Tierra del Fuego (officially Provincia de Tierra del Fuego, Antártida e Islas del Atlántico Sur) is an Argentine province entirely separated from mainland Argentina by the Strait of Magellan. It includes:
The youngest of the Argentine provinces was first inhabited around 12,000 years ago. When the first Europeans arrived, they encountered a population of about 10,000 indigenous people belonging to four tribes: Yamana, Alakaluf, Selk'nam and Manek'enk (Haush). Within fifty years after discovery, only about 350 natives remained due to the diseases such as smallpox and measles that had ravaged these tribes. The provincial capital city is Ushuaia, from a native word meaning "bay towards the end".
The territory was "discovered" in 1520 by the expedition of Ferdinand Magellan, who named the place first Land of Smokes and later Land of Fire, as he saw what were probably the fires produced by the local aborigines for heat.
Juan de Alderete in 1555 and later Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa intended to found settlements in the area, but the inclemency of the weather and the constant attacks of British pirates, who took Sarmiento de Gamboa prisoner, frustrated their ambitions.
Spanish, Dutch, British and French explorers ventured on Tierra del Fuego island and the nearby seas. Gabriel de Castilla passed through before discovering Antarctica, while Robert FitzRoy, and Charles Darwin explored this land and other parts of Patagonia.
In 1828 Argentina established a penal colony at Puerto Luis on the Falkland Islands, but in 1833 the British sent a naval task force to request that the Argentine representative of the islands, José María Pinedo, and Argentine forces leave the islands. Luis Piedrabuena installed a base in San Juan de Salvamento on Isla de los Estados island. The British Patagonia Mission, under its superintendent Waite Stirling, founded Ushuaia as an Anglican mission in 1869, and shortly thereafter Salesian missionaries founded Río Grande.
In the 1880s the Argentine government took a more active interest in Tierra del Fuego. In 1881, the meridian 68°36'38 W was defined as the boundary between the Chilean and the Argentine sides of the island. In 1884 the Government of Tierra del Fuego was created, and a subprefecture was established at Ushuaia.
The southern part of the Beagle Channel was an issue of conflict between both states, specially regarding three small islands, Picton, Lennox and Nueva, which were given to Chile by decision of the mediating British Crown in 1977, revised by Pope John Paul II and ratified by treaty in 1985.
When the crews of sailing-ships told of the notoriously dangerous voyage round the tip of South America, Tierra del Fuego became a byword in Europe for an inhospitable land, where life would be impossibly harsh for settlers. In reality however, it is by no means the most sparsely populated province of Argentina, as Europeans often assume. Its population density of 4.75/ km² is in fact higher than five other provinces, due to various waves of immigration. Gold fever started in Tierra del Fuego around 1883. Many Croatians from the Dalmatian coast arrived in search of gold. The rush for gold brought with it some progress such as the telegraph in addition to a wave of immigrants. Although by 1910 the gold fever had died along with the exhaustion of the precious metal's sources, most of the pioneers stayed. The inauspicious-looking northern plains proved to be ideal sheep-farming territory, and vast latifundias sprang up. Croatian, Scottish, Basque, Italian, Galician and Chilean immigrants arrived to work on the estancias and build up their own landholdings
With the creation of the Gobernación Marítima de Tierra del Fuego in 1943, construction of naval bases began in Ushuaia and Río Grande, as well as an airport and other infrastructure. This brought a significant number of immigrants from Argentina and other countries.
It was not until 1990 that the Territorio Nacional de la Tierra del Fuego, Antártida e Islas del Atlántico Sur was declared a province, and receiving its first governor two years later.
As a result of killings and disease, by 1920 the Amerindian population of the island had dropped to only 200. Word of the atrocities reached the Federal Congress, in Buenos Aires, which tried to help the Salesian mission, the only institution working in the island to protect them.
The part of Antarctica claimed by Argentina is formed by the Palmer Land and the Weddell Sea, of which half remains frozen all year round. The highest peak of this section of the continent is en:Mt. Chiriguano, at 3360 meters. The weather is normally cold and windy.
Most of the islands of the Southern Atlantic present a more humid climate, except for the Falkland Islands. For instance, the Año Nuevo and Isla de los Estados islands have a dense vegetation of low forests of lenga and ñire.
The Falklands are covered in moorland, which receive less precipitation than other islands closer to the continent, and is constantly swept by strong winds. The South Orkney Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are also considered to be part of the South Atlantic Islands, and they are colder than the others, because they are so far from continental land masses.
Tierra del Fuego has, since the 1970s, benefited from government subsidies to local industry and its natural wealth, alike. Its estimated 2006 output of US$2.6 billion gave the province a per capita income of US$25,700, second only in Argentina to the city of Buenos Aires itself and almost three times the national average.
Manufacturing, despite the province's remoteness, contributes about 20% to output owing partly to generous certain tax incentives to local industry, a policy Buenos Aires has pursued to encourage immigration to less populated areas. A number of sizable factories have opened on Tierra del Fuego Island to take advantage of the tax benefits legislated in 1972, mainly home appliance and electronics makers.
Recently, in the city of Río Grande, many international and Argentine companies, most notably the Korean company Samsung and the Argentine company Teltron, have installed factories that produce high-definition televisions (HDTV), mass production of CD-ROM-related articles, and low-cost GSM cell phones built mainly from Argentine components.
Sheep ranching, the province's leading source of its modest agricultural income (5% of output), still serves as an important source of wool, mutton and hides throughout the province and the wider Argentine market, whose taste for these products has been growing strongly.
Like its neighbors in patagonia to the north, petroleum and natural gas extraction contributes generously to Tierra del Fuego's economy, lately over 20% to total output. Exploration efforts continue, not only along the island's shores themselves; but, also near the Falkland Islands, whose surrounding waters to 200 miles are still under some amount of dispute between Argentina and the United Kingdom. The same issue has intruded onto the area's lucrative crab and shrimp fishing industry, as well.
Tourism is gaining importance on Tierra del Fuego island, and the region offers mountains, glaciers, forests, fast rivers, waterfalls, a ski centre, and the sea, all within short distances. Both Jules Verne and Darwin were fascinated by the beauties of the island.
The most visited destinations include Ushuaia, the Tierra del Fuego National Park and the Tren del Fin del Mundo, Fagnano Lake, Museum of the End of the World, the Beagle Channel,Les Eclaireurs lighthouse, the old jail, and the Isla de los Estados.
The Argentine Antarctic started receiving tourists a short time ago. Tourists can see wildlife at the Argentine Marambio Base during the summer.
The Falkland Islands gained notoriety after the Falkland War and a modest volume of tourists venture to the islands. Argentine nationals have been free to do so again since the 1989 restoration of diplomatic relations between the two former adversaries.
The province is divided in 4 departments (Spanish: departamentos), only the first two of which are under the effective control of Argentina: