New Internationalist

Argentina

Issue 227

new internationalist
issue 227 - January 1992

Country profile: Argentina

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Where is Argentina? [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
[image, unknown] MIKE ANDREWS / CAMERA PRESS [image, unknown]

Argentinians jokingly describe themselves as Spaniards who talk like Italians and pretend to be British'. In addition to large Spanish and Italian communities, Argentina hosts the second largest Jewish community in the western hemisphere, the largest British settlement outside the Commonwealth, and many Arabs (of Syrian and Lebanese origin), Germans, Poles, French, and Yugoslavians.

Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires, is a sophisticated cosmopolitan city. Imprints of immigrants, mixed with local tradition, can be seen in the city's architectural style, which resembles that of Paris, Madrid or New York. Spirited porteños (as local residents are called) will encourage you to taste the famous beef parrillada (grills) and Mendoza province wines, or enjoy the prolific cultural activities - concerts, Tango shows, theatre, and opera.

As diverse as its population is Argentina's geography: the Andes mountains in the west fold away to the cattle and farming Pampas (plains) in the heart of the country. In the south, sub-antarctic weather in Patagonia's desert sharply contrasts with the sub-tropical vegetation of the north-east. The animals reflect the variety: penguins in the south, condors and ostriches in the centre, jaguars and toucans in the north.

Politically Argentina is not an exception in Latin America. Following independence from Spain in 1816, most of that century passed in civil wars and military campaigns to control the Indian territories of the Pampas. Stability came in the 1880s with a centralized government and a flourishing economy based on grain and beef exports to Europe. By the turn of the century Argentina ranked among the 10 richest nations of the world. The political power and the wealth from the eco nomic bonanza was in the hands of a national oligarchy of land and cattle owners who resorted to the army when confronted with social unrest.

The last military dictatorship (1976-83) culminated in severe violations of human rights. Its attempt to seize control of the Malvinas (Falkland) Islands in 1982 led to a bloody war between Argentina and Britain that ended with Argentine surrender. Civilian rule was restored in 1983 and the followers of Juan Perón, who governed the country from 1945 to 1955, regained the presidency in 1988.

President Menem, son of Syrian immigrants, faces the challenge of restoring economic stability and democratic consolidation. His government has gone in for tight policies to curb inflation and reduce the public sector deficit by selling state-owned corporations. Despite the high social cost of the austerity policy, the achievements in the economic field brought Menem's party a landslide victory in the 1991 Congressional elections.

But the questions linger. If the current path fails to deliver economic stability and democracy, will the military march back to power?

Alfredo Forti

 

AT A GLANCE

LEADER: President Carlos Saul Menem

ECONOMY: GNP per capita US $2,160 (US $20,910)
Main exports are wheat, corn/maize, oilseeds and wool.
Main imports are machinery, equipment and chemicals. Argentina is the world's third largest producer of soya beans. Livestock and meat exports have fallen in the face of sharp competition from the EC, Uruguay and Brazil. Major industrial sectors are food production, textiles, transport and consumer goods.

PEOPLE: 31.9 million

HEALTH: Infant mortality 30 per 1,000 live births (US 10 per 1,000)

CULTURE: Europeans make up 85 per cent of the population; Mestizos, Indians, Arabs and Jews the remainder.
Religion: Mainly Roman Catholic
Languages: Spanish (official), English, Italian, German, French.

Sources: World Bank Report 1991; The Americas Review 1990.

Last profiled in December 1982

 

STAR RATINGS

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INCOME DISTRIBUTION [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Free market and privatization have increased unemployment.

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LITERACY [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
95% One of the highest in the world.

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SELF-RELIANCE [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Abundant natural resources and a highly educated labour force.
Dependent on imported technology.

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FREEDOM [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Practically no political prisoners.

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POSITION OF WOMEN [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Better than in some other Latin American countries.

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LIFE EXPECTANCY [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
71 years (US 76 years) Falling, due to public health cuts.

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POLITICS

Politics now

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1982

Former populist, nationalist party applying a conservative economic model.

 

NI star rating

EXCELLENT
GOOD
FAIR
POOR
APPALLING
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