Argentina

Country of South America, covering most of the southern portion of the continent. The world’s eighth largest country, Argentina occupies an area more extensive than Mexico and the U.S. state of Texas combined. It encompasses immense plains, deserts, tundra, and forests, as well as tall mountains, rivers, and thousands of miles of ocean shoreline. Argentina also claims a portion of Antarctica, as well as several islands in the South Atlantic, including the British-ruled Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas).

Argentina has long played an important role in the continent’s history. Following three centuries of Spanish colonization, Argentina declared independence in 1816, and Argentine nationalists were instrumental in revolutionary movements elsewhere, a fact that prompted 20th-century writer Jorge Luis Borges to observe, “South America’s independence was, to a great extent, an Argentine enterprise.” Torn by strife and occasional war between political factions demanding either central authority (based in Buenos Aires) or provincial autonomy, Argentina tended toward periods of caudillo, or strongman, leadership, most famously under the presidency of Juan Perón. The 1970s ushered in a period of military dictatorship and repression during which thousands of presumed dissidents were “disappeared,” or murdered; this ended in the disastrous Falklands Islands War of 1982, when Argentina invaded the South Atlantic islands it claimed as its own and was defeated by British forces in a short but bloody campaign. Defeat led to the fall of the military regime and the reestablishment of democratic rule, which has since endured despite various economic crises.

The country’s name comes from the Latin word for silver, argentum, and Argentina is indeed a great source of valuable minerals. More important, however, has been Argentina’s production of livestock and cereals, for which it once ranked among the world’s wealthiest nations. Much of this agricultural activity is set in the Pampas, rich grasslands that were once the domain of nomadic Native Americans, followed by rough-riding gauchos, who were in turn forever enshrined in the nation’s romantic literature. As Borges describes them in his story The South, the Pampas stretch endlessly to the horizon, dwarfing the humans within them; traveling from the capital toward Patagonia, the story’s protagonist, Señor Dahlmann, “saw horsemen along dirt roads; he saw gullies and lagoons and ranches; he saw long luminous clouds that resembled marble; and all these things were casual, like dreams of the plain.... The elemental earth was not perturbed either by settlements or other signs of humanity. The country was vast, but at the same time it was intimate and, in some measure, secret. The limitless country sometimes contained only a solitary bull. The solitude was perfect and perhaps hostile, and it might have occurred to Dahlmann that he was traveling into the past and not merely south.”

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