent. More than 75% of the Argentinians are Roman Catholics, 8% are Pentecostal, there are minorities of Protestants, Jews and Muslims.
Since about 1850 Europeans immigrated in large numbers to the country (especially Italians and Spaniards), in Argentina today in comparison to the other South American countries most European descendants live. The indigenous Indian population was displaced by the immigrant Europeans and today counts about 30,000 people, most of whom live in the Chaco and Patagonia. Argentina has the lowest illiteracy rate (almost 3%) in South America, but in rural areas it is much higher. Attending school from the age of 6 to 14 is compulsory. The oldest university in the country was founded in Córdoba in 1613.
Population growth is only 1%; life expectancy is 76 years on average. In addition to the official language Spanish, various European languages and Quechua are spoken.
The Argentine Republic is a presidential federal republic. The president, who is elected for four years, is simultaneously head of state, head of government and commander-in-chief of the armed forces (President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, since December 2007); a one-off immediate re-election is possible.
The National Congress consists of a Chamber of Senators (Senado) with 72 senators (indirectly elected for six years; partial election every two years) and a Chamber of Deputies (Cámara de Diputados) with 257 members (directly elected for four years; partial election every two years). The main parties in the country are the Partido Justicialista-Frente para la Victoria (PJ-FPV) and the Unión Cívica Radical (UCR).
An independent panel of judges and lawyers proposes the appointment of judges to the government and can initiate proceedings for abuse of judicial office.
Each of the 22 provinces, the national territory of Tierra del Fuego and the autonomous federal district of Buenos Aires have their own constitution and elect governors, deputies and judges without the intervention of the federal government.
Argentina continues to be the largest economy in Spanish-speaking South America. The country is building its economic development on several sectors: On the one hand, the country with its fertile plains has excellent foundations for productive agriculture. On the other hand, the industrial sector is very important and the automotive industry plays a major role.
The country’s main export goods are still agricultural products (soya oil, maize, wheat, dairy and fishery products, fruit, beef and poultry meat and wine), as well as motor vehicles, raw materials, fuels and chemical products. It imports chemical products, motor vehicles and machinery. The largest industrial companies are located in the greater Buenos Aires area and belong to the consumer goods industry. Products made from meat, grain, sugar and oil are produced and processed here primarily for the domestic market.
A strong energy raw material base (natural gas, crude oil, hydropower, nuclear power) makes the country almost self-sufficient. The country’s future opportunities will continue to benefit from the great potential of previously unexploited natural resources. The raw materials already mined and produced include asbestos, lead, copper, tungsten, zinc, tin, gold and silver, manganese, uranium, crude oil and natural gas. Currency is the Argentine Peso (=100 Centavos).