The Spanish were the first Europeans to arrive in present-day Argentina in the early 16th century. After becoming a viceroyalty of Spain in the 1770s, the territory achieved independence in 1816. Between the mid-19th century and 1946, Argentina swung from civilian to military rule, and from radical to conservative policies. A coup resulted in the rise of Lieutenant General Juan Domingo Perón as president in 1943.
After winning the election of 1946, Perón instigated a policy of extreme nationalism and social improvement. At his side throughout his rise to power was his second wife, former actress Eva Perón, until her death from cancer in 1952; she remains Argentina’s most iconic female figure.
President Perón was overthrown in 1955, but he was re-elected in 1973. On his death, a year later, Perón’s third wife Isabel took office, but she was deposed by a military coup in 1976.
The end of the Peronista period heralded perhaps the darkest period in Argentina’s history. Driven by an obsessive fear of communism, the new military regime instituted a reign of terror in which disappearances, torture and extra-judicial murder were commonplace. This brutal era still feels very recent in today’s Buenos Aires, and the mothers of those who disappeared during the Dirty War, can be seen silently marching around Plaza de Mayo every Thursday afternoon.
Argentina’s invasion of the Malvinas (Falkland Islands) in 1982, led to defeat at the hands of the British. While the topic is still a diplomatic sore point, relations between the two countries have somewhat improved.
Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner succeeded her husband, Néstor Carlos Kirchner, in 2007, becoming Argentina's first elected female president. She came to power promising more of the same centre-left populist policies that had served her husband so well.
Kirchner’s initial popularity waned within a few years, however, with accusations of financial corruption, followed by violent suppression of protesters against her imposed export tax hikes, bringing back horrific memories of former strong-arm governments. In the 2015 elections she lost the presidency to Mauricio Macri of the centrist Cambiemos coalition. Macri reversed some of Kirchner’s populist policies, lifting restrictions on foreign currency purchases and reducing export taxes on various agricultural products. The OECD predicts that Argentina will be out of recession by 2018.
Did you know?
• Meat-loving Argentines consumed a reported 59.4kg of beef per person in 2014.
• In 2010 Argentina became the first country in South America to legalise same-sex marriage.
• Nobel Prize winning author Jorge Luis Borges famously compared the Falklands War to “two bald men fighting over a comb”.
• Lionel Messi and Ernesto Che Guevara were both born in the same Argentinian city, Rosario.