Tarija, a temperate, densely populated, subpuna valley in the southern Andean ranges of Bolivia as well as a city. The region was formerly in the Audiencia of Charcas. The "garden city" of Tarija—reminiscent of Seville—was founded in 1574 or 1575 by Luís de Fuentes and named after the first Spanish conqueror to enter the area, Francisco de Tarija. Tarija served as a fortress city against the violent Chiriguano Indians, whose territories bordered the valley and whose hostilities continually threatened the stability of the entire audiencia. As a defense zone, Tarija (and other similar settlements) prevented Chiriguano expansion, thus fostering economic growth in the Charcas highlands and valleys.
Apart from defense, Tarija functioned as an important agricultural and livestock supplier to the growing Potosí market, especially after the 1545 silver strike. Tarija became a livestock center soon after Hernando Pizarro established livestock activities there in 1547. The valley also produced maize, wheat, fruits, vegetables, wine, and preserves for the highlands. Tarija, like other areas, was also designated to supply mita (draft labor) for the Potosí mines, a considerable burden on local Indians, many of whom, terrified by Chiriguano raids, had fled the area.
Located on the trade route between Tucumán (itself a supplier to the highlands) and Potosí, Tarija was always economically oriented to the highlands. After independence in 1825, Tarija resisted incorporation into Argentina's administrative orbit. Yet, in the 1920s, Bolivia's national railway system excluded Tarija, leaving it to cope with an inadequate transport system to truck products to the highlands. The Chaco War further isolated the region, and the 1952 revolution in Bolivia failed to bring Tarija into the mainstream. Continued economic stagnation has prompted many tarijeños to migrate to Argentina as seasonal labor, particularly to the Jujuy, Salta, and Tucumán regions. In 2005 the population of Tarija department was estimated at 459,001, and Tarija city at 183,001. Today, the department of Tarija is the object of several government-sponsored development programs aimed at revitalizing this once-important region.
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Lolita GutiÉrrez Brockington