Argentina’s first steps to independence

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Primera Junta, Argentina’s first independent government — Wikimedia Commons

In the lower part of South America, Argentina celebrates its National Day every 25th of May. More known as the May Revolution Day, or “Dia de la Revolución de Mayo”, this public holiday commemorates an important moment in the history of the Argentine Republic — when the country kicked off its long transition from a Spanish colony to an independent state.

From their arrival in the 1500s, the Spanish took hold of the area that is now known as Argentina under the Viceroyalty of Peru in 1543, and eventually the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata in 1776. Aside from Argentina, the viceroyalty also included Uruguay, Boliva, and part of Brazil. Buenos Aires served as its capital.

In a discussion on the May Revolution found in premier educational site, Christopher Minster, a professor in Ecuador specializing in Latin American literature and history, recognized that the region became a much-valued territory by the Spanish at that time. These lands “had been steadily growing in importance for the Spanish crown, mostly because of revenues from the lucrative ranching and leather industry in the Argentine pampas.” The colony’s wealth “had made it a target for British expansion.”

Since the British eyed the region, they launched an attack on Buenos Aires in 1806. The attack caused then Spanish viceroy Rafael de Sobremonte to flee the city, leaving the British — under Admiral Sir Home Popham and General William Carr Beresford — capturing Buenos Aires victoriously.

It was at this time that an independence movement began to rise in Argentina.

The following year, an Argentine militia force led by French captain Santiago de Liniers halted the British occupation of the viceroyalty by repelling a renewed attack by the British under General John Whitelocke. Liniers soon became Rio de la Plata’s interim viceroy.

Then came 1808, when Spain was invaded by the forces of French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Charles IV, then King of Spain, “was forced to abdicate in favor of his son Ferdinand VII”, while Ferdinand was taken as prisoner in a luxurious confinement in central France for seven years. Napoleon, on the other hand, appointed his brother Joseph to rule Spain.

“Spain desperately tried to keep news of this disaster from reaching its colonies,” Mr. Minster continued. However, the rumors of a French invasion “had been circulating for some time, and several prominent citizens were calling for an independent council to run Buenos Aires while things got sorted out in Spain.”

Soon, the rumors were confirmed, causing an uproar in Buenos Aires days after. This unfolding of events ushered in the week-long May Revolution.

Spanish Viceroy’s Baltasar Hidalgo de Cisneros tried to keep the status quo, “but on May 18, a group of citizens came to him demanding a town council. Cisneros tried to stall, but the city leaders would not be denied.”

Cisneros held the meeting on May 22. Two days after, a provisional ruling junta was created, with viceroy Cisneros, lawyer Juan José Castelli, and commander Cornelio Saavedra holding office.

Commander Cornelio Saavedra — Wikimedia Commons

Yet, the next day, May 25, “the citizens of Buenos Aires did not want former Viceroy Cisneros to continue in any capacity in the new government.” Therefore, a new junta was formed, the Primera Junta, Argentina’s first independent government led by Commander Saavedra as president.

While the May Revolution initiated Argentina’s move to being an independent state, independence was not fully met until a congress in Tucumán proclaimed the independence of the United Provinces of the Río de La Plata on July 9, 1816. At present, July 9 is observed as Argentina’s Independence Day.

While the National Day is observed all over Argentina, the main center of the celebrations is right in Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires. At the heart of the city, hundreds of people flock to Plaza de Mayo — the large town square named after the May Revolution.

Notably, several gatherings take place, such as marches, concerts, public rallies, and meetings. Events usually start around noon until late in the evening, with speeches by government officials being one of the highlights of the celebration.

In addition, special services are held at churches, while plays are being staged at the Teatro Colón, the capital’s main opera house. And, like other celebrations, feasts of traditional Argentine cuisine fittingly complete the festivities. — Adrian Paul B. Conoza