Widely regarded as one of the largest economies in Latin America, Argentina had a GDP of $584.7bn in 2015, according to the World Bank. In contrast to several oil-dependent economies in the region, Argentina’s wealth is linked primarily to vast natural resources in energy and agriculture. The wealth derived from the country’s agricultural and livestock industries has ensured significant development in recent decades.
Argentina was ranked 45th out of 188 countries on the UN’s 2016 human development index. Investments in health care and education over the past decade have seen Argentina gain momentum in both sectors, which accounted for 7% and 6% of GDP, respectively. In addition, the country plays a crucial role in the international scene and is set to chair the G20 in 2018, as well as working towards OECD membership and being an observing member of the Pacific Alliance, all of which show that the country remains one of the most dynamic economies in Latin America.
The earliest evidence of human life in the area now known as Argentina dates back to the Palaeolithic era. The first inhabitants included the Charrúa in the north-east, and the Mapuche in the east and south, who spread to the area from Chile and conquered local groups. Local groups in the north-west were conquered by the Incas in the late 15th century. The area territory became a Spanish colony in the 16th century, with Buenos Aires established in 1536 and the area originally included under the Vice-Royalty of Peru.
In 1776 the area was reorganised under the Vice-Royalty of the Río de la Plata, which lasted until 1810, when Argentina first declared independence from Spain, along with Peru, Bolivia and Chile. After decades of colonialism and the independence struggle, a federal state was formed in 1853 and is known presently as the Argentine Republic. Post-independence the country was a popular destination for European immigrants, with most coming from Italy and Spain and the largest influx of migrants occurring between 1860 and 1930.
Today Argentina functions as a representative democracy. As both head of the government and chief of state, the president is directly elected by a qualified majority popular vote for a four-year term. The president is also commander-in-chief of the armed forces. While eligible for re-election for a second consecutive term, the president is not allowed to run for a third term consecutively, but may run again in future elections. Current President Mauricio Macri was elected in 2015 and is expected to remain in office until the next presidential election, scheduled to take place in 2019. The executive branch is led by the president, who is responsible for appointing the Cabinet. President Macri, leader of the Republican Proposal Party, took office in December 2015, after winning 51.3% of votes in the second round of the election. Before the elections, President Macri became the leader of Cambiemos, which now leads the national government, as well as the province of Buenos Aires, the autonomous city of Buenos Aires, and the province of Mendoza. Other political parties such as Partido Peronista and Partido Socialista still remain active in the country.
Argentina’s legislature consists of a bicameral National Congress. The Chamber of Deputies is composed of 257 members elected to four-year terms, while the Senate’s 72 seats are directly elected for six-year terms. At the local level, Argentina is divided into 23 districts, or provinces, and one autonomous city, Buenos Aires, which is the national capital. The districts have their own constitution, laws and forms of government. The judicial branch consists of the Supreme Court, which includes the court president, a vice-president and five judges, all of which are nominated by the president and approved by the Senate. Other courts include federal, district and territorial courts.
The current population was estimated at 44m in 2017, with the growth rate having remained largely static as the country’s birth rate steadily declines. Nearly 39% of the population is between 25 and 54 years of age, while a further 41.6% is under 25, which is expected to boost the economy and bolster the working-age population. Life expectancy at birth is currently 76.3 years, according to the World Bank. One-third of the population lives in Buenos Aires, with the remaining population largely concentrated in the northern and central regions. Patagonia, located in the southern area of the country, remains sparsely populated. Many Argentines trace their heritage to Spain or Italy, while other demographic groups include mestizos (of mixed white and Amerindian ancestry), Amerindians and other non-white groups.
Languages & Religion
While Spanish is the official language of Argentina, Italian, English, French, German and indigenous languages – specifically, Mapudungun and Quechua – are commonly spoken by ethnic minorities. Argentina’s enforces no state religion, but the population largely identifies as Roman Catholic at 75%; however, only around a third are practicing. There are also Protestant (9%), Jewish (2%) and other (4%) religious communities. Not surprisingly, given the country’s largely Catholic heritage, Christmas, Good Friday and Easter figure predominately in the local calendar.
Argentina’s culture is heavily influenced by the heritage of European immigrants, as well as its colonial history. The most popular feature of Argentina’s cultural landscape is the tango, which was included on Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2009. A significant number of visitors come to Buenos Aires each year for the annual World Tango Festival in August, as well as for the Dance World Cup each summer. Argentina also boasts 10 sites included on UNESCO’s World Heritage list, with the natural sites including Iguazu National Park, Los Glaciares National Park, Península Valdés and Ischigualasto/Talampaya National Parks.
The country’s mixed cultural heritage is also reflected in Argentinian folk and rock music, which include a rich variety of sounds and instruments. Nueva Canción is a musical style developed in the 1960s and 1970s inspired by folk music, and favouring more social and political themes. The country’s cultural heritage also includes a traditional painting style known as fileteado, which is used for ornamental design and combines radiant colours with specific lettering. This type of ornamentation can be seen all around Argentina on trucks or buses, as well as store signs and in homes.
Geography & Climate
Covering most of the southern portion of South America, Argentina shares its borders with Chile to the west, Bolivia and Paraguay to the north, Brazil to the north-east and Uruguay to the east, and the Atlantic Ocean to the south. In addition, Argentina claims a portion of Antarctica and some small islands in the south Atlantic, such as Islas Malvinas, also known as the Falkland Islands. Argentina spans nearly 2.8m sq km of land and water, slightly larger than Mexico and Texas combined. The capital city of Buenos Aires is in the north-east of the country.
The topography is mostly characterised by the rich plains of the Pampas in the north, the Patagonian plateau in the south and the Andes Mountains to the west. Aconcagua, at 6959 metres above sea level, is the highest point in the county, as well as in southern and western hemisphere, while the lowest point of the southern and western hemispheres is Laguna del Carbón at 105 metres below sea level. Around 10.7% of the country is covered by forest, while a further 53.9% is agricultural land, of which 13.9% is arable, 0.4% permanent crops and 39.6% permanent pasture. The country has a mostly temperate climate, arid in the south-east and sub-Antarctic in the south-west. As a result of its proximity to the Antarctic, the country’s east is subject to pamperos, which are bursts of cold polar air that often cause windstorms during the winter. Temperatures may vary greatly due to the vast extent of the country, with temperatures ranging from 5°C through 25°C in the north, while rainfall averages 591 mm per year. January is the warmest month, while June and July are the coldest months.
Argentina benefits from its rich natural resources, in particular the fertile Pampas, or plains, and its vast arable land. There are also oil and coal deposits, mainly in Patagonia and the north-west, along with natural gas fields and fossil fuels. Although scattered, deposits of lead, zinc, iron ore, uranium, manganese, tin, silver, copper and tungsten are among the country’s exploitable mineral reserves. There are also readily available salt deposits near the western and south-western edges of the Pampas. Moreover, the construction industries benefits from a vast supply of marble, clay, limestone and granite throughout the country. Due to an extraordinary amount of fertile land, Argentina is also a world leader in food production, with successful livestock and agricultural industries. The significant domestic natural gas industry has been rapidly expanding over the years. With the third-largest natural gas reserves in South America, production was estimated to be around 36.5bn cu metres in 2015. Chile, the main importer of Argentinian gas, has been dependent on the country’s natural gas since 1997.