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The Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata was the last and most short-lived viceroyalty created by Spainmarker in 1776. (The Spanish name, Virreinato del Río de la Plata, translates literally to Viceroyalty of the River of the Silver, although some sources conventionally call the viceroyalty Viceroyalty of the River Plate)

Its limits roughly contained the territories of present day Argentinamarker, Boliviamarker, Paraguaymarker and Uruguaymarker. The Captaincy General of Chile was part of the Viceroyalty of Peru. It was established because of security concerns on the increasing interest of other world powers on the area, mainly Portugal and Britainmarker.

Origin and creation

In 1680, Portuguesemarker governor of Rio de Janeiromarker Manuel Lobo created the Department of Colonia and founded Coloniamarker, a fort located in present Uruguaymarker's coast and the department's capital. The main objective was to secure the Portuguese expansion of Brazil beyond the Treaty of Tordesillas that was rendered meaningless between 1580 and 1640 while Spain controlled Portugal. José de Garro quickly attacked and seized the fort for Spainmarker, but on May 7, 1681 it was handed back to Portugalmarker due to the Provisional Treaty of Lisbon.

On the other hand, the Viceroyalty of Peru required all commerce to be performed through Limamarker's port, which restrained the Buenos Airesmarker natural port potential economy, a problem that also caused large contraband activities in the region, especially in Asunciónmarker, Buenos Airesmarker and Montevideomarker.

Under these conditions, King Charles III of Spain requested former Governor of the Río de la Plata Cevallos to think a way of developing and securing the area, in April 1776.

This meant a way of conquering Coloniamarker and the islands of Santa Catarinamarker from the Portuguese, in the Banda Oriental (the "East Bank" of the Río de la Platamarker, i.e., Uruguay), and modernizing the underdeveloped Buenos Airesmarker.

The early viceroyalty

The Portuguese prime minister Marquis of Pombalmarker continued to encourage the occupation of territory which had already been awarded to the Spanish in the Treaty of Paris .King Charles III quickly reacted to the advantageous conditions: Francemarker was bound to be an ally as a guarantor of the treaty, and Englandmarker due to its own colony problems couldn't help being neutral.

Cevallos sent a warning and started aggressions against Santa Catalinamarker, from where the Portuguese had already fled, and it was conquered in less than a month with no casualties. Then Cevallos sailed towards Montevideomarker and with the aid of Buenos Aires governor Vértiz reclaimed Coloniamarker, also without resistance. Cevallos advanced to Maldonadomarker city, where he stopped his advance towards the Rio Grande do Sul, as he was informed of the Treaty of San Ildefonso which ended hostilities in the area.

In 1766, Spain acquired the French colony on the Falkland Islands, called Port St. Louismarker, and after assuming effective control in 1767, placed the islands under a governor subordinate to the Buenos Aires colonial administration. The expulsion of the British settlement brought the two countries to the brink of war in 1770, but a peace treaty allowed the British to return from 1771 until 1776 with neither side relinquishing sovereignty.

Cevallos was then free of other matters and started significant transformations in the area, including free commerce (established on September 6, 1777) with the aid of the Potosímarker minerals which were meant to be the viceroyalty's main source of revenue. The reforms pursued by the Bourbon king in 1778 also promoted the region's development, and between 1792-1796 there was an unprecedented boom.

The viceroyalty's decline

By the nineteenth century Buenos Aires was becoming more self-sufficient, producing about 600,000 cattle a year (of which about one quarter was consumed locally), prompting the development of the area . But wars with Great Britainmarker meant a great setback for the region's economy as maritime communications were practically paralyzed. The Alto Peru region started to show contempt as the expenses of administration and defense of the Río de la Plata estuary were mainly supported by the declining Potosí production. For instance, in the first years of the viceroyalty, around 75% of the expenses were covered with revenues that came from the north. The Alto Plata (mostly present Paraguaymarker) also had problems with the Buenos Aires administration, particularly because of the monopoly of its port on embarcations.

By 1805, Spain had to help Francemarker because of their 1795 alliance, and had lost its navy in the Battle of Trafalgarmarker, but the Spanish prime minister had warned the viceroyalty of the likelihood of a British invasion, and that in such an event the city of Buenos Aires would be on its own.

In June 27, 1806 a small British force of around 1,500 men under Col. William Carr Beresford successfully invaded Buenos Aires after a failed attempt to stop him from viceroy Rafael de Sobremonte, who fled to Córdobamarker. The British forces were thrown back by the criollos on December 1806, a militia force from Montevideo under the leadership of Santiago de Liniers. In February 1807, British reinforcements of about 8,000 men under Gen. Sir Samuel Auchmuty captured Montevideomarker after a fierce fight, and in May Lt. Gen. John Whitelock arrived to take overall command and attacked Buenos Aires on July 5, 1807. After losing more than half his force killed and captured, Whitelock signed a cease-fire and left for Great Britainmarker.

Thus, lack of support from Spainmarker and the confidence-boost by the fresh defeat of a world power prompted a movement towards independence at the expense of the viceroyalty. It was also clear that the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata was just several unrelated regions bound together in an attempt by the Spanish crown to maintain its power over the region . As of 1810, Argentina had been self-governed for about a year and Paraguay had already declared its independence, and the viceroyalty was effectively dissolved.

The viceroyalty's dependencies

¹ Intendencia in Spanish.
² Gobernación in Spanish.

List of viceroys


  1. Encyclopædia Britannica entry.
  2. Lewis, Jason and Alison Inglis. "A Brief History of the Falkland Islands: Part 2—Fort St. Louis and Port Egmont." Falklands Islands Information. Accessed 2007-09-08


  • Lynch, John. Spanish Colonial Administration, 1782-1810: The Intendant System in the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata. London, University of London, Athlone Press, 1958.

See also

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