Country Profile: Argentina | New Internationalist
February 3, 2021
In the upscale Puerto Madero neighborhood of Buenos Aires, there are rooftop bars where a sausage sandwich costs $ 10. In the not-so-chic Barrio 31 neighborhood, popularly known as the informal Villa 31 neighborhood, many workers don’t see $ 10 a day. They are next to each other and in different worlds at the same time, in what looks like a microcosm of Argentina.
The eighth largest country in the world by area, Argentina stretches nearly 4,000 kilometers from the terracotta-colored hills of Jujuy, on the Bolivian border, to where the frozen waters of the Atlantic south bathe the shores of Tierra del Fuego.
Buenos Aires, a port city on the Rio de la Plata, is an economic and cultural hub. Between the official capital and its vast suburban sprawl, Greater Buenos Aires is home to nearly 40% of the country’s population.
Argentina is home to indigenous peoples such as the Mapuche, Tehuelche, Qom, Wichí and Guaraní. These groups were massacred during colonization by the Spanish and during post-independence military operations such as the Conquest of the Desert of 1878-85, decimating their populations. Today, indigenous peoples face an ongoing struggle to defend their fundamental rights such as access to their ancestral lands.
Argentina declared its independence from Spain on July 9, 1816. It was then shaped culturally and politically by waves of immigration from Europe, particularly Spain and Italy, as well as the Middle -East. The country is also home to the largest Jewish community in Latin America.
During the 20th century, Argentina was plagued by a series of military coups and dictatorships. During the last, from 1976 to 1983, 30,000 people were reported missing, tortured and murdered.
The country is firmly committed to never repeat these atrocities. The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, whose children went missing during the dictatorship, still parade around the square in front of the president’s office every Thursday, supporting social causes and human rights.
Since December 2019, Argentina has been ruled by center-left president Alberto Fernández. Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was part of the “pink wave” of leftist leaders who ruled South America in the 2000s.
Massive foreign debts and an impoverished population escalate centuries-old conflicts over natural resources and land ownership as the government seeks export earnings that will bring in dollars. Huge monocultures of genetically modified soybeans for export have reshaped both the dynamics of land and the land itself. The government gave the green light to genetically modified wheat in October.
Environmentalists also denounce mega-mining and hydraulic fracturing. In December 2019, a controversial decision to remove water protection laws in the scenic Andean region of Mendoza was overturned after massive protests erupted. The change would have paved the way for mining companies to use toxic chemicals such as cyanide and sulfuric acid.
Argentina was already in a severe economic recession before the Covid-19 pandemic. Soaring inflation made it harder for workers to reach the end of the month, and poverty and unemployment were on the rise, highlighting the vast gap between the haves and have-nots. Strict containment of Covid-19, which began on March 20 and has been gradually relaxed, has plunged much further into poverty.
With over a million cases of Covid, a struggling economy, and activists desperate to avoid devastation of the country’s natural resources, Fernández will have to perform an almost incredibly delicate balancing act to bring the country back to prosperity.
CHIEF: President Alberto Fernandez
ECONOMY: GNI per capita: $ 11,200 (Bolivia $ 3,530; United States $ 65,760)
Monetary union: peso
Main exports: Soybeans, oil and gas, corn, wheat, cars.
Argentina is known for its economic instability and inflation is an ongoing problem. Recent government figures show poverty at 40.9% and unemployment at 13.1%, a result of the recession and the Covid-19 pandemic.
POPULATION: 44.9 million. Annual population growth rate: 1.0%. People per square kilometer: 16 (UK 271).
HEALTH: Infant mortality 8 per 1,000 live births (Bolivia 21, United States 6). HIV prevalence 0.4%. Lifetime risk of maternal death 1 in 1,100 (US 1 in 3,000).
ENVIRONMENT: Argentina has everything from the dense, jungly subtropical forest near the Brazilian border to the vast glaciers of Patagonia. Drought is a growing problem and forest fires during dry spells, often on purpose, degrade the biodiversity of the Paraná Delta. The impact of large-scale monocultures and toxic agricultural chemicals on soils and rivers is cause for concern. CO2 emissions per capita 4.6 tonnes (Bolivia 2.0, US 15.5).
RELIGION: Predominantly Roman Catholic, although only about 20% practice. About 2% are Protestants and 2% Jews.
LANGUAGE: Spanish (official). Indigenous languages include Mapudungun and Quechua.
INDEX OF HUMAN DEVELOPMENT: 0.830, 48th out of 189 countries (Bolivia 0.703, United States 0.920).
DISTRIBUTION OF REVENUES ★★✩✩✩
As the country’s elites protest a proposed wealth tax to help alleviate the pandemic, the working-class poor are increasingly destitute.
99%. Argentina has a strong tradition of public education and the university is free. State and activist initiatives help adults complete their education.
LIFE EXPECTANCY ★★★★★
77 years old (Bolivia 71, United States 79).
WOMEN’S POSITION ★★★✩✩
A vibrant feminist movement is the engine of progress, but key challenges remain. Abortion is only allowed in cases of rape or health risks, and even then access is often denied in more conservative provinces. A debate on the issue in Congress has been stalled for months due to the pandemic, but the government is finally taking action to move it forward. In 2018, there were 1.1 femicide per 100,000 women.
A living media ecosystem expresses a wide range of perspectives. Protests are common and tolerated, but police sometimes resort to violent repression.
SEXUAL MINORITIES ★★★★★
Same-sex marriage is legal and the government recently implemented a trans work quota.
The government is trying to rebuild social institutions suppressed by the previous government of market-loving Mauricio Macri. Although his agenda was hampered by Covid-19, he pushed for some progressive policies. President Fernández himself has now introduced a bill to legalize abortion, and medicinal cannabis was legalized in mid-November. However, the state’s enthusiasm for extractivist and commodity export projects as a path to growth has been repudiated by environmentalists.
LAST PROFILE: Number 227, January 1992
This article is taken from the January-February 2021 issue of New Internationalist.
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