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Volume 54 / Humanities


19th and 20th Centuries: Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay

JOSEPH T. CRISCENTI, Professor Emeritus of History, Boston College

HISTORICAL WRITINGS IN THIS BIENNIUM show the influence of the Columbus Quincentennial and reflect a tendency to challenge what some perceive to be myths and unsupported assumptions of previous historiography. Case studies are more numerous, and more research is being done in the provincial archives and newspaper collections outside of Buenos Aires. As in the past, modern Argentina continues to attract the attention of most scholars, but emphasis has shifted from the post-1930 period to the years between 1880-1930. A majority of the female historians focus primarily on modern Argentina. Many scholars of 19th-century Argentina have embarked on major projects which promise to bring into better focus the first decades of the independence era. Historians seeking statistical or economic data continue to struggle with incomplete or absent census data, tax collection records, and trade accounts, but are nevertheless discerning patterns that give new insights into more obscure areas of the former Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata.

Research results to date confirm the widespread view that independence from Spain did not mean a sharp break with the past. Colonial agrarian practices, commercial law, social customs, and institutions remained virtually unchanged until about 1880: not until then did the modern period truly begin in Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Further investigations have cast doubt on the traditional image of the gaucho and rural areas in the 18th and 19th centuries. Scholars now are seeking to define the gaucho, and along with him, the estanciero, hacendado, and the small farmer, but contemporary usage of these terms makes typification difficult. Economic historians are uncovering a growing body of evidence pointing to colonial and post-independence economic competition between Buenos Aires and Córdoba, and to an uneven economic development of the Interior provinces: Córdoba and Salta, it now appears, were exceptionally prosperous. Palomeque has expanded our knowledge of inter- and intra-regional trade relations in the Interior provinces, and has demonstrated that the viceregal economy was an integral part of the world economy (item bi 92015138). Also apparent is the existence of an economy in which specie payments coexisted with payments in kind.

The understanding of some well-known 19th-century issues has benefitted from the publication of additional documents. Some attest to the mixture of political ideas that circulated after independence. For example, documentary publications (items bi 93001394 and bi 93004526) reveal that Martín Miguel de Güemes of Salta joined forces with the Governor of Córdoba to nullify the opposition of Bernardino Rivadavia of Buenos Aires to San Martín and the Congress of Tucumán. Güemes was a monarchist, but some Salteños - Unitarians - wanted to build the future nation on local laws and customs, and still others - followers of José Artigas - looked to the US as a model. French political ideas were present, but were more influential in Buenos Aires and Paraguay than in the Argentine Northwest. Viola found additional archival evidence to support his thesis that Francia admired Napoleon and the US, and was both a defender and a builder of the Paraguayan nation (items bi 93007500 and bi 93018526). Debate continues on the origins and consequences of the Paraguayan War, though interpretations often reflect ideological considerations rather than new data. Tjarks found documents that seem to confirm the partisan view of the Mitre Administration as not genuinely neutral prior to the outbreak of the war (item bi 91010363). He assumes that Mitre was a strong president and that a body of enforceable neutrality laws existed. The diary of Silvia Cordal Gill (item bi 92005823) and accounts of the women accompanying Solano López (item bi 92005822) reflect unfavorably on Solano López but do support the view that the traditional family structure was unaffected by the war. Paraguayan economic history, with the exception of the yerba maté trade, remains relatively unexplored. Provincial caudillos continue to undergo a reevaluation which is changing their unfavorable image created by the Unitarian exiles. Perhaps the most definitive biography of Felipe Ibarra appears in Alén Lascano's impressive social and economic history of Santiago del Estero (item bi 93007494). An overlooked but important biography of Governor Estanislao López of Santa Fé, a friend of San Martín and Artigas, the father of Argentine federalism, and Quiroga's rival, has been reissued (item bi 93009261). It is based on provincial archives.

As the literature canvassed here indicates, one concern of the colonists that persisted into the 19th century was the abundance of unoccupied and mostly unclaimed land on the fluid frontier. The solution advanced by colonial theorists, Sarmiento, and others was to fill the empty space with a rural class of small landowners. Paraguay used colonial laws to encourage occupation of the border facing the Chaco, and the government sent Correntino refugees to Concepción to resist the Mbyas. Uruguay tried unsuccessfully to become a land of small farmers, but land was scarce or expensive and immigrants preferred Argentina and Brazil. In the province of Buenos Aires, few took advantage of the frontier land grants offered by Rosas. However, Danes and French did settle in and around the frontier town of Tandil, and their experiences are depicted in the fascinating memoirs of Juan Fugl (item bi 93001402). The government of Santa Fé aggressively encouraged the establishment of agricultural colonies on its frontiers. Some were sponsored by the Jewish Colonization Association, others by entrepreneurs and the railroads. The result was a patchwork of ethnic settlements, each with its own historian. The most arresting of the Jewish accounts tells of the founding and growth of Moisés Ville (item bi 93018529). These self-governing pioneers never learned Spanish law and defended their independence from the provincial government. Their discontent with living and economic conditions led them to organize the Argentine Agricultural Federation in the 20th century. Some of the agricultural colonies eventually became manufacturing towns, but this process has received little attention from scholars.

In the modern era the national government continued the policy of welcoming all immigrants, hoping they would further economic growth by forming a class of small farmers in the Argentine "desert." A wide variety of ethnic groups arrived, some to settle in the city and province of Buenos Aires, others in thinly populated border areas, and still others in the "younger" provinces. Akmir prepared a model study of the Syrians and Lebanese who settled in the province of Santiago del Estero (item bi 92010981). Scholarly attention has focused primarily on the Italian immigrant, but all ethnic groups had the same basic experience. Migration, as the concept of chain migration holds, did not mean an abrupt break with the past. Each ethnic group tended to think of itself as a separate colony: to preserve its language and culture, it might organize mutual aid societies, schools, churches, and presses. Most were eventually assimilated, but few immigrants became naturalized citizens, for it would mean losing their exemption from military service and aid from their consular agents. The immigrant's refusal to acquire Argentine citizenship concerns thoughtful Argentines who want a more democratic society for their country, but they disagree on an explanation for the phenomenon and its solution.

Government propaganda abroad influenced the influx of immigrants after 1880, and the newly-arrived found an agricultural state that was gradually industrializing and urban centers that still retained their colonial ways and outlooks. The tempo of change was not uniform throughout the country, nor did the immigrants experience similar economic and social conditions. Immigrants employed by the railroad and sugar refinery in Rosario lived primarily in wooden or tinplate huts and not in conventillos as in Buenos Aires and Montevideo, and they worked in the countryside at harvest time. This not uncommon link between an industrializing urban center and its surrounding rural area is currently undergoing investigation.

The studies annotated here are part of an ongoing review of the process of industrialization that took place between 1880-1930. A fresh look is being taken at a wide variety of subjects: the multifaceted intellectual climate of the period, the labor movement, the spread of farming into marginal areas, the internal divisions of the Unión Cívica Radical, the effects of the Great Depression, the nationalist movement, and the rise of peronism. This reassessment had already made clear that the Unión Industrial Argentina did not represent the industrial sector until 1957, that differential railroad freight rates distorted agricultural development, and that porteño political leaders thwarted an incipient democratic movement in Mendoza. Studies of the post-1930 years further suggest that political and labor leaders in Buenos Aires acted independently of their colleagues in the provinces, and that the provincianos saw things differently from porteños. These tentative conclusions find support in the provincial studies of Lacoste (item bi 93001422) and Tcach (item bi 93001425).

Two recurring themes in Argentine historiography require little comment. One is the alleged Argentine dependence on the British government and capital (the fact that British capital competed with French capital in 19th-century Argentina is often forgotten in the debate). For instance, the relationship between British and Argentine money markets is currently being investigated. In addition, recent research in British diplomatic archives is destroying many myths concerning British policy toward British firms in Argentina and toward Argentine domestic politics. Nevertheless, the implications of the decline of British influence and the rise of the US have not yet been fully explored. The second theme concerns the role of the military. As a result of the "dirty war" and the Falkland/Malvinas War, the military and its partisans are on the defensive. Defenders of the military recall that Irigoyen and other political leaders always thought of affecting change with the military's aid, but seldom defended the military for obediently complying with their unpleasant orders. They also stress that civilian governments are equally guilty of violence and violations of human rights.

Finally, the role of women as wives, mothers, and mistresses continues to receive attention. The porteño women with ties to Rosas and Sarmiento continue to be considered fascinating subjects, but this emphasis has obscured the existence of other talented women in Buenos Aires. However, the provincial women who made notable contributions to literature and politics are emerging from anonymity. Recent studies have examined the impact of Spanish law and the concept of "honor" on the status of upper and lower class women, but have failed to clarify the issues. In Paraguay the State protected an unmarried woman's honor from her lover, whereas in Buenos Aires the State helped the husband shield his own honor by providing "houses of deposit" for his "misbehaving" wife. The contributions of urban and rural women to the local economy is also undergoing review, but the extent to which women in the Río de la Plata were educated and under what conditions are subjects which await investigation.

Few works on modern Paraguay, that is, the years after the Paraguayan War, were received during this biennium. One recurring theme is that a democratic base was established between 1870-1940. The causes, conduct, and outcome of the Chaco War, as well as the role of the military, remain favorite subjects of discussion. This often involves a defense or criticism of the Colorado party and the Stroessner Administration.

Scholars exploring developments in modern Uruguay, that is, after 1880, stress the establishment of liberal institutions in the prosperous environment of the 1880s and 1890s, the Latorre and Terra dictatorships, and the economic crisis of 1930. Caetano and Jacob argue in their detailed analysis of the Terra Administration that the liberals, satisfied with the establishment of political democracy, failed to notice the deteriorating economic situation, and that the Revolution of 1933 was a conservative reaction to unsuccessful liberal reform efforts (item bi 93018537). The ease with which the government was overthrown suggests that it was unpopular. The ex-president of the Socialist party recalls his transformation from an extreme radical to an extreme reformist, and the party struggles to define its own anti-fascist political strategy (item bi 93009262). Like Argentina, Uruguay has seen the decline of British influence and the rise of that of the US, but the phenomenon is just beginning to undergo serious study.

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