Group Blog 1: Argentine Development

Buenos Aires Travel Blog

 › entry 7 of 17 › view all entries

Written by: Divya Kalb, Nicole Tocci, Rachel Benkeser


In the year 2006, Argentina is a third world country whose political system is returning to stability following decades of coups in the middle twentieth century, and is economically still recovering from the crisis of 2001. Several degrees of latitude to the north of Argentina lies the United States, a first world country who despite her current engagement in an international war, politically and economically has remained stable throughout the majority of the past century. Both countries first hosted foreign settlers in the 16th and 17th centuries, sought independence from their colonizers, and grew to be economic powerhouses of their time. So why is it that now in 2006, the United States is doing so well while Argentina is struggling? The answer lies in the patterns of colonization and economic development each country chose.


While neither country had the ability to choose her colonizer, the effects of colonization were long lasting on both. Argentina was settled in the 16th century by the Spanish seeking gold and precious metals, the spread of Christianity, and glory upon returning back to Spain with their new wealth and triumphs. The Spanish concept of settlement in the founding of the Viceroyalty of Peru was never one of permanency, and established the precedent for taking from the land and bringing to Europe all that Argentina had to offer. In the colonial period, however, this method was not successful as no metals were found and few resources in Argentina were easily exportable. By the late 1800s, however, after a fight for independence from first Spain, and then the fight for sovereignty between the near 1 million settlers who lived in what would become Argentina, barbed wire had been imported allowing first the sheep industry and then the cattle industry to really consolidate and grow.


The United States, on the other hand, was settled in the 17th century by the British. The first permanent settlers to America came as religious refugees seeking independence from the Church of England who had every intention to stay in America and make their new home there. The relationship the colonies had with England was that of a distant relative to whom you send presents and receive very little in return. Once the population of the British colony increased, the colonies served as the raw market for England, required only to import manufactured goods from England in exchange for raw goods. As the forced colonial dependency on England grew, a strong sense of identity among the colonists developed and helped lead them in the expulsion of the British in a war.


Based on this colonial development, economically, Argentina and the United States participated in a role reversal in the 19th century. Argentina, who had been a small self sufficient country, with the development of the cattle industry, began to invest heavily in exports of natural resources, primarily beef. On the other hand, the United States, who as a colony had focused predominantly on exporting natural resources to the British, became very isolationist and protective and began the process of creating a self sufficient economy who at a minimum exported far more than imported. This enabled the United States to participate in the industrial revolution far earlier than Argentina out of necessity while Argentina did not begin industrializing until after World War I when European demand for Argentinean cattle plummeted and the country was already in the midst of crisis.


A third difference rooted in the past of these two countries that helped direct the course the country would take is the condition of the working class. In the United States, the government was founded by an agrarian society that sought inclusion of the working class from the beginning, allowing suffrage by constitution to male citizens (slaves were, to this point, excluded). Argentina was founded though by a landed elite who did not farm, but whose wealth was based predominantly on the head of cattle on their land. Suffrage was excluded from the workers until 1912 establishing a comfort zone for the elites who following suffrage fought throughout the 20th century for control of political power through less than democratic means.  


Because of Argentina┬┤s situation surrounding colonization which included being colonized by the Spanish who weren┬┤t seeking a new home, using primary resources as the principal export, and not recognizing the predominantly large working class Argentina has seen its golden age and has not yet been able to return. While on the other hand, the United States,  who was founded by the British who sought a new home, generated a strong central economy with exports, and encorporated the working class in politics from the beginning has been able to successfully avoid coups and political violence (with the excecption of the Civil War). These basic differences have created an irreconcilable gap between the two countries that Argentina will need to work hard to bridge.

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