Tierra del Fuego Province, Argentina

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Tierra del Fuego
Provincia de Tierra del Fuego, Antártida
e Islas del Atlántico Sur (Spanish)
Province of Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica and South Atlantic Islands
View from the Tierra del Fuego National Park in Argentina across the Beagle Channel to Isla Hoste in Chile
Escudo de la Provincia de Tierra del Fuego.svg
Tierra del Fuego, Antartida e Islas del Atlantico Sur in Argentina (+Falkland hatched)-2.svg
Location of Tierra del Fuego Province within Argentina (mainland portion and disputed Falkland Islands only)
Country Flag of Argentina.svg  Argentina
Capital Ushuaia
Departments 5
Local Governments3
   Governor Gustavo Melella (FORJA)
  Vice Governor Mónica Urquiza (MOPOF)
   Legislature 15
   National Deputies 5
   National Senators Pablo Blanco (UCR)
María Eugenia Duré (PJ)
Cristina López (PJ)
  Total21,263 km2 (8,210 sq mi)
 (2022 census [1] )
  Rank 24th
  Density9.0/km2 (23/sq mi)
Demonym fueguino
  Total US$ 2.5 billion
  Per capita US$ 13,800
Time zone UTC−3 (ART)
ISO 3166 code AR-V
HDI (2021)0.856 very high (4th) [3]
Website www.tierradelfuego.gov.ar

Tierra del Fuego (Spanish for "Land of Fire"; Spanish pronunciation: [ˈtjeraðelˈfweɣo] ), officially the Province of Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica and South Atlantic Islands (Spanish: Provincia de Tierra del Fuego, Antártida e Islas del Atlántico Sur), is the southernmost, smallest, and least populous Argentine province. The provincial capital city is Ushuaia, from a native word meaning "bay towards the end".

The territory of the current province had been inhabited by indigenous people for more than 12,000 years, since they migrated south of the mainland. It was first encountered by a European in 1520 when spotted by Ferdinand Magellan. Even after Argentina achieved independence, this territory remained under indigenous control until the nation's campaign known as the Conquest of the Desert in the 1870s, after which Argentina organised this section in 1885 as a territory.[ citation needed ] European immigration followed due to a gold rush and rapid expansion of sheep farming on large ranches in the area. Tierra del Fuego is the most recent Argentine territory to gain provincial status, which occurred in 1990.


The Province of Tierra del Fuego, Antartida e Islas del Atlantico Sur, including all its territorial claims Argentina - Tierra del Fuego Province and its territorial claims.svg
The Province of Tierra del Fuego, Antártida e Islas del Atlántico Sur, including all its territorial claims

The effective extent of the province is the eastern part of the island of Tierra del Fuego, Isla de los Estados and adjacent islands.

The province nominally includes Argentina's claims to the Falkland Islands and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (which are British Overseas Territories) and to a segment of Antarctica that overlaps with the British and Chilean claims on that continent. Argentina has no effective control in these territories outside its own Antarctic bases.


Period impression of HMS Beagle navigating along Tierra del Fuego, 1833 HMS Beagle by Conrad Martens.jpg
Period impression of HMS Beagle navigating along Tierra del Fuego, 1833

Tierra del Fuego was first settled by indigenous peoples around 12,000 years ago.[ contradictory ] Discovered by Ferdinand Magellan's expedition in 1520, he named the area Land of Smokes (later changed to Land of Fire), likely referring to the smoke emitted by fires produced by the local Fuegian peoples for heating. When the first Europeans arrived, they encountered a population of about 10,000 indigenous people belonging to four tribes: Yámana, Alakaluf (now known by their autonym of Kawésqar), Selk'nam (Ona) and Manek'enk (Haush). [4] European attempts at settling the island began in 1555 by Juan de Alderete and later Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa. Neither was successful, however, due to the region's harsh weather and constant attacks by British pirates, who took Sarmiento de Gamboa prisoner.[ citation needed ]

Between the 16th and 19th centuries Spanish, Dutch, British and French explorers visited Tierra del Fuego and the nearby seas. Gabriel de Castilla passed through before exploring the Antarctic islands. In the early 1830s, Commander Robert FitzRoy, and Charles Darwin explored the island and other parts of Patagonia via HMS Beagle. This included the Falkland Islands, claimed by the British since 1690, though controlled by Argentina since its establishment of a penal colony at Puerto Luis in 1828. In 1833 the British re-established their rule on the Falklands via the deployment of naval task force. The Argentinian representative of the islands, José María Pinedo, and Argentinian forces subsequently left the islands.

A member of the Selknam people, 1904. The Selk'nam, or Ona, who traditionally placed great value on amiability, were the island's most numerous native people until their numbers were reduced by disease and genocide in the 19th and 20th centuries. Ona Selknam.jpg
A member of the Selknam people, 1904. The Selk'nam, or Ona, who traditionally placed great value on amiability, were the island's most numerous native people until their numbers were reduced by disease and genocide in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Luis Piedrabuena installed a base in San Juan de Salvamento on Isla de los Estados. The British South American Mission Society Patagonia Mission, under its superintendent Waite Stirling, founded Ushuaia as an Anglican mission in southern Tierra del Fuego in 1869. [5] Shortly after, 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 portions 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, which competed for control of three small islands, Picton, Lennox and Nueva. Finally in 1977, these were awarded to Chile by decision of the mediating British Crown, revised by Pope John Paul II and ratified by treaty in 1985.

Local sheep ranch, 1942. Sheep, the most important part of the economy by the turn of the 20th century, have been eclipsed by the decline in the global wool market and the rise in petroleum extraction. Ovejas afuera de un galpon de esquila SETF.jpg
Local sheep ranch, 1942. Sheep, the most important part of the economy by the turn of the 20th century, have been eclipsed by the decline in the global wool market and the rise in petroleum extraction.

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. But, it is not the most sparsely populated province of Argentina. Its population density of 4.75/ km2 is 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. In addition, the gold rush inspired new technologies and innovations, such as the telegraph. Although by 1910 the gold had run out, most of the pioneers stayed. The inauspicious-looking northern plains proved ideal sheep-farming country, and vast ranches were developed. Croatian, Scottish, Basque, Italian, Galician and Chilean immigrants arrived to work on the estancias, with the hope of eventually buying their own land and stock.

The Amerindians suffered high fatalities from diseases (including measles and smallpox) and the outright warfare waged by ranchers and bounty hunters; by 1916 their population on the island had dropped to only 900. [6] [7] In addition, in the late 19th century, ranchers and settlers committed genocide against the Selk'nam. [8] News of the atrocities and genocide reached the Federal Congress in Buenos Aires. It sent aid and tried to help the Salesian mission, the only institution working in the island to protect the indigenous peoples.[ citation needed ]

With the creation of the Gobernación Marítima de Tierra del Fuego in 1943, construction of naval bases began in Ushuaia and Río Grande. An airport and other infrastructure were also built. These projects attracted immigrants from other countries as well as other parts of Argentina. In 1990 the "National Territory of Tierra del Fuego, the Antarctic and the South Atlantic Islands" was declared a province, with its first governor appointed two years later.


Mossy landscape, Tierra del Fuego Misodendrum punctulatum on lenga.jpg
Mossy landscape, Tierra del Fuego
Koppen climate map of Tierra del Fuego Province, Argentina (without Antartida e Islas del Atlantico Sur) Tierra del Fuego Koppen.svg
Köppen climate map of Tierra del Fuego Province, Argentina (without Antártida e Islas del Atlántico Sur)

There are low mountains and sandy beaches at the north of the island, ascending to the south. The north is somewhat similar to the steppe of Santa Cruz Province. In the middle of the island, the end of the Andes mountain system becomes flattened, and its highest peak, Mount Cornú, rises only 1,490 m (4,890 ft). There are a number of short rivers (the Grande, Moneta, Ona, Lasifashaj, etc.), and as a result of the low temperature there are many small glaciers that flow to the sea.

Due to its latitude, the island has a cold oceanic climate. [9] The influences from the surrounding ocean and the predominant winds from the west result in the climate being uniform throughout the province. [10] Mean annual temperatures are low, with winter temperatures averaging close to 0 °C (32 °F) and summer temperatures averaging around 10 °C (50 °F). [9] [10] The strong westerly winds from the Pacific Ocean decrease the perception of the temperature (wind chill). [9] In the extreme south in the Beagle Channel which is surrounded by hills rising above 100 m (330 ft), winds can exceed 100 km/h (62 mph). [9] The island averages around 700 mm (28 in) of precipitation per year which is fairly evenly distributed throughout the year with a slight maximum in autumn. [10] Snowfall is abundant throughout the island. [10] Much of this island can be classified as within the Magellanic subpolar forests ecoregion. [11]


Governor Gustavo Melella Gustavo Melella.png
Governor Gustavo Melella
The Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse, on the Beagle Channel near Ushuaia. Le Phare des Eclaireurs.jpg
The Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse, on the Beagle Channel near Ushuaia.

The provincial government is divided into three branches: the executive, headed by a popularly elected governor, who appoints the cabinet; the legislative; and the judiciary, headed by the Supreme Court.

The Constitution of Tierra del Fuego Province, Argentina forms the formal law of the province.

In Argentina, the most important law enforcement organization is the Argentine Federal Police but the additional work is carried out by the Tierra del Fuego Provincial Police.

Administrative divisions

Governor's offices, Ushuaia Gobernacion Provincia de Tierra del Fuego Antartida e Isla del Atlantico Sur.jpg
Governor's offices, Ushuaia

The province is divided into five departments (Spanish: departamentos), only the first three of which are under the effective control of Argentina:

  1. Ushuaia (seat Ushuaia)
  2. Tolhuin (seat Tolhuin)
  3. Río Grande (seat Río Grande)
  4. Islas del Atlántico Sur: consists of the Argentine claim to the Falkland Islands (Malvinas in Spanish) and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, both of which are self-governing overseas territories of the United Kingdom.
  5. Antártida Argentina: the Argentine claim to Antarctica lies between 25°W and 74°W (overlapping both Chilean and British claims) and is uninhabited apart from the staff of scientific bases. Being south of 60°S, the Argentine claim to the entire department is suspended under the Antarctic Treaty.


Tierra del Fuego has since the 1970s benefited from government subsidies to local industry and from its natural wealth. Its estimated 2006 output of US$2.6 billion gave the province a per capita income of US$25,719, the second highest in Argentina, behind Buenos Aires. [12]

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 manufacturers.

Recently, in the city of Río Grande, many international and Argentine companies, most notably the Korean company Samsung and the Argentine company Teltron, have set up factories that produce high-definition televisions (HDTV), CD-ROM-related articles, and low-cost GSM cell phones, built mainly from Argentine components.

Cerro Castor is the most important ski resort in the province. CerroCastor01.jpg
Cerro Castor is the most important ski resort in the province.
"Train to the End of the World". Operated by the provincial government, is the world's southernmost active railway. End of The World Train at station.jpg
"Train to the End of the World". Operated by the provincial government, is the world's southernmost active railway.

Sheep ranching is the leading source of the province's modest agricultural income (5% of output). It provides wool, mutton and hides throughout the province and the wider Argentine market, whose taste for these products has been growing strongly.

As in Patagonia to the north, petroleum and natural gas extraction are important to Tierra del Fuego's economy, generating over 20% of total output. Exploration efforts continue. The government of the Falkland Islands has issued exploration licenses within its waters. This competition has caused anger in Argentina. The activity has also intruded into some of the area's lucrative crab and shrimp fishing industry.

Tourism is gaining importance on Tierra del Fuego island. The region offers mountains, glaciers, forests, fast rivers, waterfalls, ski centres (the most important is Cerro Castor), and the sea, all within short distances.

The most visited destinations in Argentine Tierra del Fuego include Ushuaia, the Tierra del Fuego National Park and the Tren del Fin del Mundo , Fagnano Lake, the Museum of the End of the World, the Beagle Channel, the Les Eclaireurs lighthouse, the old jail, and South Staten Island.

The Antarctic Peninsula is a tourist destination. Tourists can see wildlife at the Argentine Marambio Base during the summer.

See also

Related Research Articles

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Tierra del Fuego is an archipelago off the southernmost tip of the South American mainland, across the Strait of Magellan.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Patagonia</span> Geographical region in South America

Patagonia is a geographical region that encompasses the southern end of South America, governed by Argentina and Chile. The region comprises the southern section of the Andes Mountains with lakes, fjords, temperate rainforests, and glaciers in the west and deserts, tablelands, and steppes to the east. Patagonia is bounded by the Pacific Ocean on the west, the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and many bodies of water that connect them, such as the Strait of Magellan, the Beagle Channel, and the Drake Passage to the south.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Strait of Magellan</span> Strait in southern Chile between the Atlantic and Pacific

The Strait of Magellan, also called the Straits of Magellan, is a navigable sea route in southern Chile separating mainland South America to the north and Tierra del Fuego to the south. The strait is considered the most important natural passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The strait is approximately 570 km long and 2 km wide at its narrowest point. In 1520, the Spanish expedition of the Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan, after whom the strait is named, became the first Europeans to discover it.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ushuaia</span> City and Port in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

Ushuaia is the capital of Tierra del Fuego, Antártida e Islas del Atlántico Sur Province, Argentina. With a population of 82,615 and a location below the 54th parallel south latitude, Ushuaia claims the title of world's southernmost city.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego</span> Island of Argentina and Chile

Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego also formerly Isla de Xátiva is an island near the southern tip of South America from which it is separated by the Strait of Magellan. The western portion (61.4%) of the island is in Chile, while the eastern portion is in Argentina. It forms the major landmass in an extended group of islands or archipelago also known as Tierra del Fuego.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Southernmost settlements</span> Worlds most southerly settlements

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Puerto Williams</span> City in Magallanes y Antártica Chilena Region, Chile

Puerto Williams is a city, port and naval base on Navarino Island in Chile, and is also the southernmost populated settlement in the world. It faces the Beagle Channel. It is the capital of the Chilean Antarctic Province, one of four provinces in the Magellan and Chilean Antarctica Region, and administers the communes of Chilean Antarctic Territory and Cabo de Hornos. It has a population of 2,874, including both naval personnel and civilians. Puerto Williams claims the title of world's southernmost city. The settlement was founded in 1953, and was first named Puerto Luisa. The town was later named after John Williams Wilson, a British man who founded Fuerte Bulnes, the first settlement in the Strait of Magellan. It has served primarily as a naval base for Chile. The Chilean Navy runs the Guardiamarina Zañartu Airport and hospital, as well as nearby meteorological stations. Since the late 20th century, the number of navy personnel has decreased in Puerto Williams and the civilian population has increased. In that period, tourism and support of scientific research have contributed to an increase in economic activity.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Beagle Channel</span> Strait in Tierra del Fuego

Beagle Channel is a strait in the Tierra del Fuego Archipelago, on the extreme southern tip of South America between Chile and Argentina. The channel separates the larger main island of Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego from various smaller islands including the islands of Picton, Lennox and Nueva; Navarino; Hoste; Londonderry; and Stewart. The channel's eastern area forms part of the border between Chile and Argentina and the western area is entirely within Chile.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Selk'nam people</span> Ethnic group in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego

The Selk'nam, also known as the Onawo or Ona people, are an indigenous people in the Patagonian region of southern Argentina and Chile, including the Tierra del Fuego islands. They were one of the last native groups in South America to be encountered by migrant Europeans in the late 19th century. In the mid-19th century, there were about 4,000 Selk'nam; in 1916 Charles W. Furlong estimated there were about 800 Selk'nam living in Tierra del Fuego; with Walter Gardini stating that by 1919 there were 279, and by 1930 just over 100.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fuegians</span> Indigenous people of Tierra del Fuego

Fuegians are the indigenous inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego, at the southern tip of South America. The name has been credited to Captain James Weddell, who supposedly created the term in 1822.

The region of the Beagle Channel, explored by Robert FitzRoy in the 1830s, was one of the last to be colonized by Chile and Argentina. The cold weather, the long distances from other inhabited regions, and the shortage of transport and subsistence, kept it far from the governmental task.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Augusto Lasserre</span>

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Haush</span> Indigenous people of Tierra del Fuego

The Haush or Manek'enk were an indigenous people who lived on the Mitre Peninsula of the Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego. They were related culturally and linguistically to the Selk'nam people who also lived on the Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, and to the Tehuelche people of southern mainland Patagonia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Governor of Tierra del Fuego</span>

The Governor of Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica and South Atlantic Islands is the highest executive officer of the Argentine province of Tierra del Fuego. The Governor is directly elected by the people of the province for a four-year term. A Vice Governor (vicegobernador) is elected at the same time and can assume office in the absence, death or suspension of the Governor. The current governor of Tierra del Fuego is Gustavo Melella, elected in 2019.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tierra del Fuego National Park</span> Argentine park

Tierra del Fuego National Park is a national park on the Argentine part of the island of Tierra del Fuego, within Tierra del Fuego Province in the ecoregion of Patagonic Forest and Altos Andes, a part of the subantarctic forest. Established on 15 October 1960 under the Law 15.554 and expanded in 1966, it was the first shoreline national park to be established in Argentina.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Selk'nam genocide</span> 1850–1930 genocide of indigenous people in Tierra del Fuego

The Selk'nam genocide was the systematic extermination of the Selk'nam people, one of the four indigenous peoples of Tierra del Fuego, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Historians estimate that the genocide spanned a period of between ten and twenty years, and resulted in the decline of the Selk'nam population from approximately 4,000 people during the 1880s to a few hundred by the early 1900s.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thomas Bridges (missionary)</span> Anglican missionary and linguist (c. 1842 – 1898)

Thomas Bridges was an Anglican missionary and linguist, the first to set up a successful mission to the indigenous peoples in Tierra del Fuego, an archipelago shared by Argentina and Chile. Adopted and raised in England by George Pakenham Despard, he accompanied his father to Chile with the Patagonian Missionary Society. After an attack by indigenous people, in 1869 Bridges' father, Despard, left the mission at Keppel Island of the Falkland Islands, to return with his family to England. At the age of 17, Bridges stayed with the mission as its new superintendent. In the late 1860s, he worked to set up a mission at what is now the town of Ushuaia along the southern shore of Tierra del Fuego Island.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tierra del Fuego gold rush</span> 1883–1906 gold rush in Argentina

Between 1883 and 1906 Tierra del Fuego experienced a gold rush attracting many Chileans, Argentines and Europeans to the archipelago, including many Dalmatians. The gold rush led to the formation of the first towns in the archipelago and fueled economic growth in Punta Arenas. After the gold rush was over, most gold miners left the archipelago, while the remaining settlers engaged in sheep farming and fishing. The rush made a major contribution to the genocide of the indigenous Selk'nam people.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Argentina–Chile border</span> International border in South America

The Argentina–Chile border is the longest international border of South America and the third longest in the world after the Canada–United States border and the Kazakhstan–Russia border. With a length of 5,308 kilometres (3,298 mi), it separates Argentina from Chile along the Andes and on the islands of Tierra del Fuego. However, there are some border disputes, particularly around the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. It is the largest border of the two countries, beating the Argentina–Paraguay and Chile–Bolivia, Argentina's and Chile's second largest borders, respectively.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Flag of the Tierra del Fuego Province, Argentina</span> Flag of the Tierra del Fuego Province, Argentina

The flag of Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica and South Atlantic Islands Province is an Argentinian provincial flag representing Tierra del Fuego Province, Argentina and its constituent parts. The flag was adopted by the provincial government on November 9, 1999, after it was selected as the winning design in a public contest. It was designed by Teresa Beatríz Martínez.


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