The second largest country of South America, which occupies nearly the whole of the south‐east of the continent, from the Andes to the Atlantic Ocean and from tropical Bolivia to the Southern Ocean.
In the west the cordillera, some of it volcanic, contains deposits of many minerals. The foothills are wooded, except in the south, and shelter valleys with vineyards and orchards. In the extreme north is the Gran Chaco, an area of subtropical forest and swamp, from which run tributaries of the Paraná. The Chaco yields hardwoods, and its southern part opens into land suitable for plantation crops. Southward, in the centre of the country, lie the pampas – a vast region of high plains which supports some of the best agricultural and livestock farming in the world. Further south is Patagonia, a series of cold, infertile plateaux which are suitable only for sheep grazing.
Argentina's principal exports are agricultural products such as cereals, soya beans, and meat, but there is also a broad range of manufacturing industry, and petroleum products and chemicals are significant exports. A high percentage of agricultural land is taken up by large cattle‐raising estates. Argentina has important oil and natural gas deposits (notably in Patagonia) and these have played a major role in the recent development of industry. There is also a long‐standing programme to develop nuclear technology. In recent years government policies, including extensive privatization, have successfully reduced very high rates of inflation. An economic crisis in 2001–02, during which Argentina defaulted on its debts, was a severe setback, but growth resumed in 2003.
The Inca empire extended into northwest Argentina, further south the indigenous people were nomadic hunters. The country was colonized by the Spanish from 1515 onwards, with settlers dedicating themselves to stock raising on the fertile pampas and agriculture in the areas of Salta, Jujuy, and Cordoba. In 1776 Argentina was incorporated into the viceroyalty of La Plata, with its capital in Buenos Aires; in addition to Argentina, the viceroyalty of La Plata comprised Uruguay, Paraguay, and Bolivia. The independence of the country, as the ‘United Provinces of South America’, was declared at the Congress of Tucuman in 1816. Divisional differences produced a series of conflicts between unitarios (centralists) and federales (federalists) which characterized much of the 19th century. The lack of political or constitutional legitimacy saw the emergence of the age of the caudillos until the promulgation of the National Constitution in 1853. The second half of the 19th century witnessed a demographic and agricultural revolution. The fertile plains (pampas) in the interior were transformed by means of foreign and domestic capital, while immigrant workers (principally from Spain and Italy), an extensive railway network, and the introduction of steamships and refrigeration vastly increased the export of cattle and grain. The influx of immigrants between 1870 and 1914 contributed to an increase in the national population from 1.2 million in 1852 to 8 million in 1914. Argentina's export‐orientated economy proved vulnerable to the fluctuations of the international market, and the Great Depression saw a drop of 40% in the nation's exports. The military coup of 1930 saw the emergence of the armed forces as the arbiter of Argentinian politics. The failure of civilian democratic government and of achieving sustained economic growth has led to frequent military intervention. This was true even in the case of Peronism, the populist movement created with the support of trade unions by Juan Domingo perón (1946–55). Peron was re‐elected as President in 1973 after an 18‐year exile. His death in 1974 was followed by another period of military dictatorship (1976–83) in a particularly bitter and tragic period of authoritarian rule, as a result of which an estimated 20,000 Argentinians lost their lives in the ‘dirty war’ waged by the junta against opposition groups. In 1982 the armed forces suffered a humiliating defeat in the Falklands (Malvinas) War with Britain, and in 1983 a civilian administration was elected under President Raul Alfonsin of the Radical Party. The process of redemocratization in Argentina faced severe problems, most notably a virtually bankrupt economy and the political sensitivity of the armed forces to reform. The Perónist Justicialist Party came to power in 1989 with Carlos Menem as President. Diplomatic relations with Britain were restored and the economy deregulated. The constitution was amended in 1994, allowing the President to hold office for two terms, and Menem triumphed again in presidential elections in 1995. Menem was succeeded in 1999 by Fernando de la Rua, but an economic crisis caused him to resign in December 2001. Following a chaotic few days in which three Presidents served briefly, Eduardo Duhalde took office in January 2002. He took emergency powers to rescue the economy. Duhalde was succeeded by Nestor Kirchner following presidential elections in 2003.