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date: 08 December 2022

Foreigners under Spanish Rule in the Río de la Plata Regionlocked

Foreigners under Spanish Rule in the Río de la Plata Regionlocked

  • Martin BiersackMartin BiersackHistory, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat Munchen


The Laws of the Indies forbade non-Spaniards from settling in the Spanish territories of America. Nevertheless, foreign immigration to the provinces of the Río de la Plata, with its capital, Buenos Aires, was frequent and fostered by trans-imperial trade relations. Owing to the proximity of Brazil, the Portuguese were the most numerous foreign migrant group during the whole colonial period, although migrants from other European nations also came to the Río de la Plata. In the mid-17th century, there was a small Dutch presence. British, French, and particularly Italian immigration increased particularly during the 18th century.

Until the appointment of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata in 1776, the Cabildo of Buenos Aires largely controlled the migration regime in Buenos Aires. Its position toward foreign presence was one of tolerance. However, when merchants with monopolist interests gained control of the Cabildo during the second half of the 18th century, the Cabildo urged the governors and viceroys to expel foreigners and reduce trade with them. Montevideo, where merchants of Portuguese origin were more influential than in Buenos Aires, remained more tolerant toward foreigners until the end of the colonial period.

After the North American and French revolutions, foreigners—especially the French—were suspected of being supporters of republican ideas or independence, and their residence was seen as a problem in terms of security. The perception of foreigners as a security threat had a deep impact on the colonial migration regime because foreigners were being surveilled and expelled to Spain. In the last decade of colonial rule in Buenos Aires, the conflict between monopolist merchants in the Cabildo and landholders (hacendados), who favored free trade with foreigners, put the colonial order under pressure. The Spanish government was unable to resolve this conflict, and hence the question of free trade undermined viceregal power and ultimately led to its final removal.


  • History of Southern Spanish America
  • 1492–1824

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