Few people know that the first president of the Argentine Republic was of Greek descent. Bartolomé Mitre Martínez was born on 26 June 1821 in Buenos Aires to a Greek family originally named Mitropoulos.
Vartholomeos Mitropoulos, or Mitre as he has been known since, was the President of Argentina from 1862 to 1868.
His ultimate ancestor Ventura Mitropoulos had arrived in Argentina from Venice in the late 17th century.
It is said that his ancestor left the Himara region in northern Epirus in about 1670, following the great escape of the Greek population to avoid conscription in the Ottoman army. Most, including Ventura Mitropoulos, fled to Italy and, in particular, Venice, before sailing to South America.
As a liberal, Mitre opposed the dictatorship of Juan Manuel de Rosas and was exiled to Uruguay in 1846. Later, he lived in Bolivia, Peru and Chile and with his action contributed to the fall of Rosas in 1852.
Mitre’s political prowess continued to grow and was eventually elected President. National political unity was finally achieved in Argentina and a period of internal progress and reform then commenced.
However, during his one term in office, he committed Argentina to a horrible war against Paraguay. Hardly a popular campaign, Mitre’s successor would be the one left to negotiate peace and pick up the pieces.
According to legend, he never forgot his family roots. Although he never visited Greece, he spoke excellent Greek.
Mitre’s longest-lasting contribution to Argentina was founding the newspaper La Nación, one of South America’s leading newspapers.
Bartolome Luis Mitre, a descendant and current owner of the newspaper, visited Greece in 2013. Speaking of the personality of his ancestor, Mitre said that “apart from being the founder of the newspaper and president, he was a great scholar who translated the Odyssey from Greek to Spanish.”
Mitre ranks as an important South-American historiographer. He wrote the best accounts of South America’s wars of independence and published many works, amongst which are: “History of Belgrano and of the Argentine Independence” and “History of San Martín”.
On his death in 1906, he was interred in La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires.
It is estimated that about 20,000 Greeks or people of Greek descent live in Argentina today. The bulk of immigration occurred during the first half of the 20th century, mainly after the Asia Minor Campaign and the disaster in 1922.
A new wave of immigration, took part in the early 1930s.The choosing of Argentina as a destination was due the temporary denial for immigration in the United States, making South America and Argentina in particular the new Eldorado.