What's in a name?
The first use of the name Argentina can be traced to La Argentina, a poem written in 1602 by Martín del Barco Centenera. The name comes from the Latin term ‘argentum’, which means silver.
The origin of this name goes back to the first voyages made by the Spanish conquerors of the River Plate (Río de la Plata). The survivors of the expedition lead by Juan Díaz de Solís found in the area indigenous people who gave them silver objects as presents. The legends of the Sierra del Plata-a mountain rich in silver-had been largely known. But by the early 1520s news of silver riches were seriously reaching Spain. It was around this time that the Portuguese named the river of Solís, Río de la Plata (River of Silver). Soon afterwards the Spanish used the same name.
The area originally referred to as Argentina was the formally called Viceroyalty of the River Plate by the Spanish conquistadores. After independence in the 19th century it became known as the United Provinces of the River Plate. Throughout the century the names ‘Argentine Republic’, ‘Argentine Nation’, and ‘Argentine Confederation’ were widely used. The National Constitution of 1853 and a later presidential decree recognised and settled the country’s name as Argentine Republic (República Argentina).
Argentina is a democratic republic which consists of 23 provinces and a federal district, the City of Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires is its capital.
The federal constitution establishes three separate branches of government: executive, legislative and judicial. The executive branch is exercised by the President and Vice-president, both elected for a 4-year term and only able to be re-elected for a single additional term. The legislative branch consists of two chambers: the Senate and the House of Representatives (the deputies are elected directly and in proportion to each district’s population). The judicial branch is vested in the Supreme Court and lower courts of justice.
Each province has its own Constitution in accordance with the National Constitution. The current National Constitution dates from 1853 but was later amended at different stages in 1860, 1898, 1957 and 1994.
The country acquired independence in 1816. The first ‘Gobierno Patrio’ declared autonomy from Spain on May 25th in 1810 and the ‘Provincias Unidas del Río de la Plata’ proclaimed Independence on July 9th 1816.
Argentina is the eighth largest country in the world, with a unique geography that includes immense plains as well as magnificent mountains, vast coastal areas, majestic glaciers, rich fluvial systems and reservoirs, and mighty waterfalls. It has an area of almost 2.8 million square kilometres and is 3,800 Kilometres long.
The Pampas, in the centre of the country, is the largest and best-known area of plains. Agriculture and livestock raring are the main economic activities in the area.
The long Atlantic coast is rich in its flora and fauna, lined with high cliffs and beautiful beaches, often forming spectacular nooks like the Peninsula Valdés, which is a unique habitat for sea animals.
From the most colourful arid deserts of the ‘Noroeste Argentino’ through the Andes and the wine producing regions of San Juan and Mendoza, to the Pampas of the ‘Gaucho’ and the very ‘end of the world’ in Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia, Argentina is no doubt a country full of beauty and wonder.
Argentina’s history is indeed very young in Asian or European terms. However, it is not less fascinating and complex.
Origins until Independence
The first hunter-tribes arrived in America crossing the Bering Strait from Asia probably about 30.000 years ago. It is believed that those who travelled south reached the territory of Argentina 18.000 years ago. These peoples settled in two main areas, the mountains and the plains. There are records of populations based in ‘Ayamapatin’, in what is now Cordoba Province, and in the Province of San Luis as far as 8.000 years ago. In the far south of today’s Patagonia the new arrivals made it to the area 6.000 years ago.
Many indigenous populations inhabited the southern cone for millennia. But all this was to change with the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadores in the XV and XVI century. Indigenous communities saw their people exterminated or secluded into restricted and controlled areas throughout the continent.
With Christopher Columbus began in 1492 the discovery and subsequent colonising expeditions. Américo Vespucci was probably the first one to touch Argentine territory in 1502.
In the attempt to find a link between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, Juan Diaz de Solis’s expedition arrived in the Río de la Plata in 1516. The first city founded by Spain in 1527 was Sancti Spiritu and in 1534, by order of King Charles I, Pedro de Mendoza took charge and later founded the city of ‘Nuestra Seňora del Buen Ayre’. In 1580 Juan de Garay achieved the second and more lasting foundation of Buenos Aires.
Not without resistance and battle the Spanish continued their pursuit of riches by conquering and settling their people to control and administer the different areas. As part of the Bourbon Reforms in 1776 the creation of the Viceroyalty of the River Plate determined the division of territories of the Americas and sent a clear message to foreign powers, especially Portugal and Britain, who were a constant threat in the region. Portugal had long been a rival contender and Britain was becoming increasingly interested in the port of Buenos Aires as a vital tool for free commerce with the burgeoning communities of South America.
The River Plate in the XVI and XVII centuries consisted of part or all of today’s provinces of Buenos Aires, Entre Rios, Corrientes, Santa Fe, Formosa, Chaco, Misiones, as well as Paraguay, and Uruguay. With economic development in the following decades and subsequent centuries this area gained strategic importance. This was to cause not only strong interests in Spain but also unease among other European nations. A clear example of this are the failed English invasions of 1806 and 1807.
In May 1810, mainly as a result of events in Europe-the Napoleonic wars were causing dramatic political changes in Europe-Buenos Aires decided to call for a ‘Cabildo Abierto’ to set up a new government and eventually claimed autonomy from the Spanish crown. Finally, on July 9th 1816 the United Provinces of Río de la Plata declared Independence in Tucumán.