On 25th May 2010, Argentina will mark 200 years since the 1810 May Revolution. That date commemorates the movement that led to Argentina breaking away from imperial Spain. But what exactly are they celebrating?
Cutting Colonial Ties
Before 18th May 1810, Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay were all part of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata, a Spanish colony.
At that time Joseph Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon, was king of Spain. However, he was opposed by the Spanish Supreme Central Junta, a committee of local governments, which resisted him and became a temporary government. The French retaliated and conflict ensued in various parts of Spain.
On the 18th May, British ships arrived in Montevideo, Uruguay, bringing with them news of the precarious state of the Spanish government. A variety of criollo officials met in Buenos Aires on 22nd May 1810 to decide the future of the viceroyalty in light of this news.
They decided that the viceroy, Baltasar Hidalgo de Cisneros, had to step down as Spain was no longer independent and the Spanish government was not the same government that appointed him.
The Primera Junta (First assembly) then stepped in as a provisional government for the provinces of Río de la Plata, to rule in the absence of a king. Cisneros was initially appointed president of the Primera Junta, but eventually resigned as many were discontented with the choice to appoint him.
Following several days of debate, Cornelio Saavedra became the president and the Primera Junta presented itself as the official government on 25th May 1810. This marked the beginning of independence in Argentina.
The Revolution Spreads
The Primera Junta expanded to include members from other provinces and became the Junta Grande. The members claimed to be loyal to the Spanish King, whilst still retaining the right to elect their own authorities rather than having an appointed viceroy, as before.
The Junta Grande then went on to spread its revolutionary ideas in Alto Perú (now Bolivia). From 1810 to 1816, the government was involved in various campaigns, trying to free other cities from the Spanish crown. Following the loss of several campaigns, the Junta Grande was replaced by the Primer Triunvirato (First Triumvirate), which took over Salta and Tucumán. This was followed by a second triumvirate in 1812 and a one-person government in 1814.
When King Ferdinand returned to power in Spain, representatives from all the provinces met for the Congress of Tucumán. There, Argentine independence was officially declared on 9th July 1816.
As news of this spread through South America, similar events occurred in other cities, so this event is also considered to be a starting point for Latin American independence.
However, it wasn’t until 25th May 1819 that the first constitution, drafted by the Congress of Tucumán, became official.
Two Hundred Years On
Today, the 25th of May is celebrated as the Day of the Revolution because it is the date that Argentina first separated itself from the Spanish monarchy. However, there will be events happening throughout the year and in the week leading up to that day. But why the fuss?
Beatriz Valinoti, academic secretary for the history department at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA), explained that these celebrations are more than just a commemoration of history: “Obviously, it is a part of Argentina’s history and it is usual to remember these dates. It is also important for celebrating how far the country has come. The country separated from Spain in 1810 and all these events came to a culmination in 1816, but independence is continuous and changes.
“At the 1910 elections, Argentina could celebrate not just its independence, but the fact that it was a country with power, it could export and play a role in the world as a whole.”
This time round, Argentina will also be looking at the rest of the world and deciding what independence means for the country: “Companies within Argentina will play a defining role in deciding how we will be economically independent. We have to think of different types of independence now; Political independence, economic independence and social independence. We have to redefine independence in order to assert ourselves as an independent country.”
It seems clear, then, that this bicentenary will be an opportunity for Argentina not just to remember the past, but also to look to the future. These sentiments were also reflected in President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s speech at Venezuela’s bicentenary celebrations: “This bicentennial year finds the people of South America in a new stage of transformation that I call a second independence.
“The first anniversary was very different from this because the region had been consolidated into republics, exporting raw materials to generate wealth and value far away from our lands. The men of 1810… if one analyzes the economic thinking of Manuel Belgrano and Mariano Moreno, they spoke of generating richness in our own countries.
“We must elaborate our own ideas in economic and political matters, and interpret history and that which was left by the men of 1810, which was to achieve Latin American unity as a founding objective for the liberation of our people… Equality must be the hallmark of the Bicentenary and must continue to follow through against all odds, against the powers that want inequality to take power.”
If you want to learn more about Argentine history or see what the government has in store for the future, both the city government and UBA are running a series of events that are open to the public.