Argentina is the second largest county in South America. Located in Southern South America, it borders the South Atlantic Ocean, between Chile and Uruguay. The climate is mostly temperate, with an arid region in southeast and subantarctic section in southwest. The rich plains of the Pampas are in the northern half of the country, a flat to rolling plateau of Patagonia in the south, and the rugged Andes run along the western border.
Europeans arrived in the region with the 1502 voyage of Amerigo Vespucci. Spanish navigator Juan Diaz de Solias visited what is now Argentina in 1516. Spain established a permanent colony on the site of Buenos Aires in 1580, although initial settlement was primarily overland from Peru. The Spanish further integrated Argentina into their empire by establishing the Vice Royalty of Rio de la Plata in 1776, and Buenos Aires became a flourishing port.
Argentines are a fusion of diverse national and ethnic groups, with descendants of Italian and Spanish immigrants predominant. Waves of immigrants from many European countries arrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Syrian, Lebanese, and other Middle Eastern immigrants number about 500,000, mainly in urban areas. Argentina has the largest Jewish population in Latin America, about 250,000 strong. In recent years, there has been a substantial influx of immigrants from neighboring Latin American countries. The indigenous population, estimated at 700,000, is concentrated in the provinces of the north, northwest, and south. The Argentine population has one of Latin America's lowest growth rates. Following independence from Spain in 1816, Argentina experienced periods of internal political conflict between conservatives and liberals and between civilian and military factions. After World War II, a long period of Peronist dictatorship was followed by a military junta that took power in 1976. Democracy returned in 1983, and numerous elections since then have underscored Argentina's progress in democratic consolidation.
CIA World Factbook; United States Dept. of State Background Notes, 1/2001