THE FIRST ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF OUR COUNTRY
By Miguel Ángel De Marco
The events that took place in Buenos Aires in the month of May 1810, did not actually mean a mere exteriorization of long- or short-dated bitter arguments between the Spaniards and the criollos , but the consequence of some facts that in their more recent expressions covered the last 25 years of the 18th. century and the first decade of the 19th. century. A universe of political and economic ideas and practices underwent a critical turn upon highly significant events such as the emancipation of the United States of America and the French Revolution. Both facts launched innovative principles that were heeded by the Hispanic Americans, and in turn gave rise to substantial changes in the European life. In Spain, some statesmen understood that urgent changes should be enforced in their American possessions for avoiding a secession that was already borne in the minds of the criollos, and that those statesmen had come to learn as reported by different sources. But their projects failed, due to the lack of understanding shown by the Bourbons and because of the influence exerted by this dynasty's favourites. Finally, the Bourbons' versatile foreign policy handed the Iberian Peninsula over to Bonaparte. The Central Junta took the power over in the name of the absent King, without understanding the role that should be assigned to the Hispanic American colonies. In conveying an unequal and unfair representation to the new world's viceroyalties and captainships, the junta showed not to worry about such 'unequal equality" as intended to get the resources of the colonies without recognizing their own shares or rights. It is evident that, facing this position, also kept-up by the Cadiz Royal Courts, the seeds of freedom found suitable ground in most of the New World colonies. To such an extent that the 1810 events gave rise to an insurrection that -with different features and hues, and with different degrees of success- quickly expanded in a number of directions. Thus framed, in May 1810 some events took place in Buenos Aires, leading to make the decision to constitute a government that, on account of its political and juridical organization, was similar to the junta in Spain. The Junta de Mayo, i.e. the first national government presided by colonel Cornelio Saavedra, integrated by men of contrasting views about within which scopes and in what manner the aforesaid events should be faced, found difficult internal and external issues to settle. Besides, this situation was not clarified -but worsened- by the oath of loyalty to King Ferdinand VII, against whose troops the national forces who alleged to defend him were fighting. The political organization, the social rearrangement, and the establishment of the essential economic foundations to sustain the public regime and fight against the King's followers, gave rise to strong and constant stresses leading to struggles between factions, hindering the stability of the successive governments and creating a regrettable lack of definition. From the very beginning there were changes of direction, forwards and backwards. To the extent that the primordial equalizing idea to hold a congress of representatives from different cities, without no status distinctions, for enacting a State constitution and appointing the national government, was defeated by the centralist position that aspired at granting to the old capital city of the Viceroyalty, Buenos Aires, the authority to lead the fate of the political body that from the end of 1811 had been given the name of Provincias Unidas del Río de la Plata (United Provinces of the River Plate). That attitude, supported on an armed basis, was replied by the separation of Paraguay, the rebellion in the Banda Oriental -except for Montevideo, which remained for four years under the rule of the royalists-, and the civil war that broke out before long. At the same time big efforts were being made to defeat the royal armies.
Expansion of the Revolutionary Cause
The fight against the royalists underwent repeated fluctuations, and the political bustles and disputes between the national factions were not beyond that. In despite of their numeric and physical disadvantages, the national armies were able to achieve the final victory, joined by other nations from the northern region of South America. A continental strategic conception was applied against the defensive and merely regional attitude adopted by the Spanish authorities. Two fundamental events took place, i.e. the conquest of Montevideo, after the naval victory accomplished by Guillermo Brown, and the campaign developed by José de San Martín in Chile and Peru. Both events evidenced a clear understanding of military purposes, especially in view of the impossibility to go into the High Peru as Belgrano's victory in Salta had been sterilized by successive defeats. The lack of flexibility on the part of the Buenos Aires authorities, besides the definitely localistic criteria of those who took over in the littoral sector, gave rise to a crisis of dominion in the revolutionary field. This urged to materialize the war's ultimate purpose, hidden for reasons of international policy. It was the declaration of the independence in San Miguel de Tucumán, on July 9, 1816, decided upon by the national congress held in that city. The alternatives for a government system were feverously discussed at that meeting, and in the newspapers. Even though the republican way of government had been in force since 1810, as supported by experienced and knowledgeable men, a strong support to the constitutional monarchy arose especially from those who knew that the European powers disliked this type of monarchy because of its allegedly revolutionary spirit. On the contrary, the few supporters of the absolute monarchy were looked at disdainfully, as thousands of Hispanic Americans were wasting their blood in the battlefields to defeat King Ferdinand VII, their antonomastical representative.
The Unitarian and the Federal
On the other hand, opinions were divided between the supporters of the centralism, mainly the porteños (inhabitants of Buenos Aires), who preferred to keep the pre-existing municipal system, and those who aspired at replacing it by a system of cities-provinces enjoying equal powers. The crisis came to an end with the defeat inflicted by the littoral chiefs to the directorship regime in the battle of Cepeda (February 1, 1820), as this regime had lost its main army upon the Arequito rising. Each province got enclosed in itself. Besides, to emphasize their will for isolation, the provinces gave themselves the names of Republic of Corrientes, Republic of Mendoza, etc. The province of Buenos Aires, supported by its wealth concentrated on its Customs House, enforced some actions that would lead to long-standing angers. On account of the long distances between the current Argentinean territory and the arenas of the emancipation war, a concern reappeared before the end of the war upon the Ayacucho surrender (December 9, 1824) about providing the Provincias Unidas del Río de La Plata with a constitutional regime. In that year, a constitutional congress was held in Buenos Aires that began with creating a provisional co-federal system though the Presidency Act (1825). These sponsorships were frustrated for two different reasons, i.e. the war against the Brazilian empire, which had invaded the Banda Oriental, and the partial federalization of the province of Buenos Aires as the capital city of the Republic. The signature of a peace treaty not authorized by the Executive Power after a number of military victories brought about the resignation of president Rivadavia, head of the unitary party and the subsequent dissolution of the Congress. Colonel Manuel Dorrego, governor of the province of Buenos Aires who was performing foreign affairs duties, undersigned the peace agreement with Brazil and recognized the independence of the Banda Oriental and the free navigation in the internal rivers. This decision strengthened the resentment of the army, who have just come back to the country, and gave rise to the coup d'état of December 1, 1828, headed by general Juan Lavalle and prompted by the unitary leaders. The advent of Juan Manuel de Rosas to power as the governor of the province of Buenos Aires from 1829 to 1852, except for a break not deprived of his clear influence, meant the victory of the porteño centralism and the triumph of a paternalist autocracy that gradually uniformed the Argentineans not only in the colours of their clothing and badges but also in their compulsory devotion to the man who, from 1835, governed with the sum of the public power. The reaction from his opponents was translated into constant military revolutions and campaigns supported by the unitary, who were given this name even though the opponents to Rosas were integrated by the old followers of Rivadavia, the federal from del interior of the country, the men of utterly liberal ideas, and even the schismatic federals or black backs who had had to exile after the drastic clearing enforced in 1835 by don Juan Manuel de Rosas in the administrative and Army ranks. The vanishing of the two big counterweights against Rosas, i.e. Juan Facundo Quiroga in the province of La Rioja, and Estanislao López in the province of Santa Fe, had increased the hegemony of the regime. A whole generation, crucial to the transformation of the country after the fall of Rosas, the 1837 one, got tempered in the South American dispersion. Uruguay, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Peru, and other even more distant lands constituted the appropriate environment for fighting in different ways against the rule of the man who, by delegation from the other provinces, was undertaking the management of his own province, the handling of the foreign affairs of the Argentine Confederation, and even the de facto conduction of the other provinces in the Republic. Also foreign powers participated in the constant civil struggles that took place within this lengthy period. France, from 1837 until 1840, and allied with Great Britain from 1845, showed its presence in the Argentinean waters to uphold allegations or support the emigrates' actions. Rosas did not get intimidated and offered a steady opposition, which enabled him to attain the execution of some treaties satisfying most of the Argentinean claims. On the contrary, the repeated claims submitted before the English government failed to procure the return of the Malvinas Islands -usurped in December 1833- to the Argentinean sovereignty. As far as its "peripheral stresses" were concerned, Argentina would maintain disputes with Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay on account of these countries' diplomatic and armed alliances with the opponents to Rosas.