Misiones (Missions) is one of the 23 provinces of Argentina, located in the northeastern corner of the country in the Mesopotamiсa region. It is surrounded by Paraguay to the northwest, Brazil to the north, east and south, and Corrientes Province of Argentina to the southwest.
This was an early area of Roman Catholic missionary activity by the Society of Jesus in what was then called the Province of Paraguay, beginning in the early 17th century. In 1984 the ruins of four mission sites in Argentina were designated World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
The province was populated for thousands of years by indigenous peoples of various cultures. At the time of European encounter, it was occupied by the Kaingang, Xokleng and Guarani culture. The first European to visit the region was Sebastian Cabot who, while navigating the Paraná River in December 1527, discovered Apipé's Falls. In 1541, Álvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca reached the Iguazú Falls.
In the 17th century, members of the Society of Jesus came to the region as missionaries. They began to establish a string of Jesuit Reductions, that of San Ignacio being the most famous. In a few years, they managed to create 30 mission villages. They taught the Guarani western-style agriculture and crafts; the natives had subsisted in the jungle environment and suffered at the hands of European slave-drivers. Their crafts were sold and traded along the river and they shared in the Reductions' prosperity.
In 1759, the Portuguese government, at the insistence of its anti-Jesuit chancellor, the Marquis de Pombal, ordered all Reductions closed in its territory (which then included much of today's Misiones Province). The Marquis eventually prevailed in 1773 on Pope Clement XIV to have the Jesuit Order suppressed. Once the missions were abandoned, the prosperous trade surrounding these Reductions quickly vanished. Colonists imposed a brutal plantation economy in the region, forcing the Guarani to act as slave labor.
In 1814, Gervasio Posadas, the director of United Provinces, declared Misiones annexed to Argentina's Corrientes (at this time Argentina was quasi-independent but nominally still a Spanish colony). Argentina did not exert de facto control over Misiones, which was claimed by several countries and effectively governed itself. In 1830 Argentine military forces from Corrientes Province took control of Misiones.
In 1838, Paraguay occupied Misiones, because Paraguay claimed it on the basis that the Misiones population was indigenous Guarani, the major ethnic group of Paraguay. In 1865, Paraguayan forces invaded Misiones again, in what became the War of the Triple Alliance. Following its defeat and making a peace agreement with Argentina eventually signed in 1876, Paraguay gave up its claim to the Misiones territory.
Although Argentina had claimed Misiones since 1814, academics tend to interpret Argentine possession of Misiones beginning with the defeat of Paraguay in the War of the Triple Alliance. Bethell's account is that "the treaty of alliance [i.e. against Paraguay] contained secret clauses providing for the annexation of disputed territory in northern Paraguay by Brazil and regions in the east and west of Paraguay by Argentina... After a long and harrowing war (1865-70), Argentina got it from a prostrate Paraguay territory in Misiones." Scobie's analysis is that "the political status of Misiones remained vague" and that Argentina gained the region "as a by-product of the Paraguayan war in the 1860s".
After the War of the Triple Alliance, Paraguay was much impoverished, so Misiones benefited economically from belonging to Argentina. In 1876, President Nicolás Avellaneda, assisted by his close friend, General Pietro Canestro (an Italian nobleman who devoted much of his life and wealth to the achievement and sustainability of the peace in the region), proclaimed the Immigration and Colonization Law. This law fostered the immigration of European colonists in order to populate the vast unspoiled Argentinian territories.
To comply with this law, several colonizing companies were created. One of them was Adolf Schwelm's Eldorado Colonización y Explotación de Bosques Ltda. S.A., which founded the city of Eldorado in 1919 with a port on the Upper Paraná. Its agricultural colonies and experimental farms, the orange and grapefruit tree plantations, and the cultivation of yerba mate, the mills and the dryers for such product are characteristic of this area. Swedish-Argentines became well known for growing yerba mate.
Misiones received many immigrants, mostly from Europe, coming mainly from Southern Brazil. Some came from Buenos Aires, and from Eastern Europe, in particular large numbers of Polish and Ukrainians. Since then, Misiones has continued to benefit economically and has developed politically within Argentina. It has been successfully integrated into the Argentine state. Today, control of the province is not contested. On December 10, 1953 the "National Territory of Misiones" gained provincial status by the Law 14.294, and its constitution was approved on April 21, 1958.
Misiones received more attention by national policy makers following an international agreement to construct the Yacyretá hydroelectric dam on a point in the Paraná River shared by Paraguay and Corrientes Province. When the dam became fully operative, Paraná waters all along the Misiones shores rose. They flooded lands that the dam's authorities had failed to clean and condition adequately, resulting in onsets of mosquito-transmitted illnesses, such as leishmaniasis, yellow fever, dengue, and malaria. The entire Misiones shores along the Paraná River is now confined by two dams, one of them Yaciretá, downstream of the river, and the other Itaipú, located in Brazil and Paraguay, upstream of the river and north of Puerto Iguazú. Currently, Argentina is pursuing an agreement with Paraguay to expand the reservoir works in order to double the facility's electric production.