A short summary of History of Córdoba

By Lic. Constanza González Navarro


Córdoba was founded in 1573 by Jerónimo Luis de Cabrera. This was an important foundation due to the fact it made possible to connect the Alto Peru with the Río de la Plata. Its geographic situation in the middle of the territory made the circulation of products and silver easier all around the Virreinato del Peru to which jurisdiction Córdoba belonged.

The population that Cabrera found in this territory was agricultural complemented with the hunting activity. Their social organization was based on kinship with a political head, the chief or cacique.

The natives could make only little resistance to the conquest. So the Spanish people took possession of the territory very quickly.

During all the 17th and 18th century Córdoba was an important producer of bovine used for feeding and mules which were sold in Potosí (today Bolivia) to be used in the silver mines and for transportation. So since the beginning, Córdoba developed the cattle and the trade market.

In the 17th century the Jesuits order had a relevant role in the material and spiritual life of the city. At the beginning of the XVII century the Jesuits had to face the group of “encomenderos” to protect the interest of the natives. The Spanish system of “encomiendas” represents a grant of rights or taxes from the crown to the conquerors.  In exchange to this grant, the Spanish "encomenderos" had to guarantee the protection of the natives and their   conversion to Catholicism. On the contrary, the "encomenderos" obliged the natives to work all day to pay the taxes, without any control from the colonial state.

At that moment the Jesuits represented a strong opposition against the “encomenderos” group and promoted the intervention of the Viceroy of Peru which sent Francisco de Alfaro to make a “visit” and solve the situation. The result was a group of ordinances that prohibited the “Personal Service” or, in other words the exploitation of natives and set up a lot of rules for the natives’ work.

The Jesuits had also a central role in the education of the elites. In 1613 fray Fernando de Trejo y Sanabria donated his goods for the foundation of the Maximum College of Jesuits. In that year the Council of Indies and the king Felipe III decided to allow the Jesus Company the power to grant university grades. This decision had the opposition from the Dominic order. So only when the Pope Gregorio XV confirmed the decision of the king, it was possible for the Jesus Company to grant university grades.

On the other hand, the Jesuits settled a lot of “haciendas o estancias” –a kind of ranch- in the rural territory of Cordoba in order to support its members. The great number of estancias was built on land donated by people through their last will or testament. There isn’t only one model of Jesuitical hacienda but we can give a few common characteristics they all share. For example: All of them have a principal “Casco” which contains the church with a lot of rooms where the fathers lived. Near the Casco, it was possible to find the slaves’ rooms, different workshops for knitting and other handcrafts and the barn. Other important feature of these haciendas was that they had a productive diversification. So the fathers not only developed manufactures, they developed cattle, agriculture and fruit industry.

While at the beginning of the colonial period workforce was performed by the natives, it was later performed by the slaves. Jesuits took the decision of keeping the slave family together and promoted a reproductive policy. At the same time, the slaves produced their own food and clothes and repaired their tools. So the economic advantages of the haciendas were many.

When the Jesuits were thrown out, all their goods were administrated by the Junta de Temporalidades which gave the administration of Maximum College to the Franciscans order and sold the rest of the goods of the Company to private people.

When we arrive at the 19th century a great part of what it is today territory of Cordoba was unpopulated or in the hands of natives, in particular all the land in the south of 31 parallel.

In the second part of the 19th century as you have probably seen in the rest of Argentina, the group of conservatives with liberal ideas tried to bring European colonists with the idea that these people would bring the economic development, progress and civilization. But Cordoba, different from other provinces as Santa Fe and Buenos Aires, could enter in this colonization policy a few years later. While Santa Fe had colonies since de middle of the century, Córdoba had her first colonies after 1871. These were at first an enterprise of the national state (official colonies) and then private enterprises. In both cases the tenant farmer paid for the land in different ways or paid a rent for them and received a little help to hold the economic work of this land. In this respect the situation in Santa Fe was different as her state policy was more coherent and helped the colonies.

By 1884 Córdoba already had five colonies: Tortugas, Sampacho, Caroya, Marengo y Garibaldi. The next year there were other ones: Maipú, Sarmiento, Marcos Sastre y Leones. With the private colonisation the number of colonies increased. In general the foreign population was from Italy, but there were Swiss German and Spanish people. The colony system was one of the factors that made it possible the development of agriculture and cattle in Argentina and her insertion in the world as an exporting country. The development of industries in Córdoba was directly related to the food production. This situation was the same at least until the decades of 1950 and 1960 when the national government promoted the settlement of foreign enterprises with important advantages, especially to the metallurgic and automobile industries.  In Córdoba,  Fiat and Kaiser settled and this decision made important economic and social changes. This industrialization produced another migration of people from the other provinces to work in the new enterprises.   

But coming back to the 19th century we can say that the foreign immigration we talked about before, started to work actively in political parties,  particularly the UCR party and had an important participation in the social movements to change the political system which had allowed the permanence in power of the group of conservatives.

This group of elite had the power of the country and of each of the provincial governments. It was only with the Saenz Peña Law that Argentina changed the way to do politics. This law established the obligatory, universal and secret vote. These three points were fundamental to politics because for many years the same elite had had the power through fraud and with the vote of a little part of population. The old system guaranteed the continuity of conservatives. Since 1912 nothing would be the same.

This social democratization had also impact on the organization of the university government. In 1918, two years after the UCR had arrived at the national government, a group of students at the University of Córdoba started a movement which fought for the secularization, democratization and autonomy of the University from the political power.

Student leaders of the 1918 reform asserted that the solution of educational problems should be related to the solution of the national problems and proposed a profound economic and political reform. They were explicit about the ideal relationship between the university, the state, and society and allied themselves with workers’ organizations.

The most important features of reform can be summarized as follows:

a)      Institutionalization of student participation in university councils, joining professors and students in a three party system known as co-governance.

b)      A linkage between student politics and national politics in order to mobilize the university toward the solution of economic, social and political problems.

c)      An emphasis on university extension.

d)      Free education and open admission to all academically qualified applicants, in order to replace the elitist and archaic 19th century university.

e)      A defence of institutional autonomy with respect to the state.

f)        Promotion of new ideas

g)      The promotion of professors on the basis of merit and achievement rather than seniority

At the national level, the 1918 reform represented the political aspirations of an emergent middle class. The radical government, headed by president Yrigoyen, provided vital support to the student movement, even when this support led him to be confronted by prominent politicians and university authorities.

Most of the principles of the Reform were reached but the idea of taking the reform from the university to society was forgotten. Ten years later, Deodoro Roca, one of the leaders of the movement said that the reform had stayed in the formal changes, forgetting the real spirit of the reform.

This was only a brief account of some of the main events in the history of Cordoba.



The Jesuits' Legacy.
(Click here if you want to see some pictures illustrating on the History of Cordoba)

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