Santa Cruz is a province of Argentina, located in the southern part of the country, in Patagonia. It borders Chubut province to the north, and Chile to the west and south, with an Atlantic coast on its east. Santa Cruz is the second-largest province of the country (after Buenos Aires province), and the least densely populated in mainland Argentina.
The indigenous people of the province are the Tehuelches, who despite European exploration from the 16th century onwards, retained independence until the late 19th century. Soon after the Conquest of the Desert in the 1870s, the area was organised as the Territory of Santa Cruz, named after its original capital in Puerto Santa Cruz. The capital moved to Rio Gallegos in 1888 and has remained there ever since. Immigrants from various European countries came to the territory in the late 19th and early 20th century during a gold rush. Santa Cruz became a province of Argentina in 1957.
The Tehuelches inhabited these lands before the arrivals of the Spanish colonisation. In 1520 Ferdinand Magellan arrived to what is currently known as San Julián Bay. 15 years later Martín de Alcazaba explored the area near the Chico River, which he named Gallegos River. Because of the attacks of British privateers, and after the visit of Francis Drake in 1578, theSpaniards sent Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa to fortify and map the Strait of Magellan and prevent access to Spanish posts in the Pacific.
In the middle of the 18th century, the Jesuits settled in the area, establishing a few missions. When the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata was created in 1776, the region was set under the rule of Buenos Aires. Antonio de Biedma founded Nueva Colonia near present Puerto Deseado and Floridablanca not far from Puerto San Julián, both of them shut down later by Viceroy Vertíz.
Between 1825 and 1836 there were a series of explorations of the regions, including that of Charles Darwin in 1834. In 1860 commanderLuis Piedrabuena established a base on Isla Pavón in the estuary of Puerto Deseado.
In 1878 the Government of Patagonia was created, with capital in Viedma, but six years later it was split into smaller entities, with the territory declared National Government of Santa Cruz, whose capital was the city of Santa Cruz. In 1901 the capital was moved to its current location at the city of Río Gallegos.
At the beginning of 20th century, a large European immigration began to arrive to the almost uninhabited zone; Spanish, Germans, British and Slavs were the most numerous among them. They came mainly to escape the growing conflicts of World War I, and were attracted by the wool industry of the area. The end of the war meant a sharp reduction in the amount of exports, bringing a serious economic crisis to Santa Cruz.
The ideals of progressivism, brought by the Spanish immigrants, grew among the workers who, working in Santa Cruz's harsh environment under often sub-human conditions, decided to strike in 1922. The strike was severely and harshly repressed by the government, culminating in the events of the Patagonia Trágica ("Tragic Patagonia"), the execution of dozens of strikers.
In 1944 the Military zone of Comodoro Rivadavia was created, which encompassed the northern part of the National Government of Santa Cruz and the southern part of Chubut Province. This jurisdiction lasted until the abolition of the measures in 1955. The Territory of Santa Cruz acquired province status in 1957.
In 1973, voters in Santa Cruz elected Jorge Cepernic, a Peronist. An advocate of labor rights, Gov. Cepernic worked with film maker Osvaldo Bayer to make La Patagonia Rebelde ('"Rebellion in Patagonia"), a documentary drama on the ill-fated 1922 sheep ranch laborers' strike. For this, Gov. Cepernic was imprisoned following the March, 1976, coup.
The return to democracy in Argentina in 1983 brought new, mostly young leadership to Santa Cruz's elected posts, among them a well-known local country lawyer named Néstor Kirchner, elected that year to the Río Gallegos City Council. Elected mayor in 1987 and governor in 1991, Kirchner helped negotiate a US$535 million payout for his province following the 1993 privatization of the state-owned oil concern YPF. Earning plaudits for his careful administration of the funds, Kirchner was elected president of Argentina in April 2003, following the withdrawal of Carlos Menem from a runoff which Kirchner was projected to win handily.
Presiding over four years of expansion totalling 42% (the best performance for the Argentine economy since the 1880s), Pres. Kirchner steered record spending into public works (particularly those in his province, as is customary for Argentine presidents).
Santa Cruz's most visited destination is Los Glaciares National Park and a number of glaciers of which the Perito Moreno Glacier is the most famous. Nearby El Calafate has an airport that connects the area with Buenos Aires and Trelew.
Some 200 kilometres north of El Calafate is the village of El Chaltén at the feet of the Cerro Torre and Mount Fitz Roy. Still not very developed, El Chaltén serves as a hub for various trekking routes including walks on the Viedma Glacier.
600 kilometres further north of El Chaltén, by the dirt road Ruta 40, the Cueva de las Manosnear the town of Perito Moreno allows the few tourists who venture to this point to see the prehistoric wall paintings in the caves near the Pinturas River.
Perito Moreno National Park and its lakes, north of Los Glaciares, are rarely visited. Besides trekking, other sports practised on the west side of the province are sport fishing, rafting and climbing.
In the east, the National Route 3 follows the Atlantic coastline, by which buses connect the coastal cities, and take passengers both south toTierra del Fuego and north to Chubut Province and Buenos Aires. The most visited places are the cities of Río Gallegos, the Bosques Petrificados National Monument petrified forest, and the depression of Laguna del Carbón near Puerto San Julián.