In This Review

A History of Argentina in the Twentieth Century
A History of Argentina in the Twentieth Century
By Luis Alberto Romero, translated by James P. Brennan
Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002, 368 pp

A fascinating and well-translated account of Argentina's misadventures over the last century by one of that country's brightest historians. Absorbing vast amounts of British capital and tens of thousands of European immigrants, Argentina began the century with great promise. In 1914, with half of its population still foreign, a dynamic society had emerged that was both open and mobile. But the country also became divided between new, modernizing urban sectors and highly traditionalist, often rural-based, old elites -- a split that retarded the development of an all-encompassing sense of nationality. Romero examines the frustrating 1930s, the rise and fall of Juan and Eva Perón, the bitter challenges from extremists on the left and on the right during the 1970s, the varied economic and military fiascos that undermined and discredited the military rulers, the return of democracy, and the economic and financial turmoil that accompanied the transition. Especially interesting is Romero's blunt account of Carlos Menem's presidency and the odd relationship that developed between the group of technocrats headed by the minister of the economy, Domingo Cavallo, and Menem's cronies. Corruption, Romero asserts, was "widely employed to wear down resistance and co-opt adversaries." This was, of course, the Argentina that was the great favorite of "emerging market" investors, was blessed by the International Monetary Fund, enjoyed what its then foreign minister described as a "carnal" relationship with the United States, and about which trade union leader Luis Barrionuevo observed, "Nobody makes money by working."