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Basic facts

Argentina is a South American country bordered by Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil and Uruguay. It has a population of about 43 million people most of whom are of European descent (mostly from Italy and Spain) with a small mestizo and indigenous minority. The capital is Buenos Aires and the current president is Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Argentina is a federal presidential constitutional republic although for most of its history it has alternated between democratic governments and military dictatorships.

History since Independence

Argentina gained independence from Spain in 1810. Soon afterwards it became embroiled in a series of civil wars between Centralists wanting a centralised government based in Buenos Aires and the federalists wanting a more decentralised government. This series of conflicts continued until 1861 with the election of Bartolomé Mitre after which Argentina experienced an explosive democratic growth due to a massive wave of immigration from Europe (mainly Italy) and unprecedented economic growth. Argentina’s prosperity ended abruptly in 1930 due to the Great Depression and a period of chronic political and economic instability known as the Década Infame (Infamous Decade) followed until the election of Juan Domingo Perón in 1946. Perón and his wife Eva brought about a series of populist reforms which made them very popular with the Argentinian people but antagonised the elite and the upper echelon of the military. Eva died in 1952 and her husband was eventually forced into exile in 1955 by an alliance of generals but their political legacy remained very influential in Argentine politics. From the 60s until the early 80s Argentina went through a number of military dictatorships which saw the infamous Guerra Sucia (Dirty War), a period of state terrorism directed against leftist and Peronist activists, journalists, students, union leaders and guerrillas. This dark period of Argentine history ended with the election of Raúl Alfonsín in 1983. From 1999 to 2001 Argentina went through one of the worst economic crisis in its history. Since then Argentina has stabilised its economy, prosecuted members of the military junta, purged the military of generals with doubtful human rights records and passed laws protecting individual rights and freedom.

Week 2: Revolution and democracy

Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo was a movement started in 1977 by mothers of the desaparecidos (the disappeared), this people kidnapped tortured and disposed of by the argentine government during the Dirty War. These mothers peacefully gathered on the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires in the hopes of obtaining information about their children. The movement grew and was able to enlist the help of outside governments to put pressure on Argentina. Even after the end of the Dirty War in 1983 the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo kept demanding information about their kidnapped children all the way up until 2006.

Week 3: Slavery and abolition

In 1587 the first slaves arrived in Buenos Aries from Brazil. From 1580 to 1640, the main commercial activity for Buenos Aires was the slave trade. The slave trade had increased significantly by the end of the 18th century, reflecting the economic status of Buenos Aires in the Atlantic economy. In 1810 Buenos Aires called for independence and began the wars of independence that would eventually spread across all of Latin America. The participation of slaves was crucial in order to win. Because of their efforts on the battlefield, gradual abolition was introduced in 1813 with the Free Womb Act, which “freed” all babies born to slave mothers. The first Constitution of Argentina abolished slavery in 1853. This, however, did not apply to Buenos Aires, as it was not a part of the Confederation. Once Buenos Aires joined the Confederation in 1861, slavery was completely abolished in Argentina.

Week 4: 19th century and social justice

During Perón’s decade in power many laws benefiting industrial workers were passed such as improving working conditions, establishing fixed hours and granting workers paid holidays. He also helped workers form unions and become involved in politics and when said unions clashed with their management he would typically side with the workers and insist that their demands be met. While this may have been just a way to keep the argentine people on his side it has nonetheless transformed the relationship between the argentine state and workers even to this day.

Week 5: 19th century and social justice

Between 1871 and 1910 the anarchist movement in Argentina was the most active of South America. This coincided with a period of intense immigration to Argentina and the anarchist cause was greatly helped by the arrival of Spanish and Italian anarchists such as Antoni Pellicer and Pietro Gori. However anarchists in Argentina were frequently divided except for a brief period of unity from 1903 to 1910. Clashes between the anarchists and the government were frequently violent and on several occasions government forces massacred civilians (1904, 1909, 1910, 1918, 1919, 1920). Anarchists responded to these massacres with general strikes and assassinations. From the 1920s onward the anarchist movement in Argentina was on a steady decline, due in part to its own lack of organisation but also due to the actions of the government and right-wing militias. With the rise of Perón, most workers ascribed to his new political ideology of peronism and abandoned traditional labour ideologies such as socialism, communism and anarchism.