European immigration: The owners of Argentinian Ranches
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European immigration: The owners of the Argentinian campo / Ranches
Argentina has been populated almost entirely by European immigrants. Since colonisation, the South American country has received individuals and families from the Old World. During the last 500 years, Argentina has been a destination for merchants, businessmen, travellers, refugees, and government officials, mainly from Spain, Italy, France, Poland, and Germany.
Europeans and the Argentinian campo
While many Europeans arrived and settled directly in Buenos Aires, Rosario, Cordoba, or Santa Fe, many chose to settle on farms (better known as campo in Argentina). Thus, the rural areas of Buenos Aires, Santa Fe, Cordoba, and Entre Ríos were also populated by Spaniards, Italians, Germans, and French. At the time of the Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata, when the Argentine territory was under the control of the Kingdom of Spain, some families managed to position themselves extraordinarily, becoming the owners of phenomenal tracts of fertile land.
Independence and sale
Around 1810, the once all-powerful Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata was over, Argentina became a country, and thousands of hectares were available. The incipient Argentine State needed funds. In 1936, the government began to sell enormous tracts of land. Which families bought them?
Settled in the Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata since the mid-eighteenth century, this family had distinguished members, working as postal administrators and even a councillor of the Cabildo. The Álzaga family is considered one of Argentina’s most traditional landowning dynasties. When Buenos Aires started selling large land extensions in the 30s, this family acquired about 160,000 hectares.
Also long-standing in the Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata, dedicated mainly to trade in the beginning and to the acquisition of land and cattle ranches later, the Anchorena family acquired, at that moment, something around 75,000 hectares.
The origins of this family are in Navarra, Spain. The founder of the family, who moved to Buenos Aires in 1768, was Juan Esteban de Anchorena. By 1928, the Anchorena family already owned almost 400,000 hectares.
Eustoquio Díaz Velez, the main figure of this family, was born in Buenos Aires, at the time the capital of the Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata, in 1782. His parents, of Spanish and Argentinian origin, represented an important colonial family. This family group, when the largest tracts of land were put up for sale, acquired 67,000 hectares.
Other colonial dynasties that acquired large extensions of land at that moment were the Mckinlay, the Girados, the Cobo, Pereyra, Lastra, Bosch, the Ortiz Basualdo, and the Vivot.
The Otamendi, Torres Candia, and Alvear families were also part of these negotiations. They were made up of large tracts of land, which, in many cases, are still in the hands of the descendants of those who negotiated and acquired them. Another way these families extended their land possessions was through matrimonial alliances between families with a significant number of hectares. In this way, all the families mentioned above substantially increased their possessions.
Today, much of the Argentine campo continues under the control of the same families. These are what in Argentina is known as the traditional landowners.
Over the years, the Argentine campo’s ownership dynamics have not been significantly modified. Nowadays, about 50 family-business groups control a significant portion of the most productive land in Argentina.
During the last decades, some new families have joined this select club of the groups that control the most significant land extensions in the Province of Buenos Aires. One of them is the Bemberg family, famous for owning the Cervecería Quilmes – Argentina’s most popular beer producer. This family group, for example, claims to own around 60,000 hectares in the Province of Buenos Aires. Also, the Blaquier (owners of the sugar empire Ledesma), Lacroze de Fortabat, and Werthein have acquired enormous land extensions. These four families’ ownership adds up to 400,000 hectares.
Among the traditional families mentioned at the beginning of this article, it is worth noting the Gómez Álzaga case, which still has 60,000 hectares and the Anchorena family, 40,000 hectares. The Balcarce, Avellaneda, Pereyra Iraola, Pueyrredón, Bullrich, Ayerza, and Lanz families, among others, also continue to own large tracts of land.
In the Province of Buenos Aires, there are about 1300 owners who have more than 2500 hectares. 800 owners have up to 5000 acres. And, believe it or not, 53 owners have more than 20,000. Together, they represent the ownership of almost 9 million hectares, something like 32% of the total territory of Argentina’s biggest and most productive province. In summary, several families of European origin have been able to settle, in a privileged way, in their new land.
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