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Argentina

Buenos Aires

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History

The largest state of Spanish America and the largest in the southern part of South America. The Inca Empire covered part of the northern area as far south as Mendoza but most of the other native inhabitants were nomadic hunters. They have nearly all been exterminated or absorbed by inter-marriage.

Buenos Aires was founded in 1536 and Argentina was at first ruled from Lima (the Viceroyalty of Peru). Later it was the Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata or the Rio Plata colony.

Following independence in 1816 it has had an unsettled history with many dictatorships. There was a democratic period from 1916 until 1930 - the longest in its history - but military government began again then.

The most notable characteristic is that the largest part of its population live in the capital and have few contacts with the country as a whole. Many are descendants of Italian immigrants.

During the 19th century there was a strong British influence. British capital built the railways and arranged the trade in meat which was the main wealth of the country. Argentina was sometimes regarded as an unofficial member of the British Empire. There is a still a large community descended from British settlers.

Peron
General Juan Peron was elected president in 1946 and deposed in 1955. He had some similarities with Mussolini in Italy but dispersed the wealth of the country through incompetent government. He seems to have been motivated mainly by hatred of the traditional ruling aristocracy - often anglophile - and gained power by promising the masses unrealistic benefits. He formed a government that appealed to the Trade Unions and had a Laborist rhetoric. He nationalised the British owned utilities (at a time when the railways, for example, were becoming unprofitable). He was deposed by the army, partly representing the former ruling group.

Following his deposition there were alternating civilian and military governments until he was re-elected in 1973. He died in 1974, his second wife took over (she had been vice president) and corruption and violence provoked the military to take over again. This time they fought a "dirty war" against left wing terrorists. 10,000 people are believed to have disappeared (murdered in concentration camps or thrown from planes, often after torture). In some cases the children of the disappeared were stolen and adopted by military families. They also arrested and tortured Jews using Nazi symbolism and methods. This could be regarded as one of the fascist regimes of the 20th century. (Documents show the generals had the approval of Henry Kissinger, then US Secretary of State - Foreign Minister).

In 1982 the generals under General Galtieri as "President" invaded the Falkland Islands. Following the defeat of their untrained conscript troops by the British, they lost power and democratic elections brought to power a moderate right wing government under Raul Alfonsin and his Radical Party. He was followed by Carlos Menem elected as a Peronist, who succeeded himself in 1995.

During the 1970s and 1980s there was an agreement with the military governments of Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay to capture and return dissidents from the other countries. Thus there was an alliance between these regimes.

Army revolts since 1983 have all been put down and the army appears to be, for the most part, under civilian control.

The claim to the British controlled islands off the coast of Patagonia prevents good relations with Britain. This claim is unlikely to be dropped and conflict in future is always possible.

Has Argentina given up the poisonous nationalism of the last 50 years? As in most of the South American states, the essential artificiality of the state has been matched with a fanatical devotion to the nation and its symbols. Probably the people can only make progress if they integrate more with the world as a whole and give up the attempted autarky and military fantasy. The military has been slimmed down.

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Politics

Argentina has a bad record of alternating military and civilian regimes. The present government is elected and a recent president, Fernando de la Rua, took over from an elected president, Carlos Menem, who took over from Raul Alfonsin. This is unusual. Since elections were restored there have been numerous attempted coups by the military. However, the last military regime was so brutal that it seems unlikely the people will acquiesce in another military regime soon. But incompetent civilian government tends to make people accept military government as no worse. The competence of the civilian governments may be improving a bit.

President Menem was the leader of the Peronist Party, which has evolved from the laborist trade union based party of former populist dictator Peron. He took over from a moderate right wing Radical Party government. Whenever the constitution has been in force the president has been forbidden to serve a second term. Menem altered the constitution to allow reelection in 1995 but had to stand down in 1999.

The trade unions are corrupt because elections of leaders are seldom held. Some economists believe the unions prevent investment and economic development by demanding wage increases which the employers cannot pay, especially in the public sector. The result is continual inflation. Menem instituted a policy of privatizing the state assets. Some members of his own party opposed this. Argentina has long had a very nationalist and anti-foreign political culture. This takes the form of hostility to Chile and a dogmatic assertion of the inalienable status of the Malvinas as a part of Argentina, comparable to the Serbs' claim to Kosovo. Can it evolve a peaceful democracy? A third consecutive election in May 1995 set a record, with a fourth in 1999, which led to a change of party after ten years of Carlos Menem and the Peronist Party.

The new president, de la Rua, led an alliance of Radicals (Center) and left of center Frepaso parties. At the end of 2001 de la Rua resigned in the face of pending National Bankruptcy as the economic policy ended in disaster. There followed a series of short-lived presidents appointed by the Congress, as the economic situation continued to deteriorate.

President Kirchner seems to have restored stability. He handed over to his wife as elected successor and then died unexpectedly. She won re-election in 2011.

Interesting reading

Jorge Luis Borges - the most famous Argentinian writer.


Collected Fictions


Borges: Collected Fictions


Fictions de Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges - Gesammelte Werke: Gesammelte Werke, 9 Bde. in 11 Tl.-Bdn., Bd.7, Buch der Träume: Bd 7


Giovana de Garayalde


Jorge Luis Borges: Sources and Illumination

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Economics

In the early 20th century and especially after the second world war Argentina was regarded as one of the wealthiest countries, based on exports of meat and wheat. However since the Peron dictatorship the economy has steadily declined until now there is widespread poverty, fiscal and trade deficit and chronic high inflation.

The root cause has been attributed to government mismanagement, including attempted autarky (high tariff barriers), subsidy to non-producers and high military expenditure. Apparently neither military governments nor the usually briefer civilian administrations could solve these problems. Argentina continues to have natural resources and if the world moves into food shortage in the medium term future (climate change) the value of the food production may make Argentina rich again. At present, like Australia and New Zealand it is difficult to compete in the food market with the highly subsidized American and European food exports.

But one problem is that the majority of the population lives in the city of Buenos Aires leaving the countryside underpopulated. As many of the city dwellers are non-producers the economy is unbalanced. Argentina may be another victim of the Spanish inherited culture of Aristocratic contempt for production (even though non-Spaniards, especially Italians, may be a majority of the population).

The Menem government, though in origin a Laborist party based on the trade unions (rather undemocratic with some resemblances to the Teamsters of the United States), privatized some of the state industries such as the phone company, the airline and the oil fields. This did not revive the economy, though some advisors were optimistic that it would.

For long all attempts to slow down inflation seem doomed to failure, so that anyone with money tended to keep it abroad, which meant there was little domestic capital for investment. The main effect has been large scale unemployment which is an electoral danger to a government based on the working class, used to subsidized employment. As people felt that only a hard foreign currency is trustworthy perhaps the answer to inflation is to create a currency not under the control of Argentine politicians such as the US dollar or a new international currency covering all of Latin America. The Argentine currency was then pegged to the dollar. But the value of the dollar against other countries rose and Argentina could not sell in competition with Brazil, which devalued.

However, the Menem government is said to have reduced inflation to 5% per year from a hyperinflation in 1989 of 20,000%. This may be progress of a sort. "The economy" is doing well; shame about "the unemployment, poverty and corruption".
At the end of 2001 the increasing debt, the fixed exchange rate to the dollar, and the resulting economic collapse caused the government to resign and the new government to threaten to refuse to repay the existing debt. This amounts to a national bankruptcy.
In December 2005 the government announced that the loans from the IMF would be repaid by January 2006. This is a sign that the economy has recovered from the depths it had reached. This is helped by the rise in commidity prices, especially of oil and the fall in the dollar.

Linking the Argentinian currency to the dollar brought inflation to a halt but at the cost of very large unemployment and near social collapse. Probably the only reason this did not provoke a military takeover was that the Military knew they could not cope with the crisis. Releasing the currency from parity with the dollar alleviated the crisis and the economy is at present (2006) improving again.

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Human Rights

Violations of human rights were bad during the last military regime, which could be regarded as a classic fascist regime. The civilian regime has not prosecuted more than a handful of the torturers and killers. Therefore the state cannot be considered to be in a condition of law. Many people feel they have not had justice as the perpetrators remain untried in the courts. Because of past history there is always the fear that the military may return to power and behave badly again.

At present (2006) there are signs that the prosecution of some of the former military rulers will occur.

In 2011 some important torturers were tried and found guilty.

Last revised 26/11/11


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