1810-1816: Independence A 16th century Spanish map of Río de la Plata. The exaggeration of the river and its tributaries reflects the colony's early appeal as a commercial port.
Like Britain's American colonies, the provinces of Spain's Viceroyalty de la Plata (encompassing present-day Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay) bridled under the oppressive economic policies of a distant master. But when in May 1810, the Argentine provinces declared themselves autonomous, their initial motivation was very different from that of their North American counterparts. The occasion was Napoleon's invasion of Spain, and his deposition of King Ferdinand VII. Ousting their Spanish governor, or viceroy -- whom they regarded as a puppet of Napoleon's revolutionary regime -- the militia of Buenos Aires installed a junta loyal to their deposed king. Ironically, the provinces declared formal independence on July 9, 1816 only after the restored Ferdinand rejected the junta's claim to self-governance.
photo: Library of Congress
1816-1829: Civil War Gauchos, the political backbone of Argentina's 19th century frontier culture.
As in the United States, Argentine independence led to a contest between those who favored a confederation of autonomous states and those who preferred a centralized national government. From the beginning, Buenos Aires-based juntas attempted to assert control over the interior provinces, with failed military efforts leading to an independent Paraguay and Uruguay in 1813 and 1828. Political efforts in 1819 to arrive at a centralizing republican constitution likewise failed. Until 1829, civil war raged among the vying provinces, each of which was itself under the control of caudillos, la Plata's home-grown aristocracy of hacienda-owning cattlemen.
photo: Hulton Archive
1829-1852: Unification Oligarch Juan Manuel de Rosas
In 1829 the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata -- yet another attempt at central government -- succumbed to provincial strongmen, who forced the resignation of the first national president. Centralists responded with the assassination of a former Buenos Aires governor in the same year. Capitalizing on popular anger over this act, Juan Manuel de Rosas, a wealthy caudillo, won the governorship of Buenos Aires on an autonomist ticket. What the centralists had failed to do constitutionally, Rosas achieved through personal politics and the growing economic might of Buenos Aires. From 1829, until his overthrow in 1852, Rosas ruled the provinces in financial and foreign matters, but without benefit of a national constitution.
photo: Hulton Archive
1853-1880: Republic Buenos Aires, 1890: a thriving port and national capital
As de facto ruler of la Plata, Rosas nevertheless favored his home state of Buenos Aires over national interests. Finally, in 1852, the governor of the competing coastal province, Entre Ríos, enlisted neighboring Brazil and Uruguay to overthrow Rosas and break his monopoly on coastal trade. Another decade of uneasy confederation and civil war followed until finally, in 1862, a national convention succeeded in drafting a national charter and then electing the Argentine Republic's first president. The climax of the ensuing national movement occurred in 1880, when -- after another brief civil war -- Buenos Aires became a federal district (akin to Washington D.C.) and Argentina's national capital.photo: Hulton Archive
1929-1945:Radicals and Reactionaries Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, captured in Argentina, 1961
A half century of unimpeded economic progress ended in Argentina with the spread of the Great Depression. As elsewhere, the collapse of the economy in 1929 led to severe unemployment and political extremism. The formation of the leftist Popular Front and the rightist National Front imperiled Argentine democracy as both sides sought to use the machinery of office to quash their opponents. In 1940, with World War II underway, a conservative politician, Ramón Castillo assumed the office of president. Pursuing a distinctly pro-Nazi foreign policy, Castillo followed the fascist example, suppressing democracy at home, outlawing political parties and silencing opposition newspapers. A succession of military coups did little to change Argentina's basic course until March 1945, when an allied victory over Germany seemed imminent.
photo: Hulton Archive
1946-1955:Peronism Eva and Juan Perón demonstrating the famous tandem wave in 1951
With the close of World War II, Argentina's latest ruling junta cozied up to the United States by signing a hemispheric mutual-defense treaty and announcing the resumption of democratic elections. Among parties vying for national office was the Labor Party of junta member and former labor chief Colonel Juan Perón. Campaigning among poor agricultural and industrial workers -- popularly known as the "shirtless ones" -- Perón won a populist victory in February 1946. Three years later, with the masses in thrall to his wife -- the former actress Eva Duarte -- Perón formally abrogated Argentina's 1853 charter, allowing himself to stand for re-election in 1952. Despite Perón's victory, however, Evita's death the same year -- combined with growing inflation -- ultimately led to a military coup and Perón's exile three years later.photo: Hulton Archive
1966-1983: The Generals Leaders of Argentina in 1980, celebrating the 170th anniversary of the national revolution
After an eight-year stretch of democratic rule (from 1958 to 1966), Argentina reverted once again to dictatorship. In 1973, with Perón's brief restoration to power (he died the following year), the government launched its "Dirty War" against leftists, which continued under the succeeding military junta and resulted in up to 30,000 disappearances. Although official terror stanched street violence, the economy continued to decline under the generals. In 1982 in a desperate nationalist bid for popular support, the regime occupied the British-held Falkland Islands. Britain won the resulting Falklands War within two months, discrediting the Argentine military, which ceded control to the democratically elected Raúl Alfonsín in October 1983.
Photo: Hulton Archive
1983-2002: Democracy Returns? Carlos Menem and successor de la Rua in 2001
Under President Alfonsín, Argentina restored its democratic institutions. The country reorganized the armed forces and even charged former military leaders with human-rights abuses. The radical Alfonsín continued Argentina's protectionist trade policies, however, exacerbating Argentina's economic crisis. In 1989, it fell to Alfonsín's Peronist successor to fix the economy, which he and his finance minister, economist Domingo Cavallo, did in one remarkable six-year term. In his second term, however, Menem let up on his austerity reforms and -- after a falling out in 1996 -- Cavallo resigned. In 1999, when Fernando de la Rua replaced Menem, the economy had already entered recession, a plunge that Cavallo's 2001 return as finance minister failed to stop. Eduardo Duhalde, who ultimately replaced de la Rua upon the latter's resignation this year, has failed to reverse the economic crisis. As of July 2002, with half of all Argentines below the poverty line and nearly one-quarter without jobs, popular discontent with elected officials continues to grow.