Río de la Plata

views updated May 23 2018

Río de la Plata

Río de la Plata (River Plate). Not properly a "river," the estuary of the Paraná and Uruguay rivers has been thus named since early discovery times. The Paraná, which in the Charrúa language means "like the sea," was first sailed in 1516 by Juan Díaz de Solís, who believed it was a passage to a western ocean leading to the Indies. Spaniards and Portuguese called the estuary Mar Dulce; later on, as the legend of the King of the Mountains of Silver (plata) evolved, the estuary was commonly referred to as Río de la Plata.

The two major river systems that empty into the estuary have a total drainage basin of more than 1.5 million square miles, which comprises 100 percent of Paraguay, 80 percent of Uruguay, 32 percent of Argentina, 19 percent of Bolivia, and 17 percent of Brazil. The estuary starts out at a width of 25 miles and upon entering the Atlantic Ocean widens to 138 miles. Its depth lies between 10 and 13 feet, which makes dredging a necessity for safe navigation. While the northern shore is relatively steep, reaching 150 feet of elevation in some places, the southern shore is rather flat and partly made up of riverine swamps. The saltwater estuary is home to the small La Plata dolphin, known as La Franciscana in Spanish and the Cachimbo in Portuguese. Overfishing, pollution, and invasive exotic species threaten the health of the aquatic communities and habitats in this important river basin.

Since its discovery and early colonization, the Río de la Plata has been a place of converging territorial interests. While initially the estuary was considered a point of entry for Spanish conquerors into the continent's interior, the strife between Asunción and Buenos Aires for primacy in the region divided the Spanish power. The Portuguese profited from the disunion and attempted to establish a foothold in the region by founding the enclave of Colônia do Sacramento in 1680. In response to this invasion, the Spanish crown decided not only to evict the Portuguese forcibly but also to build a military-civil base in Montevideo (1724). Even when the entire northern shore of the estuary was recognized as Spanish territory in the Treaty of San Ildefonso (1777), the intentions of the British to establish an outpost in the Río de la Plata led to unsuccessful sieges of Buenos Aires in 1806 and 1807 and to the temporary seizure of Montevideo by the British in 1807. At the time of independence, the growing nationalistic feelings of the Montevideans led to separation from Buenos Aires and the creation of an autonomous province in 1814. Brazilians made use of the temporary split to invade Uruguay and stayed there until 1828, when they were dislodged by Uruguayan and Argentine militias.

See alsoColonialism .


Horacio Difrieri, El virreynato del Río de la Plata: Ensayo de geografía histórica (Buenos Aires, 1980).

Additional Bibliography

Biswas, Asit K. Management of Latin American River Basins Amazon, Plata, and São Francisco. Tokyo: United Nations University Press, 1998.

Kroeber, Clifton B. The Growth of the Shipping Industry in the Río de la Plata Region, 1794–1860. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1957.

Rela, Walter. España en el Río de la Plata: Descubrimiento y poblamientos, 1516–1588. Montevideo: Club Español, 2001.

Whigham, Thomas. The Politics of River Trade: Tradition and Development in the Upper Plata, 1780–1870. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1991.

                                     CÉsar N. Caviedes

Río De La Plata

views updated May 29 2018

Río De La Plata

Increasing exports of hides and dried beef from the Río De La Plata after 1770 required large quantities of salt. Shipments of those commodities, first from the Banda Oriental and later from Buenos Aires, relied mainly on salt carried overland from the Salinas Grandes (large salt flats), located approximately 240 miles southwest of Buenos Aires, in the unsettled Pampas. Large escorted caravans (tropas), consisting of hundreds of carts drawn by thousands of oxen, made annual trips to the salinas to obtain sufficient supplies of salt for the hide processors and frigoríficos (packing houses) of Buenos Aires. The cabildo of Buenos Aires organized this trade, reserving for itself the exclusive right to market the salt brought back.

Pampas peoples extracted tariffs from the tropas. The many different caciques demanded constant negotiations and repeated payments in aguardiente, tobacco, yerba maté, bread, and meat. By 1809, in an effort to alleviate recurrent shortages and inconvenient negotiations, many in Buenos Aires called for agreements with the Pehuenche and Ranquele Indians to mine salt and supply the city's tropas. Periodic shortages of salt forced suppliers to turn to alternative sources, which included the Río Negro, the Bahía de San Julián, imports from La Rioja and Tucumán, and occasional shipments from Cádiz. Despite the difficulties of bringing enough salt to Buenos Aires, the export of hides and beef continued to grow during the viceregal era and made the Río de la Plata an important region of Bourbon Spain's empire.

See alsoForeign Trade; Hides Industry; Spices and Herbs.


Alfredo J. Montoya, Historia de los saladeros argentinos (1956).

Pedro Andrés García, Viajes a Salinas Grandes (1969).

Jonathan C. Brown, A Socioeconomic History of Argentina (1979).

Additional Bibliography

Barsky, Osvaldo. Historia del capitalismo agrario pampeano. Buenos AirsL Siglo XXI Editores, 2003.

                                           Jeremy Stahl

Plata, Río de la

views updated May 11 2018

Plata, Río de la Estuary in se South America formed by the junction of the Paraná and Uruguay rivers at the border between Argentina and Uruguay. Europeans first explored the Río de la Plata in the early 16th century. The cities of Buenos Aires and Montevideo lie on its s and n shores respectively. It is 270km (170mi) long, and 190km (120mi) wide at its mouth. Area: c.35,000sq km (13,500sq mi).

La Plata, Rio de

views updated Jun 27 2018

La Plata, Rio de See Plata

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Rio de la Plata

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