Buenos Aires History
||Historical evidence shows that
the banks of the River Plate were populated by human beings
thousands of years ago. The first inhabitants of the area were
nomadic gatherers who hunted South American horses that became
extinct 10,000 years ago. It wasn’t until the Spanish
exploration age that Buenos Aires was successfully settled.
The first Spaniard to arrive in the area in 1516 was Juan de
Solis. Although he attempted to settle the land, his efforts
short immediately by the indigenous inhabitants who fiercely resisted
and killed him.
In 1536, however, the Spanish effort was successful through an
aristocrat by the name of Pedro Mendoza. An extravagant and exaggerated
individual by nature, Mendoza arrived in the area with 16 ships
occupied by 1600 men. He named the post at which he arrived, ‘Puerto
Nuestra Senora Santa Maria del Buen Aire (Port Our Lady Saint Mary
of the Good Wind). Although the size and manpower of his enormous
fleet almost guaranteed immediate success, Mendoza’s planning
was poor and inadequate. The Spanish found themselves in very short
supply of food and materials, and attempted to force the indigenous
tribes into feeding them. When the tribes resisted, a four year
struggle followed and thousands of Spaniards and indigenous inhabitants
died. Mendoza fled to Spain and those left behind ventured upriver
to modern day Paraguay. During this time, the riches of Peru and
Francisco Pizarro’s conquest of the Inca Empire became the
focus of Spain and its colonies. Argentina was, for the most part,
ignored for the next 40 years. In 1580, a Spaniard named Juan de
Garay ventured back into the area with an expedition from Asuncion,
Paraguay, and began to rebuild Buenos Aires.
Buenos Aires paled in comparison with other Spanish conquests.
Spain kept tight restrictions on which occupied territories were
allowed to trade with other countries, and because Buenos Aires
was difficult to monitor, the city was forbidden to trade any goods
with anyone. As a result, it became a smuggler’s paradise
- dealing with contraband goods from textiles and metals, to whiskeys
For the next several centuries, Buenos Aires flourished and the
Spanish crown eventually loosened its restrictions on trading goods.
In the late 18th century, Buenos Aires began to question its parental
authority. In 1806 Britain invaded Buenos Aires. Locals rallied
together to oppose its invaders without the help of Spain and defeated
the British. A year later, the British once again attempted to conquer
the people of Buenos Aires. Yet again, they were defeated by the
locals without Spanish intervention. These two important defeats
gave the people of Buenos Aires the confidence to question Spanish
authority and contemplate a struggle for their independence.
On May 25, 1810, Buenos Aires declared its independence from Madrid,
soon after Napolean conquered Spain and his brother took the throne.
For the next hundred years, the city’s economy boomed and
immigrants began flooding the city. They came from Spain, Italy,
Germany and Eastern Europe - giving the people and cultural landscape
of Argentina the vast diversity it is known for today. By 1910,
Buenos Aires was one of the most important and glorious cities in
the entire world - certainly the biggest in Latin America and second
biggest of the Americas (after New York). But in 1929, the Golden
Age, as the period was referred to as, began to fade. Along with
the rest of the world, Buenos Aires felt the effects of the great
Wall Street crash of 1929, and in 1930, a military coup changed
the structure of the city - politically, economically and socially.
The 1940’s saw the emergence of a struggling and rural poor
class that poured into Buenos Aires in search of work. In 1946 Lieutenant-General
Juan Domingo Peron was elected president. Peron introduced his own
version of Mussolini-type facism. While nationalizing large industry,
Peron’s wife, the famous Eva Peron (or Evita, as she is known),
befriended the working and poor class. Soon after her death, Juan
Peron became less and less popular with the masses and was replaced
by a military junta in 1976.
It was during the 70’s that Argentina experienced one of
its most shameful periods in history. Military rulers imposed harsh
laws and repression on the civilian population. During this time,
Argentina’s ‘Dirty War’ ensued. In an attempt
to curtail leftist opposition, the military government kidnapped
thousands of civilians (mostly educated, middle-class youth). These
individuals were simply referred to as ‘disappeared,’
but it is well-known that they were tortured and murdered by the
dictatorship. Till this day, the mothers of these disappeared protest
and demand answers for those who are still unaccounted for.
In the 20th century, Argentina experienced an economic breakdown
that is still reeling its effect today. In 1999, after being elected
president, Fernando de la Rua was faced with an economic crisis
left by his predecessor. As economic troubles deepened, investors
panicked and the country was on the brink of an economic collapse.
In January 2001, the minister of economy, Domingo Cavallo sought
over $20 million US dollars in loans from the International Monetary
Fund instead of declaring a debt default. What followed was a social
and economic collapse of massive proportions. Argentines withdrew
$20 billion US dollars from the banks, the government imposed a
limit of $1000 US dollars a month on withdrawals and the Argentine
peso, which was on par with the US dollar prior to this collapse,
was greatly devalued. Riots and looting followed over several months
and two new presidents came and went in the same week after De la
Rua left office. The economy literally ceased to function and a
shattering amount of people were suddenly penniless and homeless.
More than half of the population quickly found themselves below
the poverty line, and those who were already there before the economic
collapse found themselves in unbearable and destitute situations.
Today, Nestor Kirchner is the Argentine president and is slowly
but surely helping put Argentina back on its feet. As a result of
this economic breakdown, tourism boomed in Argentina, as everything
from food to hotels, clothes to real estate is now considered a
bargain to outsiders. It is the tourism industry that is currently
helping ease the pain of this dire economic situation.