History of Argentine nationality

History of Argentine nationality

Ideas and practices of nationality and citizenship in the Republic of Argentina (and before that, in the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata and the Inca Empire) have changed with distinct periods of its history, including but not limited to periods of indigenous, colonial, republican, and military rule. These periods, in which political rights were often denied to both citizens and non-citizens, encouraged the development of resistance movements. This history of resistance and fighting for political rights is deeply imbedded in the modern Argentine notion of citizenship.

Inca Nationality

The Inca Empire was a conglomeration of conquered ethnic groups - "etnías" - ruled by ethnic Inca from the Cuzco-Lake Titicaca Basin in what is now central Peru. They called their empire "Tiwantinsuyu," meaning "four corners." Modern northern and western Argentina was a part of Kollasuyu. D'Altroy, Terence N. "The Incas." Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2003 (87-88). ] The Inca elite imposed their own institutions on conquered territories, while at the same time incorporating local customs on a case-by-case basis. Because the Argentine portion of Kollasuyu was on the edge of the empire the communities there had even more local autonomy than elsewhere in the empire, but were still subject to Inca protection and duties through the mita system of reciprocity. At the same time, Inca statebuilding was based on the threat of violence. [ Morris, Craig. “Inka Strategies of Incorporation and Governance.” In Archaic States, ed. Gary m. Feinman and Joycee Marcus, pp293-309. School of American Research, Santa Fe, New Mexico. ] This interplay of threat and promise, combined with the ethnic diversity of the conquered groups, created an Inca citizenship that was not ethnic but territorial and administrative, and based on a reciprocal relationship of rights and duties. Though citizens were ultimately loyal to their particular "etnías" and communities (ayllus), the Inca Empire's formal structures were a clear and unifying presence, even at its edges.


The Inka state functioned through a complex system of labour extraction and tribute which consolidated their power over conquered regions. This tribute always took the form of people and their time, and was couched in kinship terms. Censuses were conducted using the quipu, and individual ethnic groups were assigned unique goods and public services to provide as their tax. In return, citizens received immediate rewards (like feasts), as well as the promise that their ayllus would be provided protection from enemies and food if, for example, their harvests failed. [ D'Altroy, 268/280. ]

Other Expressions of Inca Presence

* The spoken language of Quechua was the official spoken language of all governance (the Inca had no written language), and became a symbol of Inca presence through contact with officials and the renaming of local landmarks. [ D'Altroy, 47-48. ]
* Imperial, administrative titles were given to local officials and ethnic/ayllu leaders, thus incorporating them into the empire's broader, administrative structure. [ D'Altroy, 177. ]
* As mentioned, the Inca conducted detailed censuses using the quipu. Inclusion on the census made one, officially, an Inca subject. [ D'Altroy, 234-235. ]
* The Inca resettled conquered peoples for a variety of administrative reasons. Often, the moving of these "mitmaqkuna" settlers was purely an expression of power over newly conquered subjects. [ D'Altroy, 248. ]

Colonisation and the Viceroyalty

After being colonised by the Spanish, Argentina was made part of the Viceroyalty of Peru. In 1776 it became part of the new, and ultimately short-lived, Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata. Throughout Spanish America, citizenship was both a legal and a social status that was implicit rather than formal, and largely informed by one's racial and class background. As in the Inca Empire, the colonising power's concepts were combined with the unique dictates of the situation in the colony itself.


"Vecino", meaning "neighbour," was the blanket term for community member in Spain and colonial and independent Spanish America, and used as a synonym for citizen. The criterion for "vecindad" was never enumerated in legislation, but rather conceived of as a natural, general rule. [ Herzog, Tamar. "Defining Nations: Immigrants and Citizens in Early Modern Spain and Spanish America." New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2003, p. 7. ] It is a nuanced, personal status directly related to one's standing within the community. Shaped by the conditions in the colony, the term took on a broader meaning in the Americas than it had in Spain itself, where citizenship and nationality were not concerns for most, and where the racial makeup was more homogenous.


"Naturaleza," meaning "naturaleness" or "nativeness," was a second term for citizenship in Spain and Spanish America. It usually applied to "natives of the kingdoms of Spain," and was more closely linked to the Crown and subjecthood. [ Herzog, "Defining Nations," 8. ] Like "vecindad," "naturaleza" was never clearly defined in the law, and took on a broader meaning than in Spain itself.

The Casta System

The Casta system of racial classification was the foundation of social order, and thus rights, throughout Spanish America.
Peninsulares, Criollo (people)s, Indios, and the growing group of mixed-race inhabitants (usually mestizos) all had different citizenship rights. "Peninsulares" had the full rights and privileges of "naturaleza," and were the most esteemed in society and therefore were the ideal "vecinos." "Criollos" were the most common in Buenos Aires, and were "naturales" and "vecinos" too, though with an implicitly lower status. "Indios" and "mestizos" were, initially, excluded from citizenship status entirely. [ Herzog, "Defining Nations," 54. ]

Immigration and the Foreigner

The presence of non-Spanish Europeans in the Viceroyalties of Peru and Rio de La Plata was, officially, illegal. Though “insiders” and “outsiders” were not explicitly defined in the viceroyalties, Spanish law did differentiate between the two by granting privileges only to those considered members of the community. Because the concept of ‘community’ itself was poorly, if at all defined, non-members were deemed to be so on a case-by-case basis, based on community opinion and, where available, on precedent. In order to become a member of the community, an outsider usually needed to prove that he was born in the territory, and culturally Spanish (Spanish speaking and writing, Catholic, etc.). In this way Spanish America tended towards jus soli (right by birth place). Foreigners could apply to the "audiencia" for a license to remain in the viceroyalty, or they could apply to the Crown (through the Council of the Indies for naturalization. The former did not grant the foreigner any rights, while the latter "carta de naturaleza" granted most rights afforded to other members (with some exceptions, including the right to own and operate a business). Obtaining the "carta de naturaleza" was a lengthier process requiring more proof of cultural Spanishness, and usually a monetary payment to a Crown office or official. It was considered a personal grant, and therefore a personal relationship with a Crown official was invaluable. [ Herzog, Tamar. “’A Stranger in a Strange Land’: The Conversion of Foreigners into Members in Colonial Latin America,” in "Constructing collective identities and shaping public spheres: Latin American paths." Portland: Sussex Academic Press, 1998, pp.45-65. ]

Early Buenos Aires

Colonial Buenos Aires was a relatively small frontier settlement threatened by the indigenous and Portuguese presence in the area, which gave the city's residents an especially acute sense of their Spanishness. To this end, city officials only allowed "natives of the kingdoms of Spain" ("naturales") to become citizens. Only foreigners who could provide a useful service to the city and who were considered culturally Spanish were granted the status. These individuals were almost always of non-Spanish European ancestry, and where rarely (if ever) indigenous or African. [ Herzog, "Defining Nations," 49-50. ] In the 1610s, an oath for citizenship candidates was created that required them to possess a house and arms; however, the number of applicants dropped in subsequent years and the oath fell out of use. [ Herzog, "Defining Nations," 50. ]

Los Indios

By the eighteenth century, Indians were receiving citizenship statuses of their own. Initially classified as members of indigenous communities by birth, this status helped determine their labour (repartimiento) and taxation ("tributo") duties to the Crown. Still, the terms "vecino" and "naturaleza" were never officially applied. [ Herzog, "Defining Nations," 61. ]

Criollo versus Peninsular

The implicit valuing of "peninsulares" over "criollos" in Spanish America was a key point of contention in the debates over independence, particularly in the highly-literate city of Buenos Aires. Though they legally belonged to the same kingdom as "naturalezas", only "criollos" had been born in the Americas (as "vecinos"), and thus felt that they had a unique claim to the land, its administration, and the rights that would follow. [ Herzog, "Defining Nations," 148-149. ]

Independence and the New Republic

The Independence movement in Argentina was primarily "criollo" movement, and thus the citizenship laws made in its aftermath primarily affected the "criollo" population.( A notable exception: The Asamblea del Año XIII, or Assembly of 1813, precursed the official Argentine Declaration of Independence in July 1813, but is the republic's first attempt at a constitution. Though the delegates could not agree on many major points, Freedom of Wombs was declared, giving freedom and citizenship to slaves' children born within the territory. It also states that the Argentine Indians were ruled by the Pampas in the 1800s.)

Generation of 1830

Led by Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, Juan Bautista Alberdi, and Esteban Echeverria in response to the Rosas administration, the Generation of 1830 proposed a new, modern Argentina built on economic partnerships with Europe and European immigrants. Sarmiento’s “civilization or barbarism” and Alberdi’s “civil liberty for all, political liberty for a few” and "to rule is to populate" characterize the society they envisioned – one of order and progress, in which those qualified to run the state were men of European intellectual tradition. [ Spektorowski, Alberto. “Collective Identity and Democratic Construction: The Cases of Argentina and Uruguay,” in "Constructing collective identities and shaping public spheres: Latin American paths". Portland: Sussex Academic Press, 1998, pp. 103-122. ] This more elitist approach to governance effectively proposed two tiers of citizenship.

Exclusion in the “New Country”

No matter how close economic and cultural ties were (or were desired to be) with Europe, political discourse in the mid-nineteenth century up to Peronism after the Second World War made Europeans the counterpoint “other” to Argentine collective identity. Argentina was developing on the same economically liberal model as European powers (particularly Spain, Britain, and France), but improving on it. [ Waisman, Carlos H. “The Dynamics of National Identity Frames,” in "Constructing collective identities and shaping public spheres: Latin American paths". Portland: Sussex Academic Press, 1998, pp. 147-167. ]

Constitution of 1853

The Argentine Constitution of 1853, the new republic's first constitution, does not contain any explicit references to citizenship, though as a product of its framers liberal thought it is very universalist in spirit, speaking of broad, universal rights that apply to all men. This contrasts with the practice of "vecindad", which is by nature individual and nuanced.

Immigration in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries

"See also" Immigration to Argentina

The Constitution of 1853 did include a clause regarding immigration:

"The Federal Government shall foster European immigration; and may not restrict, limit or burden with any tax whatsoever, the entry into the Argentine territory of foreigners who arrive for the purpose of tilling the soil, improving industries, and introducing and teaching arts and sciences." [ Section 25, Constitution of the Argentine Nation, http://www.argentina.gov.ar/argentina/portal/documentos/constitucion_ingles.pdf.]
This clause reflects the Generation of 1830's immigration policies. European immigrants, particularly those from developed Northern European countries, were meant to have a civilizing and modernizing effect on Argentine society, and to forge a new Argentine identity based on hard work, merit, and economic progress.

Populating the Interior

Along with changing the demographic makeup of the country by increasing the number of Europeans, the immigration drives of the nineteenth and early twentieth century were meant to populate the Argentine interior which was, to this point, largely undeveloped.These two aims - Europeanization and population of the interior - combined in the Conquest of the Desert, where the remaining indigenous groups of the pampas, Andes valleys, and Patagonia were driven out or killed to make room for immigrant farmers. The indigenous were considered a problem, and not true Argentines in the new vision, and therefore had no citizenship rights in the first place.

Immigration Law

* ‘’Ley de Desembarco’’ (Law of Disembarkment) , 1872 – Containing the first legal definition of ‘immigrant,’ the law allowed inspection of ships to prevent the entry of those ill or otherwise unable to work. The bill did not pass the Committee on Legislation, but was reworked and included in an 1876 law after an outbreak of yellow fever on an immigrant ship spread throughout Buenos Aires. [ Castro, Donald S. The Development and Politics of Argentine Immigration Policy 1852-1914: To Govern Is To Populate. San Francisco: Mellen Research University Press, 1991: 80-81. ]
*"Ley de Residencia" (Law or Residence), 1902 - Legalised the expulsion of immigrants who "compromise national security or disturb public order."
*"Ley de Seguridad Social" (Law of Social Security), 1910 – This law provided for the expulsion of anarchists and persons convicted of capital crimes in Argentina. It also established for ship captains allowing passengers to violate the law. It represents a further backlash against the immigration population. [ Castro, 250-251.] Membership in the Argentine nation was still contingent on being useful to it.

Perón and a New Collective Identity

Juan Perón’s populist, participatory government encouraged a greater link between subject and state. His vision was inclusive and collective, based on the idea that all of Argentina needed to be involved in the project of national development. Ethnic, racial, or other national identities were made secondary to the new collective Argentine identity. He was the first to frame Argentine citizenship in terms of political rights, rather than community membership. [ Senkman, Leonardo. “The Transformation of Collective Identities: Immigrant Communities under the Populist Regimes Vargas and Peron,” in "Constructing collective identities and shaping public spheres: Latin American paths". Portland: Sussex Academic Press, 1998, pp. 123-145. ] .

Enfranchisement and Political Participation

Peron, with the influence of his wife Eva Peron (Evita), officially enfranchised women and involved the lower classes, particularly workers, in national politics for the first time. Through their social welfare programs, Peron and Evita became father and mother figures for the Argentine masses, building a collective national identity instead of a country of sovereign individuals. [ Taylor, Lucy. Citizenship, Participation and Democracy: Changing Dynamics in Chile and Argentina. New York: St Martin’s Press, 1998: 35.]

Building the Collective Identity

Peron built his new Argentine identity around its Hispanic and creole roots and the concept of the "Madre Patria" (motherland) to which one is always, and ultimately, loyal. Later, this Hispanic tradition was replaced by a Latin one in order to incorporate the large Italian immigrant community. Public holidays like the ‘’Día de la Raza’’ and new school textbooks glorified the conquest. He also encouraged immigrant and minority groups, especially Jews, to participate in public life through labour unions, officially recognized cultural associations and wings of political parties. [ Senkman, 123-145. ] .Peron's initially successful economic policy of Import substitution industrialization (ISI) also fostered national pride and a sense of independence.

Guerra Sucia and Military Rule

The military juntas and the Guerra Sucia which followed Peron were exceptionally repressive, and the systematic targeting of ordinary citizens created a climate of fear and silence that was the opposite of the mass political participation of the Peron era. Still, they too built their governments around concepts of Argentine identity. The juntas attacked Peronism as a threat to the true capitalist Argentine values, conceiving a more , individualist, and exclusive model of citizenship [ Taylor, 44. ] in which only the qualified had the right to rule, and all others must trust their decisions. The collective Argentine identity was replaced with a more individualist, favour-based model, where the citizen's role was in service of the state rather than vice versa [ Taylor, 35 & 45. ]

ocial Movements

Though freedom of expression was nonexistent under the juntas and dissent was a punishable offence, a strong social movement grew out of the military rule. Though each group had its own concerns, most used the rhetoric of citizenship to fight for a return of their political rights. These human rights groups were eventually joined by women's groups and trade unions in early 1982, beginning the return to democracy and civilian rule. [ Taylor, 50-51 ] By voicing their concerns in terms of citizenship rights, the dissent movement refashioned the model of the Argentine citizen into one of an active participator with high expectations, willing to make demands of his or her government.

Present Day

Present day Argentine citizenship law is derived, in the most part, from the National Constitution. Until recently, in 1994, the document did not contain any definition of citizenship and the related rights; instead, clauses were worded in terms of "residents" and "the people." The 'New Rights and Guarantees' section added in 1994 was a reaction to authoritarian rule, and clearly regulates Argentine political rights; however, the Constitution still does not contain a definition of citizenship itself.

Relevant sections of the Constitution

*Section 8:

"The citizens of each province shall be entitled to all rights, privileges, and immunities inherent in the condition of citizen in the other provinces..." Constitution of the Argentine Nation, http://www.argentina.gov.ar/argentina/portal/documentos/constitucion_ingles.pdf.]
In this way, Argentina's federal system uses a version of the principle of comity to uphold provinces' rights, while still maintaining that Argentine citizenship is a national, pan-provincial status.
*Section 14:
"All the inhabitants of the Nation have the following rights according to the laws that rule their enforcement; namely: to work and run any legal industry; sell and trade; demand authorities; get in, stay, traverse and go out of the Argentine territory; make ideas public through the press with no prior censorship; use and dictate about own real estate; entire into associations with meaningful purposes; practice religion freely; teach and learn." [Constitution of the Argentine Nation, http://www.argentina.gov.ar/argentina/portal/documentos/constitucion_ingles.pdf.]

*Section 14bis also includes a provision granting the benefits of social security, "which shall be of an integral nature and may not be waived." Argentina extends its civil rights to "all inhabitants" of the Nation, not just those with full citizenship status. (see "section 20" below) This provision was added in 1957, with the state taking responsibility for its inhabitants' well-being. [ Taylor, 65. ]
*Section 16:
"The Argentine Nation admits neither blood nor birth prerogatives: there are neither personal privileges nor titles of nobility. All its inhabitants are equal before the law, and admissible to employment without any other requirement than their ability. Equality is the basis of taxation and public burdens."
This section is a reaction to Spanish colonial rule, under which an individual's legal and practical rights were determined by their blood (both in terms of race and nobility). The stipulation that "equality is the basis of taxation and public burdens" reflects that, in practice, Argentine citizenship flows from both rights and duties.
*Section 20:
"Foreigners enjoy within the territory of the Nation all the civil rights of citizens... They are not obliged to accept citizenship nor to pay extraordinary compulsory taxes. They may obtain naturalization papers residing two uninterrupted years in the Nation; but the authorities may shorten this term in favor of those so requesting it, alleging and proving services rendered to the Republic."

*Section 37: "... Suffrage shall be universal, equal, secret and compulsory..."

Becoming a Citizen

Argentine citizenship can be obtained after a documented, uninterrupted two years' residence under a Visa. You must be 18 years of age, have sufficient funds or an employment contract, and show your DNI and passport. You do not need to pass a test on Argentine history or culture, but you must be able to read one page of Spanish text. [ ARCA Argentina Residency & Citizenship Advisors, "Information & FAQs," [http://www.justlanded.com/english/argentina/tools/just_landed_guide/visas_permits/citizenship] . ] Double nationality is recognized for Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Italy, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Spain, Sweden and the United States. [ Argentine Guide: Citizenship. [http://www.justlanded.com/english/argentina/tools/just_landed_guide/visas_permits/citizenship] . ] Children born abroad to Argentine parents are automatic Argentine citizens. [ (in Spanish) Gobierno de Argentina - Extranjeros. [http://www.argentina.gov.ar/argentina/portal/paginas.dhtml?pagina=19] . ]

Documento Nacional de Identidad (DNI)

The DNI (in Spanish, ) is Argentina's Documento Nacional de Identidad, or National Identity Document. It is a small book of personal information that includes a unique number, used to obtain social services, to vote, in renting, opening bank accounts, etc. [ (in Spanish) "Instructivos par documentación," Ministerio del Interior, http://www.mininterior.gov.ar/renaper/instructivo_nacionales.asp ] New residents are legally required to obtain a DNI within 90 days of arrival. [ "To reside in Argentina," http://www.mininterior.gov.ar/renaper/instructivo_nacionales.asp ]


As mentioned in Section 37, Argentina enforces compulsory voting - it is both a right and a duty.

Though non-citizens cannot vote in federal elections, some provinces allow non-citizen residents (those with DNIs) to vote in provincial and/or municipal elections: [ (in Spanish) Dirección Nacional Electoral, Electores, http://www.mininterior.gov.ar/elecciones/electores/voto_ce.asp ]
*Buenos Aires (province) - provincial and municipal
*Buenos Aires (city)- local only
*Catamarca - municipal only, with DNI and four years' residence in Catamarca and having registered with the municipal authorities as a foreign voter
*Misiones - provincial and municipal, having registered specially with and obtained a voters' card from the provincial authorities
*Neuquén - provincial and municipal, having registered specially with provincial authorities
*Santa Fe - municipal intendents and councilpersons only, having registered specially with municipal and provincial authorities


See also

*Pre-Columbian America
*Demographics of Argentina
*Immigration to Argentina
*History of the Jews in Argentina
*Welsh settlement in Argentina

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