Buenos Aires was established on the banks of the Río de la Plata (Platte River), which translates to "River of Silver." It was given this optimistic name by early explorers and settlers, who had gotten some silver trinkets from local Indians. The river didn't produce much in the way of silver, and settlers didn't find the true vale of the river until much later. In the eighteenth century, cattle ranching in the vast grasslands around Buenos Aires became very lucrative and millions of treated leather hides were sent to Europe, where they became leather armor, shoes, clothing and a variety of other products. This economic boom led to the establishment in 1776 of the Viceroyalty of the River Platte, based in Buenos Aires.
Using the alliance between Spain and Napoleonic France as an excuse, Britain attacked Buenos Aires twice in 1807-1807, attempting to further weaken Spain while at the same time gaining valuable New World colonies to replace the ones it had so recently lost in the American Revolution. The first attack, led by Colonel William Carr Beresford, succeeded in capturing Buenos Aires, although Spanish forces out of Montevideo were able to re-take it about two months later. A second British force arrived in 1807 under the command of Lieutenant General John Whitelocke. The British took Montevideo, but were unable to capture Buenos Aires, which was ably defended by urban guerilla militants. The British were forced to retreat.One of the most important cities in South America, Buenos Aires has a long and interesting history. It has lived under the shadow of secret police on more than one occasion, has been attacked by foreign powers and has the unfortunate distinction of being one of the only cities in history to be bombed by its own navy. It has been home to ruthless dictators, bright-eyed idealists and some of the most important writers and artists in the history of Latin America.
Juan Perón and his famous wife Evita came to power in the early 1940's, and he reached the presidency in 1946. Perón was a very strong leader, blurring the lines between elected president and dictator. Unlike many strongmen, however, Perón was a liberal who strengthened unions (but kept them under control) and improved education. The working class adored him and Evita, who opened schools and clinics and gave state money away to the poor. Even after he was deposed in 1955 and forced into exile, he remained a very powerful force in Argentine politics. He even triumphantly returned to stand for the 1973 elections, which he won, although he died of a heart attack after about a year in power.
In 1999, a combination of factors including a falsely inflated exchange rate between the Argentine Peso and the US dollar led to a serious recession and people began losing faith in the peso and in Argentine banks. In late 2001 there was a run on the banks and in December 2001 the economy collapsed. Angry protestors in the streets of Buenos Aires forced President Fernando de la Rúa to flee the presidential palace in a helicopter. For a while, unemployment reached as high as 25%. The economy eventually stabilized, but not before many businesses and citizens went bankrupt.