THE traveller in luck will arrive in Buenos Aires, capital of Argentina, when the blue jacaranda flowers and the pinks and whites of the ‘drunken trunk’ trees colour the broad avenues. That profusion, that abundance, is the proper introduction to a country whose dimensions seem almost too large to grasp.
The Pampa Humeda, the ‘green desert’ that was the world’s granary during times of war, seems to have only one limit the horizon, as has the Patagonian Desert. Going north, the traveller will arrive at the colonial cities, where the architectural and religious system of the Spanish conquerors is preserved as a precious legacy. In the south lies mountain country, which leads to the Antarctic region of the South Atlantic where the Falklands are now an English military base. Only then, after travelling 2,300 miles from north to south, will one have seen the second largest country in South America.
The European settlement of Argentina began when Don Pedro de Mendoza sailed from Spain in 1535 with 14 ships and some 2,000 men and women to found the town of Santa Maria de los Buenos Aires on the banks of the River Plate. The native born white descendants of the Spaniards were the Criollos. After independence from Spain in 1810. the capital city continued to imitate Europe in its fashions, social customs and political practices. In the countryside lived the cattle ranchers, administering their property: there, also, lived the gauchos. and the nomadic Indians who were first pushed off the fertile pampas and then exterminated. In General Roca’s ‘desert campaign’ a good price was paid for each Indian’s ear.
Even in modern times Argentina has looked towards Europe. But since the Falklands/Malvinas war with Britain. she seems more inclined to look towards her poorer South American sisters. Argentina’s military appears ready to readmit some civilians to governmental posts but then, their authority is now assured. Whether they rule from centre stage or from behind the scenes. The war against internal political dissent is over: as in Chile or Uruguay. the dissenters have been annihilated.
Unlike most Third World countries, Argentina’s population is small and her GNP per head is as high as that of several European countries. She has a high literacy rate 93 per cent) and a broad band of middle- income earners. But Argentina’s classes are becoming polarised between the very rich and the poor. Despite a strong and well-organised working class, her old pampas oligarchy still controls the land and the political power. In three years, wages have declined by half while the dominant position of capital has been strengthened. And the disparities between Buenos Aires and the countryside have been widening.
The Falklands crisis put Argentina on the Western world’s map. With grim humour, one resident noted that ‘at least our mail is no longer addressed to Buenos Aires, Brazil’.
Nilda Sito Maxwell