U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
BACKGROUND NOTES: ARGENTINA
PUBLISHED BY THE BUREAU OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS
Official Name: Republic of Argentina
Area: 2.8 million sq. km. (1.1 million sq. mi.); about the size of the
U.S. east of the Mississippi River.
Cities: Capital--Buenos Aires (city 3 million: metropolitan area 12
million). Other major cities--Cordoba, Rosario, La Plata, Mendoza.
Terrain: Andes Mountains to long coastal regions; vast grassy plains
Climate: Varied, predominantly temperate.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Argentine(s).
Population: 33 million.
Annual growth rate: 1.4%.
Ethnic groups: European 97%, mostly Spanish and Italian.
Religions: Roman Catholic 92%, Protestant 2%, Jewish 2%, other 4%.
Languages: Spanish (official), English, Italian, German, French.
Education: Years compulsory--7. Adult literacy--95%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--31/1,000. Life expectancy--68 yrs.
male, 74 yrs. female.
Work force: Industry and commerce--36%. Services--20%. Agriculture--
19%. Transport and communications--6%.
Independence: July 9, 1816.
Branches: Executive--president, vice president, cabinet. Legislative--
bicameral congress (48-member Senate, 257-member Chamber of Deputies).
The Senate will expand to 72 members in 1995. Judicial--Supreme Court.
Subdivisions: 23 provinces and one federal capital district.
Political parties: Justicialista, Radical Civic Union, Broad Front,
Movement for National Independence and Dignity, numerous smaller
national and provincial parties.
Suffrage: Universal adult.
GDP: $255 billion.
Annual growth rate: 6.4%.
Per capita GDP: $7,600.
Natural resources: Fertile plains (pampas). Minerals--lead, zinc, tin,
copper, iron, manganese, oil, uranium.
Agriculture (70% of GDP, about 70% of exports by value): Products--
grains, oilseeds and by-products, livestock products.
Industry (21% of GDP): Types--food processing, motor vehicles, consumer
durables, textiles, metallurgy, chemicals.
Trade: Exports--$13 billion (U.S.--10%): grains, meats, oilseeds.
Imports--$16.8 billion (U.S.--23%): machinery, fuel and lubricating
oils, iron and steel products, wood and lumber, automotive equipment and
parts, chemicals. Major trading partners--European Union, Japan, U.S.,
Exchange rate: U.S. $1=1 peso.
Argentines are a fusion of diverse national and ethnic groups.
Descendants of Italian and Spanish immigrants predominate. Waves of
immigrants from many European countries arrived in the late 19th and
early 20th centuries. Syrian, Lebanese, and other Middle Eastern
immigrants number about 500,000, mainly in urban areas. In recent
years, there has been a substantial influx of immigrants from
neighboring Latin American countries. The native Indian population, now
estimated at 50,000, is concentrated in the peripheral provinces of the
north, northwest, and south. The Argentine population has one of Latin
America's lowest growth rates (1.4%). Eighty percent of the population
resides in urban areas of more than 2,000 with more than one-third of
the population living in the greater Buenos Aires area. This sprawling
metropolis, with about 12 million inhabitants, serves as the focus for
national life. Argentines enjoy comparatively high standards of living;
half the population considers itself middle class.
More than 90% of Argentines are Roman Catholic. Religious freedom is
practiced, although all non-Catholic denominations are required to
register with the government. The Protestant community is small but
active. Argentina's Jewish community of about 350,000 is concentrated
in Buenos Aires.
The Argentine educational system is compulsory for grades one through
seven, starting at age six. The adult literacy rate is 95%--one of
Latin America's highest. Literary and artistic tastes have been
influenced mainly by Western Europe and, more recently, by the United
A large number of Spanish-language daily newspapers are published in the
greater Buenos Aires area. A dozen community newspapers are published
in English, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Polish,
Ukrainian, and Yiddish. All the community newspapers are periodicals
except the daily English-language Buenos Aires Herald.
Europeans arrived in the region with the 1502 voyage of Amerigo
Vespucci. Spanish navigator Juan Diaz de Solis visited what is now
Argentina 1516. Spain established a permanent colony on the site of
Buenos Aires in 1580. They further integrated Argentina into their
empire following the establishment of the Vice-Royalty of Rio de la
Plata in 1776, and Buenos Aires became a flourishing port.
Buenos Aires formally declared independence from Spain on July 9, 1816.
Argentines revere Gen. Jose de San Martin, who campaigned in Argentina,
Chile, and Peru, as the hero of their national independence. Following
the defeat of the Spanish, centralist and federalist groups waged a
lengthy conflict between themselves to determine the future structure of
the nation. National unity was established and the constitution
promulgated in 1853.
Two forces combined to create the modern Argentine nation in the late
19th century: the introduction of modern agricultural techniques and
the integration of Argentina into the world economy. Foreign investment
and immigration from Europe aided this economic revolution. The
investment, primarily British, came in such fields as railroads and
ports. The migrants who worked to develop Argentina's resources came
from throughout Europe, but mostly from Italy and Spain.
Conservative forces dominated Argentine politics until 1916, when their
traditional rivals, the Radicals, won control of the government through
a democratic election. The Radicals, with their emphasis on fair
elections and democratic institutions, opened their doors to Argentina's
expanding middle class as well as to elites previously excluded from
power for various reasons. The Argentine military forced aged Radical
President Hipolito Yrigoyen from power in 1930 and ushered in another
decade of Conservative rule.
Using fraud and force when necessary, the governments of the 1930s
attempted to contain forces for economic and political change that
eventually helped produce the governments of Juan Domingo Peron, who
lived from 1897 to 1974. New social and political forces were seeking
political power. These included the modern military and the labor
movement that emerged from the growing urban working class.
The military ousted Argentina's constitutional government in 1943.
Peron, then an army colonel, was one of the coup's leaders, and he soon
became the government's dominant figure as minister of labor. Elections
carried him to the presidency in 1946. He aggressively pursued policies
aimed at giving an economic and political voice to the working class and
greatly expanded the number of unionized workers. In 1947, Peron
announced the first five-year plan based on nationalization and
industrialization. He presented himself as a friend of labor and
assisted in establishing the powerful General Confederation of Labor
(CGT). Peron's dynamic wife, Eva Duarte de Peron (1919-52), helped her
husband develop his appeals to labor and women's groups and helped women
obtain the right to vote in 1947.
Peron won re-election in 1952, but the military deposed him in 1955. He
went into exile, eventually settling in Spain. In the 1950s and 1960s,
military and civilian administrations traded power. They tried, with
limited success, to deal with diminished economic growth and continued
social and labor demands. When military governments failed to revive
the economy and suppress escalating terrorism in the late 1960s and
early 1970s, the way was open for Peron's return.
On March 11, 1973, Argentina held general elections for the first time
in 10 years. Peron was prevented from running, but voters elected his
stand-in, Dr. Hector J. Campora, to the presidency. Peron's followers
also commanded strong majorities in both houses of the National
Congress, which assumed office on May 25, 1973. Campora resigned in
July 1973, paving the way for Raul Lastiri, a Peronist loyalist, to
assume the presidency and call for new elections. Peron won a decisive
victory and returned as President in October 1973 with his third wife,
Maria Estela Isabel Martinez de Peron, as Vice President.
During this period, extremists on the left and right carried out
terrorist acts with a frequency that threatened public order. The
government resorted to a number of emergency decrees, including the
implementation of special executive authority to deal with violence.
This allowed the government to imprison persons indefinitely without
Peron died on July 1, 1974. His wife succeeded him in office, but her
administration was undermined by economic problems, Peronist intraparty
struggles, and growing terrorism from both left and right. A military
coup removed her from office on March 24, 1976. Until December 10,
1983, the armed forces formally exercised -power through a junta
composed of the three service commanders.
The armed forces applied harsh measures against terrorists and their
sympathizers. They silenced armed opposition and restored basic order.
Yet the costs were high in terms of lives lost and basic human rights
Serious economic problems, defeat by the U.K. in 1982 after an
unsuccessful Argentine attempt to forcibly take control of the
Falkland/Malvinas Islands, public revulsion in the face of severe human
rights abuses, and mounting charges of corruption combined to discredit
and discourage the military regime. This prompted a period of gradual
transition and led the country toward democratic rule. Acting under
public pressure, the junta lifted bans on political parties and restored
other basic political liberties. Argentina experienced a generally
successful and peaceful return to democracy.
On October 30, 1983, Argentines went to the polls to choose a president;
vice president; and national, provincial, and local officials in
elections international observers found to be fair, open, and honest.
The country returned to constitutional rule after Raul Alfonsin,
candidate of the Radical Civic Union (UCR), received 52% of the popular
vote for president. He began a six-year term of office on December 10,
In 1985 and 1987, large turnouts for mid-term elections demonstrated
continued public support for a strong and vigorous democratic system.
The UCR-led government took steps to resolve some of the nation's most
pressing problems, including accounting for those who disappeared during
military rule, establishing civilian control of the armed forces, and
consolidating democratic institutions. Constant friction with the
military, failure to resolve endemic economic problems, and an inability
to maintain public confidence undermined the Alfonsin Government's
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
In May 1989, Justicialista Party (PJ) candidate Carlos Saul Menem
defeated the UCR's Eduardo Angeloz to win the Argentine presidency with
47% of the vote and a clear majority in the nation's electoral college.
The PJ is the inheritor of the Peronist political tradition. Menem
began his six-year term of office in June 1989. The PJ and its allies
also won control of congress. Menem was to have succeeded Alfonsin in
December 1989, but a rapidly deteriorating economy and resulting loss of
confidence in the national government led Alfonsin to resign in July.
Menem succeeded to the presidency five months earlier than planned.
Despite the irregular nature of the transition, it marked the first
transfer of power between democratically elected presidents in over 60
Menem surprised most observers, including members of his own party, by
adopting policies diverging dramatically from Argentina's (and
Peronism's) statist economic traditions. On taking office, he initiated
emergency economic and state reform legislation that cut government
spending, increased revenues, and reduced state involvement in the
economy. In April 1991, the congress enacted a convertability law which
fixed the Argentine currency to the U.S. dollar, prohibited financing of
the government's fiscal deficit by the central bank, and declared all
indexation schemes illegal. Menem also moved quickly to privatize
government-owned industries, such as the national airline and the
Building on a record of economic success, the Justicialista Party won
mid-term election in 1991 and 1993. Menem struck a deal with UCR leader
Alfonsin in December 1993 which prompted April 1994 elections for a
constituent convention to revise the Argentine federal constitution.
The PJ won a plurality of seats at the convention, which met from May to
August 1994. The UCR suffered severe defeats in many traditional party
strongholds. The election saw the rise of a new political movement, the
Broad Front, to national prominence. The Broad Front, a center-left
alliance, won the April election in the federal capital and the southern
province of Neuquen and showed strength elsewhere in the country. The
convention abolished the traditional ban on an Argentine president
succeeding him or herself in office. Menem has announced he will seek
reelection in 1995.
Argentina is a republic. The constitution of 1853 mandates a separation
of powers into executive, legislative, and judicial branches at the
national and provincial level. Each province also has its own
constitution which roughly mirrors the structure of the national
The president and vice president have traditionally been indirectly
elected to a single six-year term through an electoral college. They
have not been allowed to immediately run for re-election.
Constitutional reforms adopted in August 1994 reduced the presidential
term to four years, abolished the electoral college in favor of direct
election, and allowed a sitting president to stand for re-election after
his or her first term.
Cabinet ministers are appointed by the president. The constitution
grants the president considerable power, including a line-item veto.
Provinces traditionally sent two senators, elected by provincial
legislatures, to Congress. Voters in the federal capital of Buenos
Aires elected an electoral college which elected the city's senators.
The constitution now mandates a transition to direct election for all
senators and the addition of a third senator from each province and the
capital. The third senator will represent the electoral district's
largest minority party. The revised constitution reduces senatorial
terms from nine to six years in office. One-third of the Senate stands
for re-election every three years. Members of the Chamber of Deputies
are directly elected to four-year terms, with voters electing half the
members of the lower house every two years through a system of
Other important changes to the constitutional system included the
creation of a senior coordinating minister to serve under the president
and the popular election of the mayor of the city of Buenos Aires.
The constitution establishes the judiciary as a separate and independent
entity of government. The president appoints members of the Supreme
Court with the consent of the Senate. Other federal judges are
appointed by a special judicial commission. The Supreme Court has the
power, first asserted in 1854, to declare legislative acts
The president and a civilian minister of defense control the Argentine
armed forces. The paramilitary forces under the control of the ministry
of defense are the gendarmeria, or border police, and the naval
prefectura, or coast guard.
The Argentine armed forces maintain close defense cooperation and
military supply relationships with the United States. Other countries
also have military relationships with the Argentine forces, principally
Israel, Germany, France, Spain, and Italy. The lack of budgetary
resources is the most serious problem facing the Argentine military.
Current economic conditions and the government's commitment to reduce
public sector spending have slowed modernization and restructuring
Principal Government Officials
President--Carlos Saul Menem
Minister of External Relations and Worship--Guido DiTella
Ambassador to the United States--Raul Enrique Granillo Ocampo
Ambassador to the OAS--Hernan Patino Mayer
Ambassador to the UN--Emilio Jorge Cardenas
Argentina maintains an embassy in the United States at 1600 New
Hampshire Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20009 (tel. 202-939-6400; FAX: 202-
332-3171). Argentina has consulates general in Houston, Miami, New
York, New Orleans, San Francisco, and San Juan and consulates in
Baltimore, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
Argentina has impressive human and natural resources, but political
conflict and uneven economic performance over the last 50 years have
impeded full realization of its potential. Nonetheless, it remains one
of Latin America's richest countries.
President Menem took office in July 1989 and, amid hyperinflation (198%
that month), moved quickly to re-establish economic stability. He has
brought the fiscal deficit under control and reduced the intrusive role
the state had played for decades in all aspects of Argentina's economic
life. Since February 1991, Domingo Cavallo, Minister of Economy, has
implemented economic reform and pursued fiscal responsibility that has
reduced inflation to 10.6% and reversed decades of economic decline.
Argentina's successes have generated international support. The
International Monetary Fund approved a stand-by program in June 1991 and
an extended funding facility in March 1992. Argentina also received
substantial support from other international lenders. Its debt with
commercial banks, including $7 billion in arrears, has been restructured
under the U.S. Brady Plan for assisting developing countries in reducing
Argentina's richest natural resource is the fertile, temperate plain
known as the pampas, which fans out almost 800 km. (500 mi.) west of
Buenos Aires. It produces large quantities of wheat, corn, sorghum,
soybeans, and sunflower seeds and offers year-round pasturage for
Argentina's cattle industry. Argentina is one of the world's largest
exporters of foodstuffs. Argentina exports to a variety of worldwide
buyers. Iran, Brazil, and China are major buyers. Argentina also
exports agricultural goods to the United States (primarily canned,
precooked, and frozen beef; tobacco; and fruits and fruit products).
Argentina obtains about 23% of its imports from the United States.
Total imports in 1993 were $16.8 billion, of which $3.8 billion was from
the United States. Capital equipment, computers and peripherals,
telecommunications, chemicals, and electronic components were the
principal U.S. items sold to Argentina. In 1993, Argentina exported $13
billion worth of goods and services, petroleum products and manufactured
goods as well as agricultural goods and primary resources; $1.3 billion
(10%) went to the United States.
Argentina was a net energy exporter in 1993. It has significant
reserves of petroleum and natural gas. The Menem Government opened the
petroleum sector to private development and, as a result, petroleum
production has expanded greatly. Significant deregulation of the
petroleum sector, including price controls, took effect in 1991. In
July 1993, Argentina privatized YPF, the state oil company and the
country's biggest corporation, via the largest initial stock offering in
the New York Stock Exchange, which brought in more than $3 billion.
Argentina also has a large electric production capacity, mostly from
hydroelectric sources. The first of 20 generators at Yacyreta, the
massive hydroelectric project (2,400 megawatts) being constructed with
Paraguay and scheduled for completion in 1998, was activated in early
September 1994. Argentina has the most advanced nuclear program in
Latin America; nuclear power provides some 13% of the country's
electrical needs. Two nuclear power plants are completed, and a third
is under construction. Argentina also exports nuclear technology and
assistance. The Menem Government which has already privatized most
federally-owned electric generation, transmission, and distribution
facilities, also plans to privatize the nuclear energy sector.
Argentina increasingly pursues a pragmatic foreign policy and maintains
relations with almost all countries. Support for democracy and the
promotion of increased trade and investment are major priorities.
Argentina's relations have traditionally been closest with Western
Europe, the United States, and its Latin American neighbors. President
Menem has worked hard to improve relations with the United States and
Europe while encouraging Latin American regional integration.
Argentina settled its Beagle Channel dispute with Chile in 1984-85. The
two countries have also submitted a dispute over an ill-defined section
of their border in the southern Andes to international arbitration. A
settlement is likely in 1995. Argentina's one active territorial
dispute is with the United Kingdom over a group of islands northeast of
Cape Horn. The Argentines refer to the islands as the Malvinas Islands.
The U.K. calls them the Falkland Islands. Historically, European
powers, notably the U.K. and Spain, claimed the islands. In the early
1800s, Spanish and the Argentine authorities administered them.
However, in 1833, the U.K. reasserted sovereignty and made the islands
first a crown colony and later a self-governing dependency.
In an effort to reestablish Argentina's sovereignty claim, Argentine
military forces occupied the islands on April 2, 1982. After a brief
and costly war, the Argentine forces were defeated and expelled. Direct
talks between the Argentine and U.K. Governments leading to the
reestablishment of diplomatic relations began in September 1989.
The talks took place under a formula that separated the sovereignty
question from matters affecting other bilateral relations. The two
governments restored diplomatic ties in February 1990.
Argentina continues to claim sovereignty over the islands and presses
its case in a variety of international forums, but it has foresworn
force as a means of recovering the islands. The United States has taken
no position on the merits of the two countries' sovereignty claims but
supports a peaceful resolution of the dispute.
The United States and Argentina have maintained diplomatic relations
since 1823. Both countries have sought a constructive relationship
based on reciprocal respect and understanding, but bilateral relations
have often been turbulent.
In the 1970s, U.S.-Argentine relations entered a particularly difficult
period. The U.S. Government, concerned about serious human rights
violations by the Argentine military government in the campaign against
terrorism, restricted both military assistance and the sales of military
and other controlled-export items to Argentina. The U.S. Congress
prohibited both military sales and assistance. The Argentine Government
consistently maintained that these actions were attempts to influence
In the early 1980s, better relations seemed possible as the Argentine
military authorities demonstrated some improvements in their human
rights record. The Falklands/Malvinas War, however, placed additional
strains on bilateral relations. The U.S. position on the non-use of
force for the resolution of disputes led the United States to impose new
sanctions on Argentina and to provide limited assistance to the United
Kingdom in its campaign to regain the islands.
Relations improved after the war. Sanctions imposed during the fighting
were lifted, and the United States supported Argentine-sponsored UN
resolutions calling for renewed negotiations on the Falklands/Malvinas
dispute. The United States encouraged resumption of a direct dialogue
between Argentina and the United Kingdom.
The Argentine human rights situation and political climate improved
dramatically following the military's mid-1982 decision to return the
country to democracy. During 1983, all remaining political prisoners
being held without trial under state-of-siege powers were released.
Also in 1983, the nine-year-old state of siege was lifted, and
restrictions on trade union activities and press censorship virtually
The U.S. Government removed legal prohibitions on military sales upon
the inauguration of the democratically elected government of President
Alfonsin in December 1983. Since the return of democratic government,
the United States and Argentine armed forces have developed a mutually
beneficial defense relationship through professional exchanges, visits,
training, and joint exercises. There are modest military education,
training, and military sales programs.
Since 1983, bilateral relations, based on shared democratic values, have
improved. President Alfonsin made a state visit to the United States in
March 1985, the first such visit by an Argentine President in 24 years.
President Menem, who succeeded Alfonsin in 1989, also made a state visit
to the U.S. in November 1991, reciprocating President Bush's visit to
Argentina in December 1990.
Argentina maintains an independent and pro-Western stance in world
affairs and cooperates with the United States in resolving bilateral
differences. The countries consult frequently on hemispheric and other
Argentina has agreed with the U.S. position on human rights in Cuba and
the 1991 coup in Haiti. In recent years, Argentina also sent ships from
its Navy to participate in the UN-coordinated military action in the
Persian Gulf and the UN-sponsored embargo of Haiti. Argentina strongly
backed efforts by the United States to implement UN Security Council
Resolution 940, designed to facilitate the departure of Haiti's de facto
authorities from power. Argentina agreed to contribute personnel to the
Multinational Force, which restored the democratically-elected
Government of Haiti in October 1994. It has contributed peace-keeping
forces to UN operations in, among other places, Croatia and Mozambique.
As a result of Argentina's relative prosperity by 1971, the United
States phased out bilateral economic assistance. U.S.AID currently
finances a small administration of justice program in Argentina. From
1992 to 1994 a small group of Peace Corps volunteers worked in
Many U.S. industrial firms and banks maintain subsidiaries in Argentina.
Licensing agreements with local companies are common. U.S. private
investment totals more than $8 billion, primarily in the manufacturing
of chemicals, agricultural equipment, transportation equipment; banking
and petroleum. Several thousand U.S. citizens reside in Argentina.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--James R. Cheek
Deputy Chief of Mission--Ronald D. Godard
Counselor for Agricultural Affairs--Max Bowser
Counselor for Public Affairs--Ernesto Uribe
Counselor for Scientific and Technological Affairs--Kenneth D. Cohen
Counselor for Political Affairs--William J. Brencick
Counselor for Consular Affairs--Nicholas J. Ricciuti
Counselor for Economic Affairs--Peter D. Whitney
Labor Attache--Randolph I. Marcus
Counselor for Administrative Affairs--John M. Salazar
Counselor for Commercial Affairs--Arthur A. Alexander
Defense Attache and Air Attache--Col. Wayne Fisher, USAF
Drug Enforcement Administration--Terry Parham
Military Group--Col. Jose A. Rodriguez
The U.S. embassy in Argentina is located at 4300 Colombia, Buenos Aires
1425. The APO address for the embassy is APO, AA 34034-0001 (tel. 774-
4533; 774-4534; FAX: 54-1-777-0197.
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