Our South American Neighbors - G. Southworth

Buenos Aires and Argentina

Although South America is called "The Country of Tomorrow," "The Land of Promise" and "The America of the Future," on this great continent there is one republic at least which belongs to " The Land of the Present." This is Argentina, South America's most ambitious and most progressive daughter. The figures which tell of her steadily increasing agricultural products, commerce and population have each year climbed higher and higher.

Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires, is the largest city on the South American continent, in fact, the largest city of the entire southern hemisphere. Not only is its population already about 1,700,000, but every year the city is increasing at a very rapid rate.

[Illustration] from Our South American Neighbors by G. Southworth


The city was founded by a Spaniard in 1535, receiving the Spanish name which means "Good Airs," and Buenos Aires deserves its name, for its air is clear and keen, the pleasant climate of this part of Argentina being similar to that of California.

Buenos Aires has known various fortunes. Soon after it was founded, Indians captured it, and after the fashion of Indians, burned it to the ground. But again the Spanish gained possession of it and rebuilt the small city. Then in 1806 the English captured it, holding it for only a short time. Though on May 25, 1810, the people of Argentina declared their independence of Spain, their constitution was not finally adopted until forty years later. Buenos Aires was made the capital of the new republic, and became the residence of the Argentina President and Congress, just as Washington is the home of our President and Congress.

The Spanish origin of the Capital City is very much in evidence in her large Spanish population. The language of the people, the signs over the stores, the newspapers and periodicals, are, for the most part, Spanish. In fact, Buenos Aires is by far the largest Spanish-speaking city of the world. Madrid, the capital and largest city of Spain itself, is only half as large as Spanish Buenos Aires.

But the Argentine capital is riot wholly Spanish. Like the entire nation, it is very cosmopolitan. It is said that little more than one-half of the people of Buenos Aires were born in South America, that is, are natives of Argentina itself.

Next to the Spaniards, Italians are most numerous in the city's population. They, like the people from Spain, come to South America because here they can find plenty of work and good pay. Once arrived, all sorts of occupations are open to them and according to their ability they become masons, builders, mechanics, noisy peddlers of vegetables, soup or fish, bootblacks, grocers, traders and sometimes bankers.

However, the large banks—and they are very numerous in rich Buenos Aires—are managed and controlled by the English. Also the largest and finest stores are owned not by Italians or Spaniards but Germans.

[Illustration] from Our South American Neighbors by G. Southworth


In Buenos Aires, as we may know from its fine appearance, the richest people of Argentina live. Many are owners of vast estates or ranches in the country. Though they make their homes in the city, these owners visit their estates regularly. So vast are the great Argentine estates that the land is not counted by acres but by square miles, and the flocks and herds not by hundreds but by thousands.

In the settlement of our own great west, the land allotted to any one settler was comparatively small. No one man owned enough to give him power over miles and miles and large numbers of people. But the owner of an Argentine estate is really the head of an enormous meat and grain producing region and rules over a small army of laborers, managers and bookkeepers. These vast estates are to Argentina what the manufacturing plants are to England.

To understand the products of the estates as well as the rest of Argentina, one must first know the climate of the country. Argentina is a sort of three-cornered, wedge-shaped piece of land occupying almost the whole great southern point of three-cornered South America.

Chile—that long, narrow strip of land to the west—deprives Argentina of a Pacific coast. However, it has that which is far more important, a long Atlantic coast. To the west, too, is a long, high range of mountains—the Andes—while to the east the land dips gently toward the sea.

The climate of South America is just the reverse from that of North America, that is, in the southern part, South America is very cold, while the northern part is very warm, even very hot. This is, of course, due to the opposite position of the two continents in regard to the Equator.

Across the southern part of Argentina, then, writes "Cold." This part of the country, known as Patagonia, is as far from the Equator as Winnipeg, Canada. Here neither agriculture nor stock-raising is important for everything is more or less bleak and bare. Blinding sand storms are common, storms in which the wind hurls the sand about with such violence that it is necessary to crawl into holes or some such convenient shelter in the desert and cover oneself with blankets until the blizzard has passed. There are few people in Patagonia.

[Illustration] from Our South American Neighbors by G. Southworth


Across the central part of Argentina write the word "Temperate." This section contains the great prairies of Argentina, the famous pampas. Pampas is the word used in Argentina for prairies or plains. Here millions of cattle, sheep and horses are pastured, for herding is the chief industry. The republic has more sheep than any other country in the world and is surpassed by few in the number of cattle.

[Illustration] from Our South American Neighbors by G. Southworth


These animals are looked after and cared for by dashing and daring gauchos, men who are very similar to our fearless western cowboys. The methods of the Argentine pampas correspond to those used on our own great plains. This means much branding and lassoing. Each owner has his own brand which is stamped on all his horses and cattle with red-hot irons. Whenever the gauchos wish to catch an animal, they do so by skillful rope-throwing called lassoing. Can you not see these galloping, fearless Spanish cowboys dashing after their great herds?

[Illustration] from Our South American Neighbors by G. Southworth


In regard to the products which these herds furnish for export, let us list the three different kinds of animals. Of course the cattle are raised for beef, which is greatly needed by foreign countries, particularly Great Britain.

Horses are very numerous in Argentina. The horses raised naturally serve many purposes, one of which is a trade in horsehides. The fresh hides are stretched across stakes to dry in the sun, and seem from a distance to make many long, low-lying tents.

Their fleecy wool is the chief reason for sheep-raising. The sheep shearing requires thousands of hands for there are tens of millions of sheep in Argentina. These useful animals also supply great quantities of tallow and mutton.

The northern part of Argentina must be labeled with the long word "Semi-Tropical." This section has the most luxurious vegetation. Here are great forests of tropical trees such as palm trees and orange and lemon trees, as well as vast vineyards. Here also are large sugar plantations where gangs of men and women are employed each year to cut the cane. After the cutting, the cane stalks are loaded on heavy oxcarts and hauled to factories where the juice from the cane is squeezed out by means of great steel rollers. The juice is then boiled down and becomes sugar.

Although the vegetation in this semi-tropical northern part is the most luxuriant in all Argentina, it is really the north central section which yields the country's most famous crop, namely, wheat. You remember the Parana river cuts down across the northeastern part of the republic. Extending a hundred miles on each side of this river, lying in what is known as the Parana basin, are the most fertile and productive wheat lands in the world. One can hardly imagine the vastness of these fields—fields, or plains rather, which are covered as far as the eye can see with billowy waves of golden grain.

[Illustration] from Our South American Neighbors by G. Southworth


These wheat lands altogether are so large that if they could be put into one great continuous area, they would make an unbroken wheat field five times the size of New York state.

In good seasons the wheat farms are very busy, some engaging many hundred workmen. After the crop is harvested, the grain is carried to the nearest railroad center in what seems to us very strange, picturesque wagons. They are great, substantial, two-wheeled carts having sort of clumsy arched covers. The arched covers are made of reeds over which skins are fastened to keep the rain off the wheat.

[Illustration] from Our South American Neighbors by G. Southworth


Although these wagons look very primitive, they are just fitted to the purpose of the Argentine farmer. Some carts will hold several tons, so much, indeed, that. teams of ten or twelve oxen are often hitched to one cart. The driver guides the oxen by means of a pole and much loud shouting. Slowly and with a great deal of creaking the carts move over the great plains carrying the wheat to shipping points.

Argentina covers a greater area than all of our states east of the Mississippi and yet, despite its superior size, its population is not as great as that of our one state, New York. Because of this comparatively small population, much wheat, that is, a very large proportion of the total crop, can be exported. About three-fourths of the annual yield is sent to European countries. This Argentine wheat competes very strongly with our United States wheat in the markets of Europe, and, as a result, we receive much lower prices than we otherwise would.

Our farmers might indeed have to stop exporting wheat did not Argentina suffer two handicaps, drought and a particular kind of pest known as locusts. One thing is about as bad as the other. Sometimes in good seasons, when there has been plenty of rain and the wheat is about ready to be harvested, great swarms of locusts in veritable millions will fly down over Argentina and actually eat up a wheat field in a single night.

These pests come from that great unclaimed wild tract of land in Paraguay called the Gran Chaco. Many people say that Argentina will never be rid of them until the Gran Chaco itself is reclaimed and made sanitary. However, Argentina is to-day doing much with the help of government inspectors and scientists to rid the land of locusts.

Soon after the harvest, which is along in January and February, in the middle you see of our winter, the railroad tracks are crowded with train loads of grain. Sometimes even the passenger trains are held back to let the wheat cars go by, thus giving freight—for this is very important freight—the right of way.

Though Santa Fe and Rosario are also wheat centers, by far the greatest shipments are exported through the country's chief commercial port, Buenos Aires.

Arriving at Buenos Aires, the wheat is transferred from the cars into warehouses of gray galvanized iron situated along the quays of the harbor.

In front of each warehouse is a long chute, or trough, made of wood or iron, extending down to the water. These troughs are in sections so that they can be shortened or lengthened at will. When connected they make a continuous chute running from the warehouse right into the hold of a steamer. Down over these slanting chutes the wheat bags fairly fly.

Another of Argentina's most important and typical exports is beef. In Buenos Aires there are great factories for freezing meat. This process is necessary so that on the long journey to foreign countries the meat will not spoil. Instead of ice, various chemicals are used for the freezing, because these chemicals have even greater freezing power than has ice. From the great refrigerator meat houses the frozen beef and mutton and lamb are shipped in huge ice-packed steamers.

Buenos Aires is connected with the Atlantic Ocean by means of the Plata river. Formed by the Parana and Paraguay rivers, the Plata is in reality a bay, or wide mouth. Being very deep, it makes an excellent harbor for Buenos Aires despite the fact that the city is, strictly speaking, a river port two hundred miles inland.

The only important actual ocean port in Argentina is Bahia Blanca, several miles south of Buenos Aires on the Atlantic.

When one considers that Argentina is the first country in the world in the export of frozen meat, one of the world's leading countries in the shipment of wool and the growing of wheat, it is easy to believe that the exports of Argentina exceed the value of her imports. The great majority of the imports enter the republic through Buenos Aires. Thus the gateway of the capital city swings not only out but in. These imports are cotton goods, certain foodstuffs, clothing, many different iron manufactures such as agricultural implements, machinery for factory use and all kinds of cars and engines for locomotion, oil of all kinds, and coal, an essential which Argentina lacks almost entirely.

The approach to Buenos Aires by way of the Plata tells the visitor at once that the capital city is the splendid port of a great grain-growing and stock-raising country. Immense lengths of docks lined with government storehouses, grain elevators, cattle pens, cold-storage plants, railroad freight terminals, and thousands of freight cars from the many thousand miles of railroad that cover the republic, meet the eye in one long busy panorama.

The progressive city is entitled to its proud position as a political and commercial capital of a prosperous republic.

An interesting comparison has been made between Buenos Aires and a few of our leading cities. This comparison reveals the South American metropolis to us in a new light. "Buenos Aires exports more wheat and chilled meat than New York; publishes more statistics and educational works than Boston; receives and distributes more emigrants than Chicago; has the largest and handsomest opera house in the world; and has a death rate lower than any big city in the United States."

[Illustration] from Our South American Neighbors by G. Southworth


Besides all this, Argentina's capital resembles in certain other points some of the most noted cities in the world. For instance, Paris is recalled to the tourist in Buenos Aires, not only by dozens of splendid streets, but by the park of Palermo, which is the Bois de Boulogne of the South American capital. Here are the same beautiful drives, hundreds of elegant motor cars, the same well-dressed and cultured people, all this plus something of which Paris cannot boast—a double row of big palms on each side of each drive.

In its busy hustle and push, Buenos Aires reminds one of New York or Chicago. In fact, the Argentine capital has been called a cross between Paris and New York, having the gayety and pleasure-loving aspect of the one, and the business rush and luxury of the other. In its immaculate and substantial appearance, Buenos Aires reminds one of Berlin. But in its remarkable growth and development, there is no city of which it can remind one because, in these lines, Buenos Aires has no equal.

In her wealth and prosperity the capital city spells, as does all South America, "Opportunity"; and as more people realize this fact, the greater will be the glory of Argentina and its splendid capital, Buenos Aires.

Questions for Review and Study

  1. What is Argentina's capital called and how does it rank in size among the cities of South America?
  2. Tell the story of its early founding and days.
  3. Describe the population of Buenos Aires.
  4. What attracts foreigners to the capital city?
  5. Give a word picture of an Argentine estate.
  6. What is the climate of the southern part of Argentina; of the central part; of the northern section°?
  7. Tell of the population, occupation and products of each division.
  8. How does the area of Argentina compare with that of the United States?
  9. Name the two great handicaps to wheat growing in Argentina.
  10. Mention another leading export from Argentina and tell bow it is treated before being shipped.
  11. What does Argentina import?
  12. Describe Buenos Aires and tell what its name means.