Nation occupying much of southern South America, with its capital at Buenos Aires. It is bounded by Bolivia and Paraguay on the N; on the E by Brazil, Uruguay, and the Atlantic Ocean; and by Chile on the W and S. The first Europeans in the area were led by Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian in Portuguese service, who in 1502 discovered the La Plata River, the estuary formed by the Parana and Uruguay Rivers. He was followed in 1516 by Juan Diaz de Solis, a Spanish navigator; by Ferdinand Magellan, in Spanish service, in 1520; and by Sebastian Cabot, also in Spanish service, in 1526. It may have been Cabot who gave Argentina its name, meaning silvery.
The first settlement for Spain was made at Buenos Aires in 1536 by a conquistador, Pedro de Mendoza, but Indian attacks and food shortages forced its aband onment. It was reestablished in 1580 by Juan de Garay, who had founded Santa Fe in 1573. In 1617, under Hernand o Arias de Saavedra as governor, Buenos Aires became semi-independent within the Spanish viceroyalty of Peru.
Cattle were introduced to the pampas, the extensive grassy plains of Argentina, in the 1550s, and by the early 18th century wild herds roamed the plains. They were hunted by the gauchos, the equivalent of the cowboys of the United States. The gauchos also fought the Indians. The separate viceroyalty of La Plata, including most of present Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, and Paraguay, was established by Spain in 1776, with Buenos Aires as the capital. In 1806, during the Napoleonic Wars in Europe, when Great Britain was fighting the French and the Spanish, a British force captured Buenos Aires, but the next year the Spanish retook the city.
A revolt against Spanish rule began on May 25, 1810, when the viceroy was deposed. The revolutionists, under Manuel Belgrano, won an important victory in 1812 at San Miguel de Tucuman. Other leaders were Jose de San Martin and Juan Facundo Quiroga. The latter was a gaucho chief, an example of the caudillos, or charismatic military leaders, who became common in Latin America. The independence of the United Provinces of La Plata was proclaimed on July 9, 1816, also at Tucuman. Two factions contended for power; the Unitarians wanted a strong central government, but a Federalist group feared Buenos Aires would dominate such a system. The country was not stabilized until the regime of Julio Argentino, a Federalist, president from 1880 to 1886 and 1898 to 1904. He conquered the remaining Indians, opening large areas to settlement. Many immigrants came from Europe, and Argentina became a grain and meat exporter.
In a war in 1827, Argentina was allied with Uruguay against Brazil and won the Battle of Ituzaingo, leading to the independence of its ally. During the period 1865–70, with Brazil as an ally, it fought an aggressive Paraguay. The settlement of boundary disputes with Chile through papal arbitration in 1902 was symbolized by the erection of a commemorative statue, the Christ of the Andes, atop the mountain border in 1904. In 1914, acting with Brazil and Chile as the ABC Powers, Argentina helped mediate a dispute between the United States and Mexico. The country remained neutral in World War I, but during Ramon S. Castillo’s dictatorial rule (1940–43), it showed partiality for Germany during World War II. Castillo was ousted in 1943, and Argentina entered the war on the side of the Allies in 1945.
The postwar years were marked by the rise to power of Juan Domingo Peron, an army officer with fascist tendencies, who was president from 1946 to 1955. He was aided in his dictatorial rule by his wife, Eva Duarte Peron, whose social welfare measures were popular. The armed forces deposed and exiled Peron in 1955, but his successors failed to solve the nation’s serious economic and social problems. Peron returned in triumph in 1973 and resumed the presidency. When he died in July 1974, he was succeeded by his third wife, Isabel Martinez Peron. Her failure to improve conditions caused her overthrow by the military in 1976. Under two succeeding generals, however, terrorism, arbitrary arrests, and economic distress have continued. The period 1976–83 saw an internal conflict known as the Dirty War. Opponents and critics of the government were kidnapped and killed by paramilitary death squads that operated with the government’s complicity. Somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 people “disappeared” during these years. In April 1982 Argentina, which had long laid claim to the Falkland Island s, seized them by force, but by late June a strong British task force had recovered the island s. The disaster led to the emergence of new popular demand s for reform, changes within the military government, and promises of elections and the return of civilian rule. During civil elections in 1983, Raul Alfonsin, of the Radical Civic Union, was elected president, but the term was fraught with friction with military and the public issues stemming from the Dirty War. Peronist Carlos Saul Menem won the 1989 presidential elections and instituted market and monetary reforms that helped to curtail Argentina’s hyperinflation. In 1999, RCU alliance cand idate, Fernand o de la Rua took the presidency, but was forced out of office in 2001 by a debt crisis during which foreign debt defaults led to a devaluation of the currency and renewed inflation. Three governments followed in quick succession, and the Peronists returned to power in the 2003 elections.