Background Notes: Argentina

Contributed By RealAdventures

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Argentine(s).
Population (mid-1997): 35.8 million.
Annual population growth rate: 1.3%.
Ethnic groups: European 97%, mostly of Spanish and Italian descent.
Religions: Roman Catholic 92%, Protestant 2%, Jewish 2%, other 4%.
Language: Spanish.
Education: Years compulsory--9. Adult literacy--96.2%. Health: Infant mortality rate--23.6/1000. Life expectancy--72.3 yrs.
Work force: Industry and commerce--36%. Agriculture--19%. Transport and communications--6%.

Argentines are a fusion of diverse national and ethnic groups. Descendants of Italian and Spanish immigrants predominate. Waves of immigrants from many European countries arrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Syrian, Lebanese, and other Middle Eastern immigrants number about 500,000, mainly in urban areas. Argentina has the largest Jewish population in Latin America, about 250,000 strong. In recent years, there has been a substantial influx of immigrants from neighboring Latin American countries. The indigenous population, now estimated at 700,000, is concentrated in the provinces of the north, northwest, and south. The Argentine population has one of Latin America's lowest growth rates. Eighty percent of the population resides in urban areas of more than 2,000 and more than one-third of the population lives in the greater Buenos Aires area. This sprawling metropolis, with about 12 million inhabitants, serves as the focus for national life. Argentines enjoy comparatively high standards of living; half the population considers itself middle class.

Type: Republic.
Independence: July 9, 1816.
Constitution: 1853, revised 1994.
Branches: Executive--president, vice president, cabinet. Legislative--bicameral congress (72-member Senate, 257-member Chamber of Deputies). Judicial--Supreme Court, federal and provincial trial courts.
Administrative subdivisions: 23 provinces and one autonomous federal capital district.
Political Parties: Justicialist, Radical Civic Union, FREPASO, numerous smaller national and provincial parties. In 1997, UCR and FREPASO formed a coalition called the Alliance for Work, Justice, and Education.
Suffrage: Universal adult.

President--Carlos Saul Menem
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Guido Di Tella
Ambassador to the United States--Diego Guelar
Ambassador to the Organization of American States-Julio Caesar Araoz
Ambassador to the United Nations--Fernando Petrella

After years of instability, Argentina is today a fully functioning democracy. During President Carlos Menem's first term (1989-1995), he dramatically reordered Argentina's foreign and domestic policies. His overwhelming reelection in May 1995--in the face of hardships caused by economic restructuring and exacerbated by the Mexico peso crisis--provided a mandate for his free market economic strategy and pro-U.S. foreign policy. Menem's second term ends in December 1999; the constitution does not provide for a sitting president to succeed himself more than once.

The constitution of 1853, as revised in 1994, mandates a separation of powers into executive, legislative, and judicial branches at the national and provincial level. Each province also has its own constitution which roughly mirrors the structure of the national constitution.

The president and vice president were traditionally elected indirectly by an electoral college to a single six-year term. They were not allowed immediately to seek reelection. Constitutional reforms adopted in August 1994 reduced the presidential term to four years, abolished the electoral college in favor of direct election, and limited the president and vice president to two consecutive terms, but allowed them to stand for a third term or more after an interval of at least one term. Cabinet ministers are appointed by the president. The constitution grants the president considerable power, including a line-item veto.

Provinces traditionally sent two senators, elected by provincial legislatures, to the upper house of Congress. Voters in the federal capital of Buenos Aires elected an electoral college which elected the city's senators. The constitution now mandates a transition to direct election for all senators, and the addition of a third senator from each province and the capital. The third senator will represent the electoral district's largest minority party. The revised constitution reduces senatorial terms from nine to six years in office. One third of the Senate will stand for reelection every two years.

Members of the Chamber of Deputies are directly elected to four-year terms. Voters elect half the members of the lower house every two years through a system of proportional representation.

Other important changes to the constitutional system included the creation of a senior coordinating minister to serve under the president and autonomy for the city of Buenos Aires, which now elects its own mayor. The constitution establishes the judiciary as a separate and independent entity of government. The president appoints members of the Supreme Court with the consent of the Senate. Other federal judges are appointed by the president upon recommendation by the magistrates' council. The Supreme Court has the power, first asserted in 1854, to declare legislative acts unconstitutional.

Economy (1999)
GDP: $283 billion.
Annual real growth rate: -3.1%.
Per capital GDP: $7,700.

Natural resources: Fertile plains (pampas). Minerals: lead,
zinc, tin, copper, iron, manganese, oil, uranium.

Agriculture (5% of GDP, about 40% of exports by value):
Products--grains, oilseeds and by-products, livestock products.

Industry (28% of GDP): Types--food processing, oil refining,
machinery and equipment, textiles, chemicals and petrochemicals.

Trade: Exports ($23.3 billion)--grains, meats, oilseeds,
manufactured products. Major markets--Brazil 25%; EU 20%; U.S. 11%; Chile 7%. Imports ($25.5 billion)--machinery, vehicles and transport products, chemicals. Major suppliers--EU 28%; Brazil 22%; U.S. 20%.

The United States and Argentina currently enjoy a close bilateral relationship, which was highlighted by President Clinton's visit to Argentina in October 1997 and President De la Rua's visit to Washington in June 2000. The efforts of the Menem (1989-99) and De la Rua (1999-) administrations to open Argentina's economy and
realign its foreign policy have contributed to the improvement in these relations, and the interests and policies of the two countries coincide on many issues. Argentina and the United States often vote together in the United Nations and other multilateral fora. Argentina has participated in many multilateral forces deployments mandated by the United Nations Security Council, including recent missions to Haiti and the former Yugoslavia. Reflecting the growing partnership that marks ties between the two countries, the U.S. Secretary of State and Argentine Foreign Minister chaired 1997 and 1999 meetings of the Special Consultative Process to address important issues in the bilateral relationship. Argentina was designated a major non-NATO ally in 1998.

Ambassador--James D. Walsh Deputy Chief of Mission--Milton K.
Drucker Political Counselor--Michael Matera Economic
Counselor--Stephen H. Thompson Commercial Counselor--James Wilson
Consul General--Robert Raymer Science Counselor--Marshall
Carter-Tripp Administrative Counselor--Norman Milford Defense Attache--Col. Robert Adams, USAF U.S. Military Group
Commander--Colonel Clark Lynn III, USA Public Affairs
Officer--Guy Burton

The U.S. Embassy and Consulate General in Argentina are located at 4300 Colombia Avenue in the Palermo district of Buenos Aires. Mission offices can be reached at tel (54)(11) 4777-4533/34; fax (54)(11) 4777-0197. Mailing addresses : U.S. Embassy Buenos Aires, APO AA 34034; or 4300 Colombia, 1425 Buenos Aires, Argentina. Embassy home page:

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