Julio Argentino Roca (1843-1914) was an Argentine general and the leader of the oligarchy that held political control of Argentina from 1880 to 1916. He was a typical 19th-century caudillo.
Julio Roca was born of a prominent and wealthy Argentine family in Tucumán on July 17, 1843. He received a degree from the National College in Uruguay. When he was approximately fifteen, he volunteered to fight for the interior provinces in the struggle against the forces of Buenos Aires and was commissioned a sublieutenant; thereafter he remained on the military rolls for a period of 55 years of continuous service.
After graduation Roca took part in further fighting between the city and the provinces, this time on the side of the city. In the subsequent war against Paraguay he fought in several battles, and he achieved the rank of colonel in helping to put down the revolt of López Jordán in Entre Ríos. Roca finally reached the rank of general when he defeated and captured Gen. Aredondo, who had revolted in 1874.
Upon the death of the secretary of war, Adolfo Alsino, Roca undertook a successful campaign against the Indians in the south and added extensive land to the national domain, most of which fell into his and his friends' hands. Also, the Indian captives were to all intents and purposes forced into slavery under the application of old colonial laws. The results of the successful campaign made Roca popular in powerful circles, and he was elected president in 1880.
Rule by Oligarchy
Roca's administration ushered in a period of Argentine history known as the "era of the oligarchy," which lasted until 1916. Its core was made up of the great landowners, and it exerted its power through what has been called the most powerful farmers' organization in the Western Hemisphere, plus certain commercial elements with close ties with the British. On the credit side of the ledger, his government was powerful enough to end the many years of political chaos which had preceded his assumption of office.
Roca's platform proposed improvement in communications and a stronger army. Since the newly acquired Indian lands were useless without railroads, he spent vast sums during his administration to connect the area with the city of Buenos Aires. By diverting funds to the army he was able to count on its political support.
At the close of his administration, Roca left for Paris but soon returned to assist in the overthrow of his successor, Miguel Juárez Celmán. Roca was rewarded with the office of secretary of the interior, which enabled him to augment his personal fortune. He was once again elected president (1898-1904), having in the interim been president of the Senate. Roca's second administration is notable for the resumption of diplomatic relations with the Vatican, the settlement of the boundary dispute with Chile, and the pronouncement of the Drago Doctrine, an Argentine protest against intervention.
Roca retired from public life in 1904 until his appointment in 1913 as ambassador to Brazil. He was always a skillful politician and managed to cooperate better than most with leaders of both parties and was successful in smoothing over political quarrels. He was helped during both administrations by the universal prosperity resulting from the technological improvements of the time, and there is a great similarity between his administrations and those of President Ulysses S. Grant in the United States. Roca died in Buenos Aires on October 19, 1914.
Further Reading on Julio Argentino Roca
There are no full-length biographies of Roca in English. Biographical material on Roca can be found in Ricardo Levene, A History of Argentina (trans. 1937); John W. White, Argentina: The Life Story of a Nation (1942); and Henry Stanley Ferns, Argentina (1969). See also Hubert Clinton Herring, A History of Latin America: From the Beginnings to the Present (1955; 3d rev. ed. 1968).