Juan Díaz de Solís landed on the shores of the Río de la Plata in 1516 and Ferdinand Magellan entered the estuary in 1520. In 1536, Sebastian Cabot and his rival Diego Garcia both ascended the Paraná and Paraguay rivers and founded a settlement that was abandoned two years later.
Pedro de Mendoza founded the first settlement of Buenos Aires in 1536, but native attacks forced its abandonment and Asunción became the leading city of the Río de la Plata region until Buenos Aires was re founded in 1580 by Juan de Garay.
The oldest towns in Argentina: Santiago del Estero, Tucumán, , Córdoba, Salta, La Rioja and San Salvador de Jujuy were founded by Spaniards following the old Inca road from Peru. San Juan, Mendoza, and San Luis were founded by others crossing the Andes from Chile, also a part of the viceroyalty of Lima that had been established in 1570.
In 1776 the Spanish government made Buenos Aires a free port and the capital of a new viceroyalty that included present Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and part of Bolivia.
In 1806 a British naval squadron took Buenos Aires with little resistance from the Spanish colonial forces. A few months later a volunteer militia of local people forced the invaders out and resisted recapture by British reinforcements. When Spain fell to Napoleon in 1810, prominent Criollos in Buenos Aires backed by this militia forced the last Spanish viceroy to surrender power to a local junta. Spain attempted to retake the Viceroyalty but was soundly defeated by the Buenos Aires forces who then undertook to spread the cause of independence.
In July 1816, a congress in Tucumán proclaimed the independence of the United Provinces of the Río de La Plata with Uruguay and Paraguay going their own ways. Armed conflict soon broke out between those who favoured a centralised government dominated by Buenos Aires and regional federalists backed by autocratic caudillos with gaucho troops. This internal conflict persisted though the war with Brazil (1827), that led to the independence of Uruguay and the war of the Triple Alliance (1865), that crushed Paraguay, until the final triumph of federalism in 1880 under General Roca (who had definitely subjugated the indigenous peoples of the south in 1879). Buenos Aires became a federal district with the city of La Plata becoming the capital of the province of Buenos Aires.
By the beginning of the 20th century Argentina had become one of the richest countries in the world, and its population had been boosted by the arrival of millions of Europeans. Civilian rule was generally peaceful and stable until a military coup in 1930. Another coup occurred in 1943, after which Juan Domingo Perón, a key figure in the coup, emerged as the country's leader. He encouraged the growth of labour unions and raised wages, and in 1946 he was elected president. Perón and his wife Eva, who was a champion of social welfare programmes, were immensely popular among the masses, but as the economy deteriorated Perón became increasingly autocratic. His efforts to secularise the nation brought him into conflict with the Roman Catholic Church and alienated his military officers; he was overthrown in 1955.
After a series of military governments , Perón was allowed to return to power in 1973, but he died in 1974, leaving his second wife Isabel to head the national government. After Marxist revolutionaries, the Montoneros, engaged in violence in 1976, the military took power and embarked upon its own "dirty war" against those it considered subversive. Thousands were murdered or disappeared.
In 1981 General Videla, who had ousted Isabel Perón, was succeeded as president by General Roberto Viola. Before the year ended Viola had been replaced by General Leopoldo Galtieri. In 1982, faced with the economic crisis Galtieri ordered Argentine forces to invade the Falkland Islands occupied by the United Kingdom since 1833. To the junta´s surprise, the United Kingdom dispatched a military task force to the South Atlantic, and within three months the Argentine forces had been defeated and the islands recaptured. Humiliated, Galtieri resigned, and in 1983 democratic elections brought Raúl Alfonsín of the Radical Civic Union party to power.
The economy deteriorated further, and Alfonsin was replaced by Carlos Menem in May 1989. Menem instituted major economic changes, privatising nationalised industries, opening the economy to foreign investment and pegging the peso one-to-one to the US dollar in 1991. Menem was re-elected in 1995 but his radical neo-liberalism and unabashed corruption led to to rising unemployment and a prolonged recession.
He was replaced in 1999 by Fernando de la Rua who had promised to eliminate corruption but who had to resign in 2001 because of massive demonstrations against the government's inability to solve the country's economic and social crisis.
The Legislative Assembly then selected Mr. Eduardo Duhalde who promptly ended ten years of parity and devalued the peso by more than 50%. The economy nonetheless remained in disarray with a huge public debt and Nestor Kirchner won the new presidential elections in May 2003. See "Rich Bankrupt Argentina" for more details on the debt problem.
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I stopped here for a couple of days in December 2003 on my way to Ushuaia and Antarctica which was the highlight of this winter's travel. I will only show four important landmarks on this page. More will come later for I stayed here three weeks on the way back to Montreal in April.
This is the infamous "Casa Rosada", the seat of power that has been more often in the hands of the military than of civil government since it was built in the late 19th century.
The Cabildo across the Plaza de Mayo was the seat of Spanish colonial power until Argentina's independence in 1816.
In between the two, the massive cathedral finished in 1827 testifies to the important role the Catholic church has maintained throughout the years in Argentina.
At the other end of avenida de Mayo, almost two km away, stands the Congress, completed in 1906, where the lower house of deputies and the Senate state the law when the military let them.
After a few days I left for Ushuaia, the most southerly city in the world.
With about 50 000 citizens, Ushuaia is not very much larger but it is much more modern and prosperous than the last time I was here 10 years ago. Tourist shops, travel agents and good restaurants abound on the main drag, avenida San Martin. The building behind the tower houses the regional government.
Here is another view of avenida San Martin, this time looking west.
The rest of avenida San Martin has changed but this his landmark bar is just the same.
I came a few days before the sailing date of my Antarctic cruise to meet the local people and get the feel of the place.
Arranging to have contacts ahead of time is an important part of preparing a trip for me because I love to discover what people believe and how they see reality in various parts of the world. Having a website helps as a lot of people take the time to send me their comments, some positive, some negative.
This year, I joined The Hospitality Club , a relatively young organisation whose well designed computerised systems facilitate encounters between travellers and open minded, curious residents all over the world. After only three years, the not-for-profit organisation already has some 12 000 members in 140 countries.
Thanks to the Hospitality Club, I met Paula Barrentos shown here with her mother Gladys, her sister Maria Eva and the family dog. Paula picked me up at the airport and brought me home to meet her family. We had a most pleasant lunch during which I learned a lot about the country's history and its present economic difficulties. That was real hospitality for a complete stranger!
I stayed in the Amanecer de la Bahia hostel the first night but moved down the steep hill to the Refugio del Mochilero the next day when they had room.
I moved again into the expensive Albatross hotel for the night before sailing. It was included in the price of the cruise. It was quite comfortable but I did not sleep any better than I had in the Almanecer or the Refugio.
Antarctic cruises have become more popular since competition from Russian Arctic icebreakers has brought the prices down. The big white boat is the Akademik Sergei Vavilov and the last boat on the left is the Orlova that I will be boarding.
Here is a close up view of the Lyubov Orlova, a 100 meter ice strengthened passenger cruise ship built in Yugoslavia in 1976, manned by a Russian crew and presently registered in Malta. It is leased to Quark Expeditions who use it for cruises in Antarctica in winter and in the northern polar regions in summer.
Finally, here is a panoramic view of Ushuaia's cleaned up waterfront taken on the day before leaving (use your browser's slider to see the rest of the picture on the right).