In the 20th century, Argentina experienced significant political turmoil and democratic reversals. Between 1930 and 1976, the armed forces overthrew six governments in Argentina; and the country alternated periods of democracy (1912–1930, 1946–1955, and 1973–1976) with periods of restricted democracy and military rule. Following a transition that began in 1983, full-scale democracy in Argentina was reestablished. Argentina’s democracy endured through the 2001–02 crisis and to the present day; it is regarded as more robust than both its pre-1983 predecessors and other democracies in Latin America.
Argentina is a federal constitutional republic and representative democracy. The government is regulated by a system of checks and balances defined by the Constitution of Argentina, the country’s supreme legal document. The seat of government is the city of Buenos Aires, as designated by Congress. Suffrage is universal, equal, secret, and mandatory.
The federal government is composed of three branches:
The Legislative branch consists of the bicameral Congress, made up of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. The Congress makes federal law, declares war, approves treaties, and has the power of the purse and of impeachment, by which it can remove sitting members of the government. The Chamber of Deputies represents the people and has 257 voting members elected to a four-year term. Seats are apportioned among the provinces by population every tenth year. As of 2014 ten provinces have just five deputies while the Buenos Aires Province, being the most populous one, has 70. The Chamber of Senators represents the provinces, has 72 members elected at-large to six-year terms, with each province having three seats; one-third of Senate seats are up for election every other year. At least one-third of the candidates presented by the parties must be women.
In the Executive branch, the President is the commander-in-chief of the military, can veto legislative bills before they become law—subject to Congressional override—and appoints the members of the Cabinet and other officers, who administer and enforce federal laws and policies. The President is elected directly by the vote of the people, serves a four-year term, and may be elected to the office no more than twice in a row.
The Judicial branch includes the Supreme Court and lower federal courts interpret laws and overturn those they find unconstitutional. The Judicial is independent of the Executive and the Legislative. The Supreme Court has seven members appointed by the President—subject to Senate approval—who serve for life. The lower courts’ judges are proposed by the Council of Magistracy (a secretariat composed of representatives of judges, lawyers, researchers, the Executive, and the Legislative), and appointed by the President on Senate approval.
Argentina is a federation of twenty-three provinces and one autonomous city, Buenos Aires. Provinces are divided for administration purposes into departments and municipalities, except for Buenos Aires Province, which is divided into partidos. The City of Buenos Aires is divided into communes.
Provinces hold all the power that they chose not to delegate to the federal government; they must be representative republics and must not contradict the Constitution. Beyond this they are fully autonomous: they enact their own constitutions, freely organize their local governments, and own and manage their natural and financial resources. Some provinces have bicameral legislatures, while others have unicameral ones.
During the War of Independence, the main cities and their surrounding countrysides became provinces though the intervention of their cabildos. The Anarchy of the Year XX completed this process, shaping the original thirteen provinces. Jujuy seceded from Salta in 1834, and the thirteen provinces became fourteen. After seceding for a decade, Buenos Aires accepted the 1853 Constitution of Argentina in 1861 and was made a federal territory in 1880.
An 1862 law designated as national territories those under federal control but outside the frontiers of the provinces. In 1884 they served as bases for the establishment of the governorates of Misiones, Formosa, Chaco, La Pampa, Neuquén, Río Negro, Chubut, Santa Cruz and Tierra del Fuego. The agreement about a frontier dispute with Chile in 1900 created the National Territory of Los Andes; its lands were incorporated into Jujuy, Salta, and Catamarca in 1943. La Pampa and Chaco became provinces in 1951. Misiones did so in 1953, and Formosa, Neuquén, Río Negro, Chubut and Santa Cruz, in 1955. The last national territory, Tierra del Fuego, became the Tierra del Fuego, Antártida e Islas del Atlántico Sur Province in 1990. It has three components, although two are nominal because they are not under Argentine sovereignty. The first is the Argentine part of Tierra del Fuego; the second is an area of Antarctica claimed by Argentina that overlaps with similar areas claimed by the UK and Chile; the third comprises the two disputed British Overseas Territories of the Falkland Islands and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.
Foreign policy is handled by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Trade, and Worship, which answers to the President.
The country is one of the G-15 and G-20 major economies of the world, and a founding member of the UN, WBG, WTO, and OAS. In 2012 Argentina was elected again to a two-year non-permanent position on the United Nations Security Council and is participating in major peacekeeping operations in Haiti, Cyprus, Western Sahara, and the Middle East. Argentina is described as a middle power.
A prominent Latin American and Southern Cone regional power, Argentina co-founded OEI and CELAC. It is also a founding member of the Mercosur block, having Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela as partners. Since 2002 the country has emphasized its key role in Latin American integration, and the block—which has some supranational legislative functions—is its first international priority.
Argentina claims 965,597 km2 (372,819 sq mi) in Antarctica, where it has the world’s oldest continuous state presence, since 1904. This overlaps claims by Chile and the United Kingdom, though all such claims fall under the provisions of the 1961 Antarctic Treaty, of which Argentina is a founding signatory and permanent consulting member, with the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat being based in Buenos Aires.
Argentina disputes sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Spanish: Islas Malvinas), and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, which are administered by the United Kingdom as Overseas Territories.
The President holds the title of commander-in-chief of the Argentine Armed Forces, as part of a legal framework that imposes a strict separation between national defense and internal security systems:
The National Defense System, an exclusive responsibility of the federal government, coordinated by the Ministry of Defense, and comprising the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force. Ruled and monitored by Congress through the Houses’ Defense Committees, it is organized on the essential principle of legitimate self-defense: the repelling of any external military aggression in order to guarantee freedom of the people, national sovereignty, and territorial integrity. Its secondary missions include committing to multinational operations within the framework of the United Nations, participating in internal support missions, assisting friendly countries, and establishing a sub-regional defense system.
Military service is voluntary, with enlistment age between 18 and 24 years old and no conscription. Argentina’s defense has historically been one of the best equipped in the region, even managing its own weapon research facilities, shipyards, ordnance, tank, and plane factories. However, real military expenditures declined steadily after 1981 and the defense budget in 2011 was about 0.74% of GDP, a historical minimum, below the Latin American average. Within the defense budget itself, funding for training and even basic maintenance has been significantly cut, a factor contributing to the accidental loss of the Argentine submarine San Juan in 2017. With the United Kingdom also actively acting to restrict even modest Argentinian military modernization efforts, the result has been a steady erosion of Argentine military capabilities, with some arguing that Argentina had, by the end of the 2010s, ceased to be a capable military power.
The Interior Security System, jointly administered by the federal and subscribing provincial governments. At the federal level, it is coordinated by the Interior, Security, and Justice ministries, and monitored by Congress. It is enforced by the Federal Police; the Prefecture, which fulfills coast guard duties; the Gendarmerie, which serves border guard tasks; and the Airport Security Police. At the provincial level, it is coordinated by the respective internal security ministries and enforced by local police agencies.
Argentina was the only South American country to send warships and cargo planes in 1991 to the Gulf War under UN mandate and has remained involved in peacekeeping efforts in multiple locations like UNPROFOR in Croatia/Bosnia, Gulf of Fonseca, UNFICYP in Cyprus (where among Army and Marines troops the Air Force provided the UN Air contingent since 1994) and MINUSTAH in Haiti. Argentina is the only Latin American country to maintain troops in Kosovo during SFOR (and later EUFOR) operations where combat engineers of the Argentine Armed Forces are embedded in an Italian brigade.
In 2007, an Argentine contingent including helicopters, boats, and water purification plants was sent to help Bolivia against their worst floods in decades. In 2010 the Armed Forces were also involved in Haiti and Chile humanitarian responses after their respective earthquakes.