Catamarca is a province of Argentina, located in the northwest of the country. The province has a population of 334,568 as per the 2001 census [INDEC], and covers an area of 102,602 km2. Its literacy rate is 95.5%. Neighbouring provinces are (clockwise, from the north): Salta, Tucumán, Santiago del Estero, Córdoba, and La Rioja. To the west it borders Chile.
Most of Catamarca’s territory of 102,602 square kilometers (2.7% of the country total), is covered by mountains (80%), which can be grouped into four clearly differentiated systems: the Pampean sierras, in the east and center; the Narváez-Cerro Negro-Famatina system, in the west; the cordilleran-Catamarca area of transition, in the western extreme; the Puna, an elevated portion, in the northwest.
Located in an arid and semi-arid climate zone, the scarce water resources determine the human settlement pattern. Agricultural activities are concentrated in the pockets and valleys between the mountains. In the east the population is concentrated around a number of water courses, water being distributed by canals and irrigation ditches.
Before the arrival of the Spanish conquest, most of today's Catamarca was inhabited by the Diaguitas indigenous people, including the fierce Calchaquí tribe. In 1558 Juan Pérez de Zurita founded San Juan de la Ribera de Londres, but since it was constantly under attack of the indigenous people it was not very populated, it was re-founded, changed its locating, and renamed several times. For its 6th foundation, on July 5, 1683, Fernando de Mendoza Mate de Luna founded the city of San Fernando del Valle de Catamarca.
When the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata was created in 1776, Catamarca obtained the title of Subintendencia under the Salta intendency. In 1821, the province claimed its autonomy, and Nicolás Avellaneda y Tula (grandfather of Nicolás Avellaneda) was elected as the first governor of the province.
There are two versions of the origin of the name. The Quechua version form words "cata" ("slope") and "marca" ("fortress") forming "Fortress on the slope", and the Aymara version from words "Catán" ("small") and "marca" ("town") resulting in "Small town".
Catamarca remained isolated from the rest of Argentina by its mountains until 1888, when the rapidly expanding railways first appeared in the province. Attracting immigrants with its spacious, fertile valleys and dry, agreeable weather, Catamarca was soon favored by immigrants fromLebanon and Iran, who found Catamarca reminiscent of the fertile, orchard-lined mountain valleys of the homes they left behind.
One such family, the Saadis, became prominent in local commerce and politics (much as the Syrian Menems in neighboring La Rioja). In 1949, the newly designated province elected Vicente Saadi as governor. Eventually, Saadi, a Peronist, would become indispensable to local politics (aCaudillo), exerting influence mostly by proxy. Passing away in 1988, he was succeeded by his son, Ramon. In 1990, however, close friends of the Saadis were involved in a brutal murder involving a local, 15-year-old girl. Quickly becoming a cause cèlebre, the death of Maria Soledad Moralescost Gov. Saadi much of his popularity and, in 1991, his office, when Catamarca (for the first time) voted in a Radical Civic Union (UCR) candidate,Arnoldo Castillo. Elected by his still considerable following to the Senate, Saadi is today an ally of President Cristina Kirchner, though the governor's seat remains in the UCR's column.
Catamarca's economy is Argentina's smallest, though still developed. Its 2006 economy was estimated at US$1.7 billion, or, US$5,280 per capita, 40% below the national average. Less diversified than most in Argentina, agriculture has never played an important role in the Catamarca economy (contributing less than 5% to its output). The province's livestock includes around 200,000 head of cattle, 100,000 sheep, and 150,000 goats, with an annual production of 7,000 tonnes of beef, 5 tonnes of mutton/lamb, and 10 tonnes of pork, although outbreaks of foot and mouth disease has kept at times the production from reaching full potential. Large numbers of cattle, fattened in the alfalfa fields of Pucara, Tinogasta and Copacabana, were driven into northern Chile across the San Francisco pass and mules were bred for the Bolivian market in 1910's.
Mining was important in the past. After becoming less active in the early 1990s, grew to now account for over 20% of the economy. Catamarca is home to one of the largest copper gold mines in the world, Bajo de la Alumbrera, which produces approximately 600,000 ounces of gold and 190,000 tonnes of copper annually. The mine employs over 1,000 people and contributes hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes and royalties to the federal and provincial governments.
The agriculture of Catamarca focuses on wood (walnut), vineyards, olive, citrus, cotton and tobacco, for which the government gives tax cuts to facilitate economic growth, but so far with poor results and no oversight.
Tourism is a lesser contributor to the economy in Catamarca, with more than 3,465 beds in hotels and other types of accommodation. Although high hopes are focused in this industry, lack of infrastructure,] service-oriented and trained businesses and an overall endemic corruption culture, tourism has yet to become a strong element the local economy. Mountains and geological formation are the main attraction, with sights such as Antofagasta de la Sierra, Balcones del Valle, the Snow-Covered Summits of Aconquija, and the Pass of San Francisco. The San Francisco Pass, an endeavor developed during the Castillo Administrations (1991–2003) at a high cost in public funds has failed to bring trade and tourism to the underdeveloped Tinogasta county. Cultural attractions include the city of Catamarca, the archaeological park Las Huellas del Inca, prehistoric petroglyphs, local music, handcrafts and wines.