Julio Argentino Roca

Alejo Julio Argentino Roca Paz (July 17, 1843 October 19, 1914) was an army general who served as 8th President of Argentina from 12 October 1880 to 12 October 1886 and 13th from 12 October 1898 to 12 October 1904. Roca is the most important representatives of the Generation of '80 and is known for directing the "Conquest of the Desert", a series of military campaigns against the indigenous peoples of Patagonia. During his two terms as president, many important changes occurred, particularly major infrastructure projects of railroads and port facilities; increased foreign investment, particularly from Great Britain; large-scale immigration from southern Europe; expansion of the agricultural and pastoral sectors of the economy; and laicizing legislation strengthening state power. Roca's main foreign policy concern was to set the limits with Chile, which had never been determined with precision. Roca took advantage of the fact that year of 1881, Chile was fighting the War of the Pacific against Bolivia and Peru, so for Chile it was strategically important not to have a second military front. Argentina gained territory by treaty with Chile.

Julio Argentino Roca
Julio Argentino Roca with the presidential band, in his second term (1898-1904).
8th & 13th President of Argentina
In office
October 12, 1898  October 11, 1904
Vice PresidentNorberto Quirno Costa
Preceded byJosé E. Uriburu
Succeeded byManuel Quintana
In office
October 12, 1880  October 11, 1886
Vice PresidentFrancisco Bernabé Madero
Preceded byNicolás Avellaneda
Succeeded byMiguel Juárez
Minister of the Interior
In office
August 6, 1890  May 1, 1891
PresidentCarlos Pellegrini
Preceded bySalustiano Zavalía
Succeeded byJosé Vicente Zapata
Minister of War and the Navy
In office
January 4, 1878  October 9, 1879
PresidentNicolás Avellaneda
Preceded byAdolfo Alsina
Succeeded byCarlos Pellegrini
Personal details
Born(1843-07-17)July 17, 1843
San Miguel de Tucumán
DiedOctober 19, 1914(1914-10-19) (aged 71)
Buenos Aires
Political partyNational Autonomist
Spouse(s)Clara Funes
ChildrenJulio Argentino
María Marcela
ParentsJosé Segundo Roca
Agustina Paz
Military service
Allegiance Argentina
Branch/service Argentine Army
Rank Lieutenant General

Upbringing and early career

Roca was born in the northwestern city of San Miguel de Tucumán in 1843 into a prominent local family. He graduated from the National College in Concepción del Uruguay, Entre Ríos. Before he was 15, Roca joined the army of the Argentine Confederation, on 19 March 1858. While still an adolescent, he went to fight as a junior artillery officer in the struggle between Buenos Aires and the interior provinces, first on the side of the provinces and later on behalf of the capital. He also fought in the War of the Triple Alliance against Paraguay between 1865 and 1870. Roca rose to the rank of colonel serving in the war to suppress the revolt of Ricardo López Jordán in Entre Ríos. President Nicolás Avellaneda later promoted him to General after his victory over rebel general José M. Arredondo in the battle of Santa Rosa, leading the loyalist forces. Roca saw the army "as an agent of national unification," and his experience in the army "broadened his understanding of Argentina and the provincial upper class."[1]

Political beginnings

In 1878, during Avellaneda's presidency, he became Minister of War and it was his task to prepare a campaign that would bring an end to the "frontier problem" after the failure of the plan of Adolfo Alsina (his predecessor). A number of indigenous groups defended their traditional territories and frequently assaulted non-indigenous frontier settlements, taking horses and cattle, and capturing women and children, who were enslaved or offered as brides to the warriors.[2][3] Roca's approach to dealing with the Indian communities of the Pampas, however, was completely different from Alsina's, who had ordered the construction of a ditch and a defensive line of small fortresses across the Province of Buenos Aires. Roca saw no way to end native attacks (malones) but by putting under effective government control all land up to the Río Negro in a campaign (known as the Conquest of the Desert) that would "extinguish, subdue or expel" the Indians who lived there. "He began the campaign against the Ranqueles", which eventually resulted in the "transfer of 35% of national territory from the Indians to local caudillos.[4] This land conquest would also strengthen Argentina's strategic position against Chile.

He devised a "tentacle" move, with waves of 6,000 men cavalry units stemming coordinately from Mendoza, Córdoba, Santa Fé and Buenos Aires in July 1878 and April 1879 respectively, with an official toll of nearly 1,313 Native Americans killed and 15,000 taken as prisoners,[5] and is credited with the liberation of several hundred European hostages.[6]

First presidency

In mid-1879, after the death of Alsina, the most prestigious leader of the National Autonomous Party was General Roca, which was proposed as a candidate by Cordoba's governor Miguel Celman, and in Buenos Aires by the doctor Eduardo Wilde; quickly gained the support of most of the Argentine state governors. The April 11 elections for president, which came a sweeping victory for the voters of Roca, except in Buenos Aires and Corrientes. On June 13 the Electoral College met and elected President General Roca and Vice President Francisco Bernabé Madero. But in Buenos Aires it was brewing a revolution against the triumph of Roca. Four days later the fighting began, which ended on June 25 with an agreement between the province and the nation; the revolution of 1880 had cost 3,000 dead. Shortly before the presidential inauguration Roca was passed in Congress federalization of Buenos Aires.

Under his mandate the so-called "laicist laws" (Leyes Laicas) were passed, which nationalized a series of functions that previously were under the control of the Church. He also created the so-called Registro Civil, an index of all births, deaths and marriages. President Roca also made primary education free of charge by nationalizing education institutions run by the Church. This led to a break in relations with the Vatican. Roca presided over an era of rapid economic development fueled by large scale European immigration, railway construction, and booming agricultural exports. In May 1886 Roca was the subject of a failed assassination attempt.

Continuing political involvement

Roca himself had put forward Juárez Celman as his successor, who was his brother-in-law. However, Celman distanced himself from Roca. Celman's government was ultimately tarnished by the Baring crisis and corruption allegations.

Roca did not participate in the 1890 revolution attempt against Celman, which was instigated by Leandro N. Alem and Bartolomé Mitre (Unión Cívica, later Unión Cívica Radical). However, he was pleased in the resulting weakness of Miguel Juárez Celman.

After his first presidency Roca remained important politically, becoming a senator and Minister of the Interior under Carlos Pellegrini. After President Luis Sáenz Peña resigned in January 1895, José Evaristo Uriburu took over the presidency, when Roca was President of the Senate. Because of this, Roca again assumed the duties of President between 28 October 1895 and 8 February 1896, when Uriburu was ill.

Second presidency

In the middle of 1897 the Partido Autonomista Nacional party put forward Roca as a presidential candidate once more. Unopposed, he was able to begin a second regular term in office on 12 October 1898. During his second presidency, the Ley de Residencia law was passed, which made it possible to expel some of Argentina's trade union leaders, who were noncitizen anarchists and socialists deemed dangerous to Argentina.[7] During this presidency military service was introduced in 1901 and a border dispute with Chile was settled in 1902. Luis Drago, Roca’s foreign minister, articulated the Drago Doctrine of 1902 asserting that foreign powers could not collect public debts from sovereign American states by armed force or occupation of territory. Argentina's foreign debt increased in this period, although economic growth continued. Roca was unable to continue his political domination, and he was unable to essentially name his successor. Roca's second term ended in 1904, and is considered less successful than his first.[8]

Later years

In 1912 Roca was appointed as Special Ambassador of Argentina to Brazil by President Roque Sáenz Peña. Roca returned to Argentina in 1914 and died in Buenos Aires on October 19, 1914. He was buried in La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires.

His son, Julio Argentino Roca, Jr., became vice-president of Argentina in 1932 to 1938.


During the twentieth century, Roca was recognized as one of the statesmen who forged the foundations of the modern Argentine republic. As such, Roca has been honored by designating cities, departments, lakes, streets, avenues, squares, monuments, parks, schools and railway lines throughout the country.  Examples include the city of General Roca in the province of Río Negro, the town of Presidencia Roca in the province of Chaco; the town of Presidente Roca in the province of Santa Fe; the Colonia Roca of the province of Entre Ríos; the General Roca Department of the province of Córdoba. In Buenos Aires, a major thoroughfare is named for him and an equestrian statue of him was erected in 1941.

In recent years, there has been an increasing re-evaluation of Roca's place in Argentine history [9], particularly his involvement in the Conquest of the Desert. Some groups claim that he committed genocide against the Indians.[10][11]


  • General Julio A. Roca and his campaigns in the Pampa, 1878-1879, by Robert Carter Burns (1960).
  • Carlos Pellegrini and the Crisis of the Argentine Elites, 1880-1916, by Douglas W. Richmond (1989).
  • Soy Roca, by Félix Luna (1989).

See also


  1. Douglas A. Richmond, "Julio Argentino Roca" in Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture, vol. 4 p. 583. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons 1996.
  2. Argentina: Countries of the World, Erika Wittekind, p. 67, ABDO, 01/09/2011
  3. Captive Women: Oblivion And Memory In Argentina, Susana Rotker, p.32, University of Minnesota Press, 04/12/2002
  4. Richmond, "Julio A. Roca", p. 583
  5. The Argentine Military and the Boundary Dispute With Chile, 1870-1902, George V. Rauch, p. 47, Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999
  6. Twigs of a Tree a Family Tale: From a Priest Defrocked by the French Revolution to English Pioneering on the Pampas, Lin Widmann, p.164, AuthorHouse, 23/04/2012
  7. Richmond, "Julio A. Roca" p. 584
  8. Richmond, "Julio A. Roca", p. 584.
  9. Centenario de Roca https://julioarocahoy.wordpress.com/category/centenario-de-roca/
  10. Rory Carroll, “Argentinian founding father recast as genocidal murderer”, The Guardian, 13 January 2011
  11. Philip McCouat, "Art and Survival in Patagonia", Journal of Art in Society, http://www.artinsociety.com
Political offices
Preceded by
Nicolás Avellaneda
President of Argentina
Succeeded by
Miguel Juárez Celman
Preceded by
José E. Uriburu
President of Argentina
Succeeded by
Manuel Quintana
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