Argentina, country in South America east of Chile and west of the Atlantic Ocean. The area of the country is 2,780,400 sq km. The Argentine government, however, claims a total area of 2,808,602 sq km including the British-administered Falkland Islands, or Islas Malvinas, and other sparsely settled southern Atlantic islands. The capital and largest city is Buenos Aires. The population is 35,797,981 million. Largely urban and of European origin. Spanish is the official language. Roman Catholics make up more than 92 percent of the population. Judaism, Protestantsim, and a number of other Christian and non-Christian religions are practiced. By law, the president and the vice-president must be Roman Catholic.
Physical Geography The Andes Mountains line Argentina’s western edge, forming the boundary with Chile. The highest peak, Aconcagua, stands 6960 m. Gently rolling plains extend eastward from the base of the Andes and descend gradually to sea level. The Pampas, treeless plains that include the most productive agricultural sections of the country, occupy much of this region. Patagonia, south of the Pampas, is dry and desolate. At the southern tip of Argentina lie the islands of Tierra del Fuego.
Climate Argentina has a temperate climate, except for a small tropical area in the northeast and a subtropical region in the north. The higher Andes and Patagonia are cold, while in most coastal areas temperatures are moderated by the ocean. Rainfall is high in the north, and quite low in the south.
Argentina’s main natural resource has been the agricultural land of the Pampas. Productive offshore deposits of petroleum and natural gas are also important.
Education and Culture Primary education is free and compulsory from ages 6 to 14. In 1996, 5.3 million pupils attended primary schools; 2.6 million attended secondary and vocational schools. Enrollment in higher education institutions was 1.1 million in 1994. Argentina”s literacy rate of 96 percent is one of the highest in Latin America. Argentina has rich literary and musical traditions. The tango, a widely popular ballroom dance, originated here.
Economy Argentina ranks among world leaders in the production of grain and cattle. Wheat is the most important crop, and wool is a major export. Coal and petroleum production, once relatively small-scale, has increased significantly in recent years. The unit of currency is the nuevo peso argentino (1 peso equals U.S.$1; 1996).
Government Executive power is held by a president elected to no more than two consecutive four-year terms. The National Congress consists of the 257-member House of Deputies and the 72-member Senate. Deputies are elected directly to four-year terms, and each of the country’s 23 provinces elects three senators to six-year terms. In each province, the largest nongoverning party chooses one of the three senators.
History Along with numerous nomadic tribespeople, two main indigenous groups existed in Argentina before the European arrival. In the northwest, near Bolivia and the Andes, was a people known as the Diaguita, while further south and to the east were the Guarani. Together the Diaguita and the Guarani constitute the origins of permanent agricultural civilization in Argentina, both developing the cultivation of maize. The Diaguita are also remembered for having successfully prevented the powerful Inca from expanding their empire into Argentina from what is now Bolivia.
It was perhaps a legacy of this successful resistance that enabled the native peoples of Argentina to carry on a prolonged campaign against colonization and rule by the Spanish. The first Spaniard to land in Argentina, Juan de Solis, was killed in 1516, and several attempts to found Buenos Aires were stymied by the local inhabitants. Inland cities were more successful, and it wasn’t until the late 16th century that Buenos Aires was securely established.
Despite its military success, indigenous resistance was inexorably weakened by the introduction of diseases from Europe. Even after the native threat became minimal, however, Argentina was still mostly neglected by Spain, which was more interested in developing Lima and the riches of Peru. Buenos Aires was forbidden to trade with foreign countries, and the city became a smuggler’s haunt. The restrictive trade policy probably did little to endear Spain to the colonists. The British attacked Buenos Aires in 1806 and 1807, as Spain’s had come under the control of Napoleonic France. The colony managed to repulse Britain’s attacks without any assistance from their mother country, an act of strength that no doubt helped to foster the region’s growing sense of independence.
When the French captured Spain’s King Ferdinand VII, Argentina fell completely under the rule of the local viceroyalty, which was highly unpopular. The locals rebelled against the viceroyalty and declared their allegiance to the captive king. By 1816, the deep division between Argentina and its mother country had become quite apparent, and a party of separatists decided to declare the country’s independence. One of the new patriots, Jose de San Martin, crossed the Andes and captured Lima. Along with Simon Bolivar, Martin is credited with breaking the shackle of Spanish rule in South America.
Early independence in Argentina was marked by an often bitter struggle between two political groups: the Unitarists and the Federalists. The Unitarists wanted a strong central government, while the Federalists wanted local control.
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