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. The South American country has received individuals and families from the Old World since the times of the colonization. During the last 500 years, Argentina has been a destination for merchants, businessmen, travelers, refugees, and government officials, coming mainly from Spain, Italy, France, Poland, and Germany.
Europeans and the Argentinian campo
While many Europeans arrived and settled directly in the cities of Buenos Aires, Rosario, Cordoba, or Santa Fe, many chose to settle on farms (better known as campo in Argentina). Thus, the rural areas of the provinces 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, there were some families that managed to position themselves in an extraordinary way, 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 councilor of the Cabildo. The Álzaga family is considered one of the most traditional landowning dynasties in Argentina. When Buenos Aires started selling large extensions of land in the 30s, this family acquired about 160,000 hectares.
Also of 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 and 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 managed to extend their land possessions was that of the matrimonial alliances between families that possessed a great 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 are known as the traditional landowners.
Over the years, the dynamics of ownership of the Argentine campo has not been significantly modified. Nowadays, there are about 50 family-business groups who 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 greatest extensions of land in the Province of Buenos Aires. One of them is the Bemberg family, famous for having owned the Cervecería Quilmes – the most popular beer producer in Argentina. 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 extensions of land. 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. There are 800 owners who have up to 5000 acres. And, believe it or not, there are 53 owners who have more than 20,000. Together, they represent the ownership of almost 9 million hectares, something like 32% of the total territory of the biggest and most productive province of Argentina. In summary, there are several families of European origin who have been able to settle, in a privileged way, in their new land.
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