Artorius Castus

Argentina

Posted in Uncategorized by Patrick Truax on October 15, 2007



ARGENTINA.

MOST NORTH AMERICANS ARE IGNORANT OF LARGE AREAS OF LATIN AMERICA. SURE, WE ALL KNOW WHERE MEXICO IS, AND SOME PEOPLE EVEN KNOW ABOUT CORTEZ AND THE CONQUISTADORES. AND WE’RE ALL PRETTY WELL CHECKED OUT ON THE LOCATION OF THE PANAMA CANAL. OVER THE LAST GENERATION WE’VE BEEN MADE AWARE OF COLOMBIA, NOT FOR ANY POSITIVE REASONS, HOWEVER.

BUT NOT TOO MANY PEOPLE ARE AWARE OF ARGENTINA BEYOND A LARGE COUNTRY DOWN THERE SOMEWHERE NEAR ANTARCTICA WITH A LOT OF ODDLY-DRESSED COWBOYS. ARGENTINA IS CERTAINLY LARGE AND IT HAS A RICH HISTORY. IN 1536, PEDRO DE MENDOZA WAS SENT BY THE KING OF SPAIN TO COLONIZE THE AREA AND SEARCH FOR GOLD. THEY SETTLED ON A POINT NEAR THE MOUTH OF THE RIO PLATA, AND BUENOS AIRES WAS FOUNDED. IT CONTINUED TO GROW FROM THAT POINT ON, AND TODAY IS ONE OF THE WORLD’S LARGEST AND MOST SOPHISTICATED CITIES. IT BECAME PART OF THE GREAT SPANISH EMPIRE IN SOUTH AMERICA. THE EARLY SETTLERS DECIMATED THE ABORIGINES THEY FOUND THERE AND TODAY THERE ARE VERY FEW DESCENDENTS OF THE NATIVE INDIANS.

OVER TIME, THE NATURAL YEARNING TO BE FREE BEGAN TO TAKE SHAPE IN LATIN AMERICA, AND MOVEMENTS TO DIVORCE THE SOUTH AMERICAN DEPENDENCIES FROM THE THRONE IN MADRID GREW. SIMON BOLIVAR LED THE MOVEMENT TO OUST THE MONARCHY FROM CARACAS, AND IN THE “SOUTHERN CONE,” AS THE STATE DEPARTMENT CALLS THE COUNTRIES OF CHILE, ARGENTINA AND URUGUAY, AND GENERAL JOSE DE SAN MARTIN LED THE MOVEMENT TO THROW OFF THE SPANISH YOKE FURTHER SOUTH. THROUGHOUT THE SOUTHERN CONE, SAN MARTIN IS REVERED AS “EL LIBERTADOR.” THE COMMAND OF “THE ARMY OF THE ANDES” FELL TO SAN MARTIN, AND HIS ABLE TRANSANDINO COUNTERPART WAS GENERAL BERNARDO O’HIGGINS, WHO FACED DOWN THE ROYALIST ARMY IN CHILE. THE BATTLES OF CHACABUCO, MAIPU AND QUILMES RING THE SAME BELLS IN SOUTH AMERICANS THAT VALLEY FORGE, KINGS MOUNTAIN AND YORKTOWN RING FOR US.

THE COUNTRY IS LARGELY FLAT, PAMPAS, WHEREIN LARGE HERDS OF CATTLE ARE TENDED BY GAUCHOS, ARGENTINE COWBOYS. THE BEEF IS FAMOUS WORLD-WIDE, EXCEPT FOR THE UNITED STATES WHERE WE DO A PRETTY GOOD JOB OF RAISING CATTLE OURSELVES. BUT ALONG ARGENTINA’S WESTERN FRONTIER WITH CHILE, IS THE ANDEAN RANGE.

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MIKE IS ALSO THE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE EXCELLENT SHOTS OF IGUAZU FALLS.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

BUENOS AIRES IS HOME TO SOME NINE MILLIONS “PORTENOS,” AS THEY ARE CALLED. ARGENTINES PREFER TO THINK OF THEMSELVES AS EUROPEANS TEMPORARILY ALIT IN THE NEW WORLD. THE CITIES WIDE STREETS ARE DOTTED WITH CAFETERIAS AND EXCELLENT RESTAURANTS. IT’S ALSO HOME OF THE HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARGENTINE ARMED FORCES, WHICH HAVE PLAYED A MAJOR PART IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE COUNTRY. IF WE THINK WE HAVE COMPETITION BETWEEN THE SERVICES HERE, IT’S NOTHING LIKE THAT OF ARGENTINA. EARLIER IN THE LAST CENTURY, PITCHED BATTLES WERE FOUGHT – BETWEEN THE INFANTRY AND THE CAVALRY.

RECENTLY IN ARGENTINA, THE MILITARY RULED THE COUNTRY WITH AN IRON HAND. PEOPLE SUSPECTED OF LEFTIST TENDENCIES WERE “DISAPPEARED.” ROADBLOCKS SPRUNG UP THROUGHOUT THE CITY, INNOCENT CITIZENS WERE SEARCHED AND ANYTHING EVEN REMOTELY SEDITIOUS WAS FOUND, THE DETAINEE WAS TAKEN OFF TO THE NAVAL MECHANICS SCHOOL ON AVENIDA LIBERTADOR, GRILLED, AND IF FOUND TO BE GUILTY BY THE JUNTA’S COURTS, WAS TAKEN FOR HIS/HER FIRST/LAST HELICOPTER RIDE OVER THE MOUTH OF THE DELTA OF RIO PLATA AND PUSHED OFF. THE BROTHER OF A FRIEND OF MY SON’S WAS DETAINED AT A ROADBLOCK AND FOUND TO HAVE THE PHONE NUMBER OF A LEFTIST. IT WAS INNOCENTLY COME BY, BUT THE YOUNG MAN HAD GONE MISSING. EVEN TODAY, THE MOTHERS OF THE MISSING STAGE A WEEKLY PARADE IN FRONT OF THE CASA ROSADA (SEAT OF THE ARGENTINE GOVERNMENT) DEMANDING THAT THE GOVERNMENT TURN OVER RECORDS REGARDING THEIR CHILDREN.

IN 1982, IN AN EFFORT TO TURN THE PUBLIC’S ATTENTION AWAY FROM THE ECONOMIC DISASTER THAT WAS THREATENING TO DRAG ARGENTINA DOWN TO A THIRD WORLD COUNTRY, THE MILITARY JUNTA DECIDED TO INVADE THE FALKLAND ISLANDS, SETTLED BY THE BRITISH FOR TWO CENTURIES; ARGENTINA HAD LONG LAID CLAIM TO THE WIND-SWEPT ISLANDS IN THE INHOSPITABLE FAR SOUTH ATLANTIC. THE BRITS, LED BY PRIME MINISTER MARGARET THATCHER, REACTED IMMEDIATELY AND DISPATCHED THOUSANDS OF TROOPS TO THE ISLANDS. THE ROYAL MARINE COMMANDOS HAD JUST FINISHED ARCTIC TRAINING IN NORWAY AND WERE STILL KITTED OUT IN THEIR COLD WEATHER GEAR. THE ARGIES (AS THEY ARE KNOWN THROUGHOUT THE ENGLISH-SPEAKING WORLD) WERE ILL PREPARED FOR THE BITTER APRIL WEATHER (APPROACHING WINTER); MANY OF THEIR TROOPS WERE RUSHED TO THE STAGING AREAS AT RIO GALLEGOS, STILL WITH THEIR JUNGLE EQUIPMENT. IT WASN’T MUCH OF A FIGHT, ALTHOUGH SOME ARGIES GAVE GOOD ACCOUNTS OF THEMSELVES. THE BRITISH SHEEP FARMERS ARE STILL IN CHARGE OF “LAS MALVINAS.”

1983 GENERAL ELECTIONS WERE HELD AND DR. RAUL ALFONSIN WAS ELECTED PRESIDENT AND INSTALLED A CIVILIAN GOVERNMENT WHICH WAS MUCH MORE DEMOCRATIC THAN THE MILITARY JUNTA IT REPLACED. MANY OF THE LEADERS OF THE JUNTA WERE IMPRISONED AND THERE WAS FESTERING RESENTMENT AMONG THE RANKS OF THE ARMY. THERE FOLLOWED SEVERAL ATTEMPTS TO RESTORE THE JUNTA OR AT LEAST TO FREE THE LEADERS DURING THE “DIRTY WAR.” THE FIRST HAPPENED ON GOOD FRIDAY 1987. SOME TROOPS UP COUNTRY STAGED AND “AUTOCARCELATION” AND CONFINED THEMSELVES TO BARRACKS. THE MOVEMENT SPREAD TO THE INFANTRY SCHOOL AT CAMPO DE MAYO NEAR BUENOS AIRES, AND THE COUNTRY WAS THROWN INTO TURMOIL. THE LEADER OF THE MOVEMENT WAS LT. COL ALDO RICO, A CAREER SOLDIER WHO HAD DISTINGUISHED HIMSELF IN THE FALKLANDS CAMPAIGN. RICO AND HIS COHORTS WANTED THEIR FORMER LEADERS FREED. THE MOVEMENT FAILED, BUT RESENTMENT IN THE FORCES CONTINUED TO SMOLDER.

SEVERAL OTHER ATTEMPTS FOLLOWED, AND RICO, ALONG WITH LT. COL MOHAMMED ALI SEINELDIN, CONTINUED THEIR UNDERGROUND WORK. IN THE ARGENTINE SUMMER OF 1988, COLUMNS OF TANKS WERE CLOSING IN ON THE CAPITAL AND WERE CONFRONTED BY LOYAL TANKERS, AND THE REBELS BACKED DOWN. THEN IN JAN 1989, ON A HOT SUMMER NIGHT, A GANG OF CIVILIAN REBELS HIJACKED A COCA-COLA TRUCK AND CRASHED THROUGH THE GATE OF THE BARRACKS AT LA TABLADA. SEVERAL SOLDIERS WERE KILLED BY THE WELL-ARMED REBELS AND THEY TOOK OVER LA TABLADA. DURING THE NIGHT, LOYALIST TROOPS SURROUNDED THE BASE AND RAKED IT WITH MACHINE GUN FIRE AND MORTARS. THE REBELS RETURNED FIRE AND MANY WERE KILLED DURING THE BATTLE. AFTER THAT, RELATIVE CALM RETURNED.

LT. COL. SEINELDIN, ALONG WITH LT. COL. RICO, WERE LEADERS OF A FACTION WITHIN THE ARMY; THEY WERE FIERCELY NATIONALISTIC AND DEVOUT ROMAN CATHOLICS. LATER, WHEN BOTH WERE IN JAIL, THEY LED DAILY ROSARY SERVICES. SENELDIN HAD BEEN A MILITARY ATTACHE IN PANAMA, AND THE ARGENTINE ARMY LEADERSHIP WERE MUCH HAPPIER WHEN HE WAS OUT OF THE COUNTRY. WHEN HIS TOUR AS AN ATTACHE WAS UP, HE WAS REASSIGNED TO AN INTERAMERICAN DEFENSE GROUP THERE. SENELDIN RETURNED IN THE SUMMER OF 1988 TO LEAD THAT UPRISING.

FOR A FOREIGNER WITH A HEALTHY BANK BALANCE, BUENOS AIRES IS A GREAT PLACE TO LIVE. IN THE LATE 1980S, THE RATE OF EXCHANGE WAS SO MUCH IN FAVOR OF THE AMERICANS, THAT ONE COULD GO TO A GREAT RESTAURANT AND HAVE A WORLD CLASS STEAK DINNER, WITH A SALAD, ARGENTINE FRENCH FRIES AND A FINE BOTTLE OF ARGENTINE WINE FOR ABOUT $8 A PERSON. MOST AMERICANS, BOTH OFFICIAL AND IN THE PRIVATE SECTOR, LIVED IN SOME OF THE FINEST NEIGHBORHOODS IN THE OUTSKIRTS OF THE CITY TO BE NEAR THE INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL IN LA LUCILA. OTHERS, THE SINGLES AND CHILDLESS COUPLES LIVED IN DELUXE APARTMENTS IN THE CENTER OF THE CITY. IN A CITY OF WORLD-CLASS RESTAURNTS, THIS WAS IN THE “RIO ALBA,” AROUND THE CORNER FROM THE EMBASSY, IS THE FIRST AMONG EQUALS.
ARGENTINA’S VASTNESS CAN LEAD TO CABIN FEVER. IN ORDER TO VISIT THE TOURIST AREAS OUTSIDE THE CAPITAL, IT’S NECESSARY TO FLY. PARAMOUNT AMONG THESE SIGHTS IS IGUAZU FALLS, ON THE ARGENTINE/BRAZILIAN/PARAGUAYAN BORDERS. IT’S A MAGNIFICENT SIGHT, AND THE PARK SURROUNDING THE FALLS IS VERY WELL MAINTAINED. THERE ARE SEVERAL EXCELLENT HOTELS IN THE AREA, AND ONE CAN VISIT THE FORMER PUERTO STROESSNER ON THE PARAGUAYAN SIDE. PUERTO STROESSNER, NOW KNOWN AS PUERTO ESTE, SINCE THE PARAGUAYAN STRONGMAN WAS OVERTHROWN AND LIVES OUT HIS DAYS IN BRAZIL. THAT TOWN IS THE SMUGGLING CAPITAL OF THE WORLD. ANYTHING CAN BE BOUGHT OR SOLD THERE.

THE ANDEAN CITY OF MENDOZA IS THE HEADQUARTERS OF ARGENTINA’S WORLD CLASS WINE INDUSTRY. THE AREA RECEIVES VERY LITTLE RAIN AND THE CONDITIONS ARE IDEAL TO GROW THE GRAPES. THE BACKDROP TO MENDOZA IS THE ANDEAN CHAIN. NOT FAR FROM MENDOZA, ONE CAN SEE MT. ACONCAGUA, AT 21,000+ FEET, IT’S THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN IN THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE.

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IN THE LAST QUARTER OF THE 19TH CENTURY HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF ITALIAN IMMIGRANTS ARRIVED IN BUENOS AIRES. THEY CAME IN THROUGH THE AREA OF THE PORTS KNOWN AS “LA BOCA.” THEY ASSIMILATED INTO ARGENTINE SOCIETY, AND THEY CERTAINLY LEFT THEIR MARK. THEY ALL SPEAK SPANISH NOW, BUT WITH THEIR OWN ACCENT. ARGENTINE SPANISH IS SOMEWHAT DIFFERENT THAN THAT WHICH IS TAUGHT IN SCHOOLS. THE “DOUBLE L” IN SPANISH IS PRONOUNCED AS “ZH” IN ARGENTINE SPANISH – COMO SE LLAMA BECOMES “COMO SE ZHAMA.” THE MIXTURE OF ITALIAN AND NATIVE ARGENTINE YIELDS SOME EXCEPTIONALLY BEAUTIFUL WOMEN. WHILE IN ROME, I WAS A “MEETER AND GREETER” OF OFFICIAL TRAVELERS COMING TO ROME, OR JUST PASSING THROUGH. THE FLIGHTS COMING IN FROM THE U.S. ARRIVED ROUGHLY AT THE TIME THAT AEROLINEAS ARGENTINAS, OR VARIG, OR LAN CHILE ARRIVED, AND MOST OF THE GREETERS WERE STUNNED BY THE BEAUTY OF THESE WOMEN ARRIVING FROM SOUTH AMERICA. WE FIGURED IT WAS SOMETHING IN THE WATER THERE, OR MAYBE SOME INDIAN BLOOD. WHATEVER, IT WORKS. “LA BOCA” IS A MAJOR TOURIST ATTRACTION. THE BIGGEST DRAWS ARE THE ARGENTINE COUPLES DANCING THE TANGO, BUENOS AIRES’ SIGNATURE DANCE, ON THE STREET. THEY’RE ACCOMPANIED BY AN ACCORDIANIST AND TOURISTS TOSS THEIR TIPS INTO AN OVERTURNED HAT ON THE STREET.

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ARGENTINA HAS SOME SERIOUS ISSUES WITH THE UNITED STATES. DURING THE 19TH CENTURY, THE ARGENTINE POWERS THAT WERE BELIEVED THAT THEY SHOULD BE THE PREEMINENT POWER IN THE HEMISPHERE, AND OVER THE YEARS HAVE HARBORED SOME RESENTMENT TOWARD THE YANQUIS. THIS RESENTMENT WAS EXACERBATED DURING THE FALKLANDS CAMPAIGN. U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE, AL HAIG, ENGAGED IN “SHUTTLE DIPLOMACY,” GOING BACK AND FORTH FROM LONDON TO BUENOS AIRES, TRYING TO RESOLVE THE SITUATION. ULTIMATELY, THE U.S. TILTED TOWARD ITS OLD ALLY, THE UNITED KINGDOM. FOR SOME TIME AFTER THE HOSTILITIES IN THE SOUTH ATLANTIC, YOUNG ARGENTINE OFFICERS WHO HAD TRAVELED TO THE U.S. FOR TRAINING, IN ALL SERVICES, PASSED IN FRONT OF THE U.S. EMBASSY IN PALERMO, AND THREW THEIR CERTIFICATES OVER THE FENCE, EXPRESSING THEIR DISPLEASURE WITH THE U.S.

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IN JUNE 1989, WE WERE LEAVING BUENOS AIRES AFTER ALMOST THREE YEARS THERE. MY DAUGHTER HAD JUST GRADUATED FROM THE LINCOLN SCHOOL THERE. I STOPPED OFF AT THE HOTEL BAR FOR A NIGHTCAP. THERE WERE SEVERAL YOUNG ARGENTINES IN THERE, AND AS SOON AS THEY HEARD MY ATROCIOUS ACCENT, THEY FIGURED OUT THAT I WAS A YANQUI DOG. ONE YOUNG FELLOW, THE LEADER OF THAT GROUP, ASKED ME, IN A NON-CONFRONTATIONAL TONE, WHY WE “TILTED” TOWARD THE U.K., AND NOT TOWARD OUR HEMISPHERIC ALLY? ANSWERING A QUESTION WITH A QUESTION, I ASKED HIM HOW MANY ARGENTINE REGIMENTS WENT ASHORE WITH THE ALLIES AT NORMANDY. I TOLD HIM THAT THE BRAZILIANS HAD COMMITTED TROOPS TO THE ALLIED CAMPAIGN IN ITALY, BUT THE ARGIES DIDN’T. I FURTHER ASKED HIM HOW MANY REGIMENTS FROM ARGENTINA FOUGHT ALONGSIDE THE U.S. AND THE U.K. IN KOREA. THAT SHUT THEM UP.

ALL IN ALL, OUR TRIP TO ARGENTINA WAS WORTH IT. IT OPENED OUR EYES TO A COMPONENT OF AMERICAN HISTORY OF WHICH WE HAD PREVIOUSLY HAD BEEN UNAWARE, AND WE SURE GOT SOME OUTSTANDING STEAKS OUT OF IT.

Terrence Truax
14 Oct 2007

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3 Responses

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  1. axe said, on October 15, 2007 at 4:43 pm

    If you are an inveterate skiier, and while away the summer months waiting for the first snowfall at Stowe or Steamboat, consider a trip to Argentina. The skiing during June, July and August is superb at Llao-Llao and San Juan de Bariloche.

  2. axe said, on October 15, 2007 at 4:45 pm

    There are millions of people in Buenos Aires, and the life style there can be very hectic. For the antidote to BA, hop on a ferry to Colonia, Uruguay, a short trip across the Rio de la Plata and one goes back in time to a slower pace. The restaurants in Colonia are every bit as good as in BA but without the hustle and hassle.

  3. axe said, on October 15, 2007 at 6:01 pm

    Argentina’s national soccer team has won the World Championship several times. In the League Series, there are several Buenos Aires teams. Paramount among them is Boca Juniors. Their home park is “La Bombanera,” located in La Boca. Enthusiasm sometimes overrides common sense, and violence is no stranger. The Brit hooligans get all the bad press, but the Argie hooligans are certainly in the same league.


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