South America: Peeps at Many Lands - Edith A. Browne
In 1501 the famous explorer, Amerigo Vespucci, sailed along the coast of the land now known as Argentina, and must have sighted the mouth of the great River Plate; he did not, however, make any attempt to find out the value of these discoveries. Fourteen years later, Juan Diaz de Solis, during his third voyage of discovery, sailed up the Plate as far as the island of Martin Garcia. Soon after landing, de Solis and several of his followers were killed by the arrows of a fierce tribe of Indians. In 1520, Magellan, a Portuguese navigator in the service of Spain, explored the mouth of the Plate, then known as the River Solis; he did not make a long stay in the neighbourhood, but, continuing his voyage south, sailed into the Pacific Ocean through the straits which now bear his famous name. In 1526 two expeditions, under the command respectively of Diego Garcia and Sebastian Cabot, reached the estuary of the Plate, and journeyed up to the confluence of the Paraguay and Parana. Cabot founded two settlements, but finally had to abandon them on account of the hostility of the Indians.
By this time Portugal had become ambitiously interested in the southern region of the new continent, and towards the end of 1530 she sent out a large and well-equipped party, under the command of Martin Alonso de Souza, to explore the River Plate. Spain began to realize that she must take strong measures to safeguard her interests. She chose as her leader for the task a bold adventurer with considerable experience, Don Pedro de Mendoza, who, in 1535, set forth as commander of a fine fleet and strong force to colonize the River Plate region. Mendoza founded the city of Buenos Aires; about a year after he had built his little town, on the site where now stands the magnificent capital of Argentina, he set out for Spain, but he died during the voyage home.
The history of Argentina now becomes closely involved with that of Paraguay.
Before embarking for Spain, Mendoza had sent one of his trusty companions, Juan de Ayolas, northwards, in charge of an expedition whose mission was to try to find a way into Peru. Ayolas explored the rivers Parana and Paraguay, and founded the town of Asuncion at the confluence of the Pilcomayo tributary and the Paraguay. Sailing higher up the main stream, he came to a place which he considered a favourable point from which to strike off on foot into the forest, so he plunged into the wilds to cut a way through to Peru, leaving his second in command, Irala, in charge of the ships.
Ayolas fought his way through fierce tribes of Indians, jungle and swamp, to the mountains of the Charcas, collected rich treasures of gold and silver, and marched back in triumph to the spot where he had left Irala. But Irala and the ships had vanished, leaving Ayolas and his little band without any means of returning to Asuncion; the brave leader and his party were massacred by Indians, and must have died believing that they had been forsaken by their comrades.
Do not imagine, however, that Irala had been unfaithful; on the contrary, his conduct was such that he has won undying fame as a loyal friend. But Irala was the victim of another man's treachery. Galan, who had been left to govern Buenos Aires, grew tired of matching his strength against the neighbouring Indians; ambitious for more power and an easier life, he deserted his post and set sail with a powerful following for Asuncion. Galan had just arrived at Asuncion when Irala put in there to obtain the necessary store of provisions to enable him to remain at the appointed place of waiting for Ayolas. Galan with his strong forces was easily able to overpower Irala and his little party, and to commandeer their ships; then he proclaimed himself commander of the district. It was only after a long delay that Irala succeeded in getting a boat to take him back to the trysting-place, where he remained for months watching for his chief to return; not until he learned of the tragic fate that had befallen Ayolas did he leave his post. Meanwhile Galan had been shorn of his usurped authority by a high official from Spain. Irala, upon his arrival at Asuncion, was at once proclaimed Governor and Captain-General by his officers and soldiers. Later on he was officially recognized by Spain as Governor of the Rio de la Plata Provinces.
Irala decided to make Asuncion the seat of government and to abandon Buenos Aires, which had become a fast-decaying settlement. He proved a firm and capable ruler, and did much towards establishing law and order in the Southern Provinces.
After Irala's death there were many rivals for power in the south. A period of considerable strife was brought to a close by the appointment of a very strong man, Juan de Garay, as Governor of Paraguay. Garay realized the importance of the country around the mouth of the Plate, and soon after he took over the reins of government he put himself at the head of an expedition to go down the river. He successfully resisted all the attacks of fierce Indians met with during the voyage, and in June, 1580, arrived on the spot where Mendoza had built the first town of Buenos Aires. Garay founded a new town on this site, and his settlement has grown into the modern city of Buenos Aires, the largest city in South America.
Onwards for more than two centuries the history or the River Plate bristles with Indian risings, struggles to repel the Portuguese forces of Brazil, and internal quarrels. Throughout this period the ties between Spain and this portion of her colonial possessions were getting weaker; they had never been very strong, for the mother country had always been inclined to set very little value on the prairie-lands of South America. By the beginning of the nineteenth century Buenos Aires had become the heart of a new nation, and on May 25, 1810, that nation freed itself entirely from the Spanish yoke. But now Argentina had to fight for her life with several neighbours, for Cordoba, Uruguay, Paraguay, and the powerful viceroyalty of Peru challenged her right to freedom. At this critical hour San Martin came to the assistance of his country, and by his deeds of valour made himself famous for all time as the great national hero of Argentina. By 1820 San Martin had established the independence of Argentina beyond dispute.
Until very recent years the outlook for Argentina was anything but promising; indeed, it seemed that the country was getting perilously near to bankruptcy. Then came the turn of the tide. An era of prosperity set in, and good-fortune showed the grit in the character of the people. Wealth and sunny prospects were put to good use for national benefit; railways and other means of communication were built on a large scale, prize livestock were imported for breeding purposes, a well-organized and attractive system of immigration was established, grain elevators and factories were erected, Buenos Aires was transformed into a second Paris—in a word, surprisingly rapid developments bore witness to the national ideal of progress. The nation has gone on growing and thriving. Of course, there are good years and bad years, commercially speaking, in this agricultural land; the bad years, however, do not bring poverty, but only so much less wealth. The grain, livestock, and frozen-meat industries of Argentina have now been developed to an extent which offers an excellent security for the future of the country; further, that security is strengthened by many other well-established industries and by wide possibilities for new enterprises.
A weekly service, outward bound and homeward bound, between England, Brazil, and the Argentine is provided by the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. We happen to make the voyage from Rio to Buenos Aires on the latest addition to the Company's magnificent South American mail fleet. Life on board the liner is a foretaste of the luxurious atmosphere of the Argentine capital.
Buenos Aires has attained the fame of being placed second among the Latin cities of the world. It has a cosmopolitan rather than an individual character. Here we find all the practical equipment and pleasure-giving facilities of a busy and fashionable European capital—palatial public buildings, gorgeous shops, big offices, wide and well-paved streets, electric cars and tubes, theatres, etc.; and, stamping the metropolis as unique among South American cities, here a wide choice of accommodation is provided by many excellent hotels.
The broad Avenida de Mayo, stretching from the Plaza de Mayo to the Congress Hall and flanked throughout its extent by imposing buildings, is the main thoroughfare of Buenos Aires. The Calle Florida is the "Bond Street" of the city; the Avenida Alvear, its "Rotten Row," leads to the Palermo Park, where fashionable society drives in the smartest of motors and carriages amongst ideally beautiful surroundings.