Argentina has a rich and violent history evidenced by the rise and fall of the gauchos, the silver trade, the cattle industry, the massacre of indigenous and Afro-Argentine populations during the conquest of the desert, and brutal military dictatorships. The foundation of the nation and initial class structure that was established between the Afro-Argentine and colonial population fostered an unassailable barrier between the two distinct classes. Argentina couldn’t escape the initial subjugation based on racialization and dispossession which is the reason why over time throughout Argentina’s history, the events that included the conquest of the desert, late 19th century European immigration and the 1943 coup, were already built on an intimate and inextricable link between class and race that Argentina would struggle with up until and after the Peronist era. It is necessary to understand class relations and the language of Peron’s rise to power of the 1940s by thinking about the constant vacillation of discourses of class and race and the way they’re leveraged so as to integrate Argentina into the larger global political economy.
It was these marginalized groups, culminated from the historical racialized establishment throughout Argentina’s history, who gladly welcomed Peron’s rise to power and his creation of the Welfare State, and supported anti-imperialist sentiments. This resulted in political discord between these groups and the Allied powers after World War II. Afro-Argentine Population Originally Argentina, along with present day Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay, was under Spaniard control. The region was established in 1776 and was known as the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata. In Buenos Aires, the capital of the region, the peninsulares positioned Spanish Peninsulares as the imperious positions fostering a hostile class distinction between the elite Peninsulares and the Creoles of Argentina, causing political contention and a “generalized xenophobia” (Calvert p.16). However, this feeling of xenophobia and class distinction between the “superior” and the “inferior” classes reverberated back to the slave trade commencing in 1587, when the port of Buenos Aires was used to facilitate the slave trade (Edwards 2014, 1).
Although the Spanish sought to minimize the number of slaves who were brought into Argentina through the port of Buenos Aires, African slaves still entered, and the number of Afro-Argentines contributed to a significant percentage of Argentina’s population. (Gayles and Ghogomu 2018, 125 ). Unlike other Latin American countries at the time, Argentina’s economy didn’t demand a slave based economy for sugar production or in the gold mines. Thus slaves worked in rural estancias, the vineyards of Mendoza, in skilled and unskilled jobs and maintenance trades such as carpentry, brick building, masonry, and were hired for other artisanal occupations (Blanchard 2014 , 255-256). Although some historians suggest the treatment of slaves in Argentina was “less harsh” than other countries, there still are accounts of mistreatment, whippings, assault and poor conditions for the slaves (Blanchard 2014, 257). There was a strong feeling of superiority by the elite class when compared to the slave class exemplified in the 1780s when colonists found the slaves’ diets, language, dress and religious practice strange, resulting in hostile responses such as banning certain dances, and restricting certain activities such as drinking and gambling (Blanchard 2014, 257).
Once slavery was eliminated, by the 19th century the Afro-Argentine population was significant yet continued to be racialized and eschewed from society. They experienced limited access to the formal economy, social exclusion and extreme violence which has cultivated into mutual aid societies and racial and ethnic brotherhoods in order to continue their population. This has created a deepened feeling of disparity between the Afro-Argentines and the rest of society (Gayles and Ghogomu 2018, 119). The sentiment felt by liberal reformers such as Domingo Sarmiento, a governor of Buenos Aires, had a strong determination to marginalize Afro-Argentines as well as other “inferior” populations in hopes of attaining a racially superior society, which Sarmiento considered to be more civilized. Indigenous Population In the beginning of the 19th century a new racial class segregation emerged with the vanquishment of the indigenous populations. This internal class division emerged after the official Independence from Spain in 1816 between two federalist factions: those who wanted more autonomy per province and the centralists who wanted more of a united country with Buenos Aires as the leading city and the seat of all the power. Although there was political discord between the two groups, they still had a sense of superiority over the people living in the periphery of the city, the indigenous and the alienated black communities (civilization).
Sarmiento connected the civilized life in the cities and European and intellectual values with “order, stability and science,” which juxtaposed the lifestyle of the rural masses of the non-civilized, interior living people, which he referred to as “barbarism” (Calvert 1991, 39). In the years of the mid 19th century, there were numerable factors that led to the eradication of the indigenous population and the final (event) of the Conquest of the desert which sought to eliminate the indigenous and take their land and resources. The yearn to acquire new land rested on economic purposes to further mobilize Argentina’s economy into the world market. The racial purpose was to eliminate the non white population. The social purpose was to give new land to the immigrants who were welcomed for labor purposes and to civilize the population.
The extant belief that the Argentines were a “white” superior race justified the procurement of indigenous lands. Sarmiento believed that the land taken would be given to the new immigrants — racially superior Europeans — who he hoped would enter Argentina. It wasn’t just the government but also the Argentine elites who saw the indigenous as an “impediment on the path to modernization” (Kerr 2017, 69). This belief was reinforced by journalism and other literature regarding the superiority of the Argentine population, with its nonindigenous nationality justifying the eradication of the indigenous population and entering the minds of civil society). Furthermore, Argentina’s expansion of the wool industry from the U.S. and France increased the demand for more land for the sheep (Bethell 1998, 49). In 1878 the “Conquest of the Desert” campaign led by General Julio A. Roca was declared successful when the Argentine military acquired 30 million hectares at the cost of tens of millions of indigenous peoples eradicated. This not only extended national territory but integrated their economic position by integrating them into the world economy (Calvert 1991, 138).
European Immigration Between the years of 1870 and 1916, Argentina received about six million immigrants (Bethell 1998, 55). In the 1820s President Bernardino Rivadavia first elicited the idea of immigration as a link to economic development. It wasn’t until the late 19th century when other political, social and economic forces backed by political figures really pushed for European immigration. Economically, in the 1870s Argentina began to see a period of rapid economic growth, developing their global interconnection through the foreign market, increasing their demand for labor and thus increasing their demand for foreign labor through immigration. Their initial limited trade with Europe expanded, with foreign, mainly British, investment through international banking, introducing the expansion of the railway system that facilitated proliferation of farming land, domestic trade to the coast and international trade (Bethell 1998, 63). Raising of livestock already existed in Argentina, but because of the new wave of immigrants, agriculture expanded. By the very early 20th century Argentina increased its beef, wheat and maize exports especially to Britain, becoming one of the world’s leading agricultural exporters by the end of WW1 (Solberg 1970, 17).
It was during this Age of Imperialism between 1875-1914 that Britain, an imperialist country, extracted resource areas such as Argentina’s economy as a method of division of labor to reduce their costs. Not only was the government pushing for immigrants, but many of the owners of northern plantations also invited the influx of immigrants (Solberg 1970, 14). Social factors were another rationale for encouraging immigration into Argentina. Towards the end of the 19th century Argentines saw Argentina as a white society and the race that would “triumph in nature’s Darwinian struggle for survival” (Cottrol 2005, 145). The late 20th century saw a new wave of pseudo scientific racial justifications for rebuking people of color as well as promotion of social Darwinism, fostering the “blanqueamiento” or whitening movement that essentially trivialized the Afro-Argentine and indigenous populations.
They saw “whiteness” as necessary for a progressive society subduing their Afro-Argentine and indigenous populations cultures and even going so far as changing the census to make it seem like there were fewer non-white people living in Argentina. This justified their eradication of indigenous societies in the name of advancing society (Cottrol 2005, 145). Additionally, this movement to “whiten” the population encouraged specifically Anglo Saxon immigrants from Northern Europe who were associated with hard work and a civilized society to essentially dilute the other “inferior races.” On the contrary, migrants of other origins, such as the mainly Italian and Spanish immigrants who did end up immigrating to Argentina, were seen as “lower races” similar to the indigenous people who could be found in the interior of the country in the “barbaric” areas (Bastia 2014, 478). The already deeply rooted racial discrimination against the perceived “inferior” races was amplified with these new immigrants who were eschewed to the margins of society, alongside the indigenous and Afro-Argentine population. The major wave of immigration of the late 19th century and early 20th century settled in the peripheral and less desirable parts of the city.
The immigrants who predominantly became tenant farmers had very inferior lives compared to the owner farmers. This was reflected in their standard of living, such as lower quality housing or their inability to reaching high places or even intermediate positions in society (Bethell 1998, 87). By 1914, 75% of the working class were immigrants and resided in buildings known as conventillos which were large buildings divided into rooms where a family would live in one room (Minonne 2017, 91). These conventillos were in dilapidated conditions, reflecting other harsh conditions such as low wages and oppressive working conditions, which were imposed on this predominantly immigrant working class population (Bethell 1998, 137).
These adverse conditions for these subaltern classes of people cultivated a sentiment of change in conditions and lifestyle, fully supporting any sort of push for change that was to be introduced by Juan Domingo Peron. Rise of Juan Peron The rise of Juan Peron can be attributed to the political atmosphere that preceded him. The long period of military dictator rule known as the Infamous Decade was positioned by a conservative regime subject to fraudulently elected presidents, period of corruption and weak economic management, and social repression especially among workers unions. Furthermore, the increase in livestock raising as opposed to farming brought more civilians into the cities, increasing the number of urban workers who would play a later role in the rise and support of Peron (Bethell 1998, 175). As a result of this state of bedlam, there was a 1943 military coup which provided Peron’s first position in government as secretary of labor. In this position he declared to the press in an interview that his aim was to “improve the standard of living of the worker.”
He recognized that many were immigrants by stating that they “ are often not even Argentines but foreigners” in addition to stressing his support for trade unions (Bethell 1998, 228). Peron’s victorious presidential election in 1946 was a major change in the way Argentina as a nation depicted national identity by “depicting Argentina as a nation of workers” (Bastia, 2014, 482). Peron was heavily supported by the urban working class, predominantly migrant workers who initially had been from interior of Argentina and had darker skin color. Peron not only found them to be an integral part of the national community but his accentuation of class “was coupled with a substantial revision of the hegemonic idea of Argentina as a white nation” (Bastia 2014, 483). It was these historically marginalized groups familiarized with domination and hegemony by the Argentine elite and government who supported this wave of trouncing the status quo and giving the working class rights.
History of the development of Argentine civilization. (2021, Oct 08).
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