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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 were cut

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 and slaves.

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.

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