Argentinian Diary – Las Malvinas and Rio Gallegos

Las Islas Malvinas - Rio Gallegos
Las Islas Malvinas – Rio Gallegos

Argentinian Diary –Las Malvinas and Rio Gallegos

The Background

It would be impossible for a Britisher to make a visit to Argentina and not make reference to the war between the United Kingdom and Argentina over the Islas Malvinas, from April 2nd to June 14th 1982. That tacky,wasteful and unnecessary war was a God-given opportunity for a weak and pathetic government to try to divert the attention of the population from its failed economy and worsening social conditions.If true justice existed in the world that neo-fascist would be charged in the international court for war crimes. Margaret Thatcher was lucky. ‘Her’ side won – and so she was able to hide behind the ‘joy and enthusiasm’ of victory. After all, it’s the victors who write the history of any conflict.

The ‘other side’ was led by an equally weak and pathetic leader, Leopoldo Galtieri, a fascist army general who was the last President during the period of military dictatorship from 1976-83. H hoped to use nationalist feelings over the Islas Malvinas to divert attention away from the growing opposition to military rule. He gambled – and lost.

I won’t go into my thoughts too deeply about that shameful war. Suffice it to say that if Galtieri had held back for a couple of months the outcome could have been very different – for the history of the Malvinas as well as for the subsequent history of the two countries concerned.

At least the Argentinians knew where the Malvinas were. Most Britishers, waking up to the news on Friday 3rd April 1982 thought the Argentinians were off the north west coast of Scotland.

The British success –which was as close to a near thing as the Battle of Waterloo –meant that the military dictatorship in Argentina had just over a year before it was replaced by a ‘democratic’ government.

The war and the eventual re-raising of the Union Flag in Port Stanley released a flood of patriotism, jingoism and racism in Britain unknown since the  Relief of Mafeking in 1900. In return for their stupidity the British people had the pleasure of Thatcher as their leader for another eight years, the entrenchment of the ‘neo-liberal’ economic theories(adopted, more or less, by all political parties in the UK since),the weakening of the economy and the power of workers to determine their own futures and the worsening conditions for society in general under the banner of ‘austerity’ .

The Rio Gallegos ‘Monument to the Fallen in the Malvinas War’

Being one of the closest points on the Argentinian mainland to the islands Rio Gallegos was obviously to play a major role in the land, sea and air war. For that reason there’s a large monument to the fallen on the outskirts of the town. Not the best of locations, to my mind, but then perhaps there’s always a different mindset when a monument commemorates a victory or a defeat.

(The monument in Puerto Madryn is on the edge of town and the one in Buenos Aires,although central, is still in a peripheral location. The ‘eternal flame’ at that monument wasn’t so eternal during the lock-down of the G-20 2018 as it was surrounded by metal crash barriers.)

Monument to the Fallen in the Malvinas War
Monument to the Fallen in the Malvinas War

I also don’t think it’s a particularly impressive monument – taking into account the feelings that all Argentinians I’ve met have towards the Malvinas. Not only is it unimpressive as a piece of architecture it doesn’t help that it’s starting to look a little bit neglected. If I read the situation correctly it was originally planned to have an almost permanent flow of water, uniting the tower to the geometric representation of the islands a few metres away. When everything is dry and rubbish is starting to collect then the original idea is not only lost it becomes an indication of lack of care.

Looking at the memorial from what would be the principle approach the entrance is flanked by two eternal flames (gas operated) which sit upon truncated pyramids.The central monument is a yellow column sitting upon a pile of rocks(presumably representing the islands themselves). From the eternal flames this column shows three levels which reduce in height and width. I’ve no idea what this implies. A short distance from the top of the column a circular crown of laurel leaves forms vertically to achieve the highest point of the monument.

From the front it looks like a vertical pillar but from the sides it can be seen that it folds back on itself, as in a concave image. Almost exactly in the centre is a small, square hole. I can’t see what this signifies but if my idea is that this monument is also a water feature it is from this hole that the water would fall towards the islands at the back of the column.

From behind the column a chute comes down steeply from the hole. This is painted red, as is the pavement on either side of the channel that leads to the pool in which sits a very rough geometric representation of the islands. I’d forgotten how complex the islands are with its coves and bays.

We get the idea that these are islands in a sea as the land is grassed over to differentiate the concrete from the water. There are no trees represented as we know from 1982 that no trees grow on the islands.

My interpretation here is that the blood of the Argentinians, in some ways, nurture the islands. That the ‘sacrifice’ of the 649 in 1982 are what make the islands part of the country. But as I’ve already said, the fact that no water is running and the area is starting to look neglected, this idea loses a lot of its power.

The Fallen in the Malvinas War
The Fallen in the Malvinas War

On either side of the principal monument are two, L-shaped alcoves. On the external sides there are two bas reliefs in red, of the four only one of them is recognisable and that seems to be faces in some sort of agony. Time and/or vandalism has degraded the other three. On the interior of these alcoves are fixed a number of brass or ceramic plaques that have been fixed there over a period of time by different groups commemorating specific anniversaries – this is a common approach to monuments throughout Argentina and can be seen, for example, on the San Martin monument in the square that bears his name only a few blocks away in the centre of town.

To the left of the two eternal flames is a board contains a poem written for the inauguration of the monument – I didn’t see any date of its inauguration nor any details of the architect/artist.

My translation of that poem is:

I have seen emerge, from the very soul of our land, valiant combatants of the air, sea and land parading their laurels in the infinite heaven

I have seen the sacrifice of their spilt blood bathing our islands in honour

Justice will come then, as hot firebrands engrave the memory of the men to which this symbol in concrete pays homage

Hector Pedraza

The Malvinas remembered in the port of Rio Gallegos

I’ve come across a number of murals in my travels but, due to only catching a glimpse of them from a bus window, I have no actual record of them. However, the general point is that a) Las Malvinas son Argentinas and b) those who died should not be forgotten.

In the port area of Rio Gallegos I came across these murals.

I’ll let these pictures (in the main) – with the relevant translations – make their own point.

The Angel
The Angel

The young soldier,converted into an angel, flying over the graves of his fallen comrades, with the ‘Sun of May’ in the top left – on his way to heaven. Notice the beatific smile on his face, as if he is the modern day version of a Christian martyr. All this image needs is the image of a Gurkha’s khukuri that slit his throat to be floating in the air behind him. This is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most bizarre and, in many ways, most unpleasant call for the dead to be remembered I have seen.

Glory and Honour Forever
Glory and Honour Forever

Glory and Honour Forever

Whilst an Argentinian breathes
Whilst an Argentinian breathes

Whilst an Argentinian draws breath we will never be the invaders

649
649

649 – they will always be our heroes (649 is the number of the Argentinian dead)

Don't mourn Grandma
Don’t mourn Grandma

Malvinas Forever –’Old Lady (Grandma), don’t mourn that I’m with my fallen comrades on the islands. All I need is that my country remembers me.’

No Surrender!
No Surrender!

Here there’s no surrender. Shit! Long Live the Country (Argentina). Our own strength.

Two struggles in one
Two struggles in one

28 Heart – We will build together

This one is a little bit complicated and has to be de-constructed.

I think that the image of the islands and the soldier, with the Argentinian flag in the centre, was the original image – without words.

However, time moves on and other struggles come to the fore. Beside this image of the Malvinas was another which puts the case for the miners of the RioTurbio region (which used to send shipments of coal to the port of Rio Gallegos) who are under threat of closure. It depicts a black miner’s helmet with the torch attached with the words ‘I’m here as well’ and ‘Miner’s Power’. As in Britain in the 1980s the closure of the mines doesn’t just mean the loss of jobs it means the total destruction of a community.

I'm here as well
I’m here as well

The interpretation I have learnt from speaking to people locally is that the miners (or apolitical faction from that community) have put their slogan over the original Malvinas image to equate the two struggles that people believe in, fervently, in this part of Argentina.

(Anyone aware of the situation in Britain with the neo-fascist Thatcher and her government’s struggle against the miners in the Great Strike of 1984-5 might think that this situation in 2018 is quite ironic. It also indicates that if workers don’t start to think in an international manner and remain parochial then what effects workers in one part of the world will eventually effect all in time.)

There’s also a very small museum in Rio Gallegos dedicated to the War in the Malvinas which I will post separately.

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Argentinian Diary – The Cost of the Buenos Aires G-20

G-20 preparations
G-20 preparations

The Cost of the Buenos Aires G-20

I’m not going to really discuss any of the issues that might, or might not, have resolved at this day and a half get-together of the world’s top gangsters but more about the effects that unnecessary meeting had on the city of Buenos Aires and the country of Argentina in general.

The Argentine government, police and military have probably been clapping each other on the backs since the return to ‘normality’ last Sunday. As a security exercise it was definitely a success. They avoided confrontations (although many in the riot police would have loved to have got their hands dirty – they have shown little reluctance to do so when confronted with peaceful gatherings in the past) and any march of many thousands of working people of Buenos Aires was kept far enough away from their foreign visitors that it wouldn’t have effected their appreciation of the champagne.

But at what cost, in both financial and social repercussions.

20,000 police, hundreds of the high, black barricades – known locally as ‘vallas’ – which closed off streets and surrounded ‘sensitive’ buildings, the lost wages of those who couldn’t get to work due to the cancellation of public transport (buses, local trains and the underground), the loss to businesses in the centre of town (shops, restaurants, etc.) who found that the normally busy streets were more like those after some apocalyptic disaster.

There were security rings within security rings within security rings.

The police presence was there not to provide security to the civil society but for a self selected group of VIPs, whose decisions affect the lives of all those on the planet but of whose lives they know little and care even less.

Minutes after thousands of people, less than half a kilometre away, were rejecting the political decisions that cause unemployment, homelessness and real hunger these same ‘leaders’ of the free (capitalist) world were enjoying a banquet where cost was the last of anyone attending’s concern.

I wondered what these people, who are not entirely stupid but totally heartless, thought about a huge part of a major capital city being in lock down just so they could go the Teatro Colon and ‘enjoy’ a lack lustre dance performance and then a slap up meal. What is behind their thinking when the decisions they make have an effect upon millions of people but they seem to have no concern what those very same people have to say about their policies? Are they in such a protective bubble that they can just compartmentalise such opposition as the work of self-interested and professional agitators? Do they not see the conditions in which so many throughout the world live and struggle to exist?

But them I remembered that they live in a world apart. A world where the maintenance of their decrepit and moribund system is all that matters. At times that system is, more or less, tolerable for a sizeable proportion of people on the planet, even at times a majority, but their periodic crises means that – as it was generations ago – the vast majority of even those chosen few are only a wage packet away from penury and real suffering. Those who live such a life all the time are used to it so why should they complain.

Which city will be welcoming the G-20 next year? Buenos Aires has shown that ‘trouble’ can be averted – but at a price. How many cities would be prepared to accept such disruption and loss for a meeting that barely lasts two days? One thing for sure is that Paris won’t be chosen for that ‘honour’, the people there having shown (as they did in the 19th and 20th centuries) that they don’t suffer such fools gladly.

Conspiracy Theory or not

Not being a devout conspiracy theorist doesn’t mean that sometimes I think some things are too pat to be true.

I read two articles in the local newspapers in the lead up and start if the G-20 conference and don’t know how they might have been reported outside of the country.

One was related to a number of supposed ‘bomb alerts’ that occurred in the city in the days leading up to the summit. I don’t know where these alerts occurred as there was no definite information that could pinpoint a particular location. Also I was in the centre at the time of these so-called ‘alerts’ and wasn’t aware of any additional activity that I would have thought would have accompanied such a response in a situation of high alert.

And the pictures of the supposed bombs were like a five year old’s impression of an explosive device. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the image in the newspaper wasn’t of a black, round object with the world ‘bomb’ written in white on the side and a fuse sticking out the top.

I don’t totally reject the idea that someone might have made a telephone call with a false bomb alert to cause disruption but the other example is even more food for a conspiracy theory.

It seems that a taxi was stopped on the Thursday and a number of ‘Molotov’ cocktails were found, together with a rather large bag of walkie-talkies. As a result of this a number of people were detained. But something was wrong from the beginning when the story was being related on the TV news.

All the bottles looked as if they had just come out of the supermarket, the liquor thrown away and petrol put in its place. All the bottle were of a different size and mark and the labels were pristine, with not a mark of petrol to spoil the image. It was if they were being put on show to advertise their involvement in the heinous attempt to subvert democracy.

But if that wasn’t bad enough the report continued by saying that all those detained had been released on the orders of someone high up in the Argentinian judiciary. Are they kidding?

To the best of my knowledge there wasn’t a general and random ‘stop and search’ operation in force. If that was the case then any reason for stopping a vehicle would have been based on ‘intelligence’. If that was the case how could the security forces then let whoever was implicated in this act of violence go free? Are they pulling someone’s plonker? I doubt whether this issue will ever go through the courts.

As far as I’m concerned, with my ‘conspiracy theorist’ hat on is that theses two reports were all conceived to make the overwhelming security presence(and cost) more acceptable to impressionable Bonaerenses.

But there were positives from the summit.

Trump showed himself not just to be a bully but so arrogant that even though he might get his way in the short term he is only leaving himself with almost insurmountable problems in the future. He spurned those who he might need in the future. He treated his host (an equally cretinous individual) with contempt, even though the lapdog would have done anything to ingratiate himself with the occupant of the White House.

The American considers that he is so settled in his homeland that he doesn’t need the support of other nations. But his knowledge of world history is as dire as his interpersonal skills. He seems to totally ignore the de-dollarisation that is taking place under his nose. He doesn’t seem to be concerned that alliances are being made between those who were previously ‘enemies’. He doesn’t realise that he is the one who will wake up one morning to a different world. A world where competing powers are in an anti-American political and economic alliance.

If American was the loser in this meeting then so was the old world, the European powers such a Britain, France, Spain and Italy – who were barely mentioned in any analysis of what was happening in Buenos Aires.

Whether this will affect the incumbent in the Casa Rosada is another matter.Argentinian politics are complicated (not that the situations in other countries are not equally complex) and although the life of so many was effected over these three days and with the majority of the population living in the general Buenos Aires conurbation, nothing is secure in the future.

Corruption and distrust of politicians is deep within the Argentinian population but the people seem to have a memory lapse when it comes to the future. Corruption claims are made against everyone with a public profile. Even the Co-ordinator of the ‘Madres of the Plaza de Mayo’ has a corruption charge pending.

Some will argue that this is just a result of the ability of one section of the society to manipulate the media and the judiciary. And there’s probably a lot of truth in that. The problem is that when corruption has existed for such a long time, has been embedded in the body politic, many aren’t even aware of what they are doing and make themselves targets.

An Argentinian told me that the problem with his people is that they think with their sentiments rather than their minds. This, in some ways, accounts for the still deeply embedded approach (and appreciation by some) towards Eva (Evita) Peron.

But this is starting to go away from the matter of the G-20.

(I stated at the beginning of my series of posts in relation to my trip to Argentina that I would aim to post virtually every day. I realise that I have already fallen down on that commitment – but will try to redeem my self in subsequent days.

My failure is a down to a mixture or reasons and excuses.

It’s difficult to do someone every day and then still have the energy to write about it in the evening. This is helped by the fact that much of the travelling in this country involves a lot of hours in a bus – the way I’ve chosen to get around the country – and that takes its own toll. After being on a bus journey that was due to take 19 hours but came closer to taking a whole day due to a number of reasons (controllable and not) the last thing the body wants to do is to sit down at a table and type.

The whole body screams out as in the metamorphosis that Jeff Goldblum went through in Cronenberg’s film ‘The Fly’ – but without providing the increased sexual vitality that his character went through.

Added to that the self-imposed requirement to keep the blood/alcohol level at a reading that puts a person into the category of a chronic alcoholic presents certain difficulties when it comes to typing.

But I’ll try to get on track – if the new ‘improved’ WordPress posting tool doesn’t become too much of a nuisance. Do these tech geeks actually use the environments they ‘improve’? )

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Argentinian Diary – The Anti G-20 demonstration in Buenos Aires

Anti G-20 Demonstration - November 2018

Anti G-20 Demonstration – November 2018

Argentinian Diary – Day 7 – Part 2

The Anti G-20 Summit Demonstration

The Argentinian State had done all it could to reduce the scale of the demonstrations called by local workers’ organisations against the G-20 Summit but still thousands of people turned up to show their hated and distrust of the oligarchs who had, effectively, taken over their city.

As I’ve stated before public transport to and from the city centre was virtually non-existent. In the morning there was more movement than I expected but even so that was very limited. As the demonstration assembled and the riot police got prepared those few access roads were closed down. Vehicular traffic was virtually zero and pedestrians had a much longer walk from certain parts of the centre. More as a matter of design, I would have thought, rather than ignorance meant that there was no clear information of what exactly was closed.

The meeting up place was at the crossroads of Avenidas 9 de Julio and San Juan, at the very edge of what had been declared as a no-go area. On the other hand the very wide streets, devoid of vehicles made it a good, and safe, place to start.

I don’t intend to write too much about the demonstration itself providing the reader with the opportunity to see a number of videos which, I hope, capture the sense of occasion, the number of people involved, the colour, the noise and the intensity of feeling that the holding of this short summit in Buenos Aires had created amongst the working population.

Here I want to make a number of observations which came to me in the few hours I was on the street as well as what I’ve learnt from other information that I been able to gain by the very fact of being here.

The official start time was 15.00 (I arrived about 14.30) and already there were a lot of people lining up behind their respective banners. I assume that a later than normal start (midday I believe is the norm) was to allow people to get from the outskirts of town. In the blog that talked about the demonstrations in the centre of town which I came across, purely by chance, on Monday I mentioned how Argentinians are almost tribal when it comes to sticking with their group.

The principal organiser seems to have been the MST (Unemployed Workers Movement) as they held the pole position and a line of their stewards were in place to prevent any other group take the space planned for their about to arrive supporters. I did notice a few confrontations which didn’t come to violence but there were definitely stand-offs with people holding their corner.

Although the MST help the lead they did cede to a small group that included a couple of Madres of the Plaza de Mayo. Obviously out of respect for their long-term struggle but I would have thought it unlikely the women would have been there for more than a token period of time. It was a hot afternoon and demonstrations take an age to get a short distance.

As a publicity stunt the first line of the MST contingent was a line of women carrying the groups slogan against the G-20. Eight of them were bare-breasted and had the top parts of their bodies and faces painted in the colours of eight of the countries represented at the summit – the UK wasn’t amongst that group of eight. I assume the plan would have been to represent the twenty but they couldn’t get enough volunteers – one space was taken by a male with false, painted breasts.

By the number of press photographers shoving to get the right angle, and the number of interviews I saw as I went back and forth, their tactic worked. I’m sure those images went around the world – even if the message that the demonstration was giving to the world might not have been. There are some images in the gallery below.

I decided to record the event rather than be part of it. I would have walked alone and that didn’t make sense. By seeing the totality of the march I was able to get a sense of the number of political parties, obviously from the ‘left’, that exist in Argentina. I’m an outsider and haven’t really studied Argentina but I’m sure the differences between some of those groups are like the stones on an Incan temple, you would have difficulty in pushing a knife between them.

When you have a sizeable contingent which are supposed to be a United Front and then there are still separate groups then the united front isn’t very united.

I’m certainly not pushing for unity for the sake of it but the only winners with this division of the left throughout the world is then very people and interests this demonstration was against.

In all gatherings in Latin America, and I’ve seen it here whenever more than a handful of people get together, it’s not long before the street hawkers are swooping. With thousands of people standing around in the sun for a few hours the ice cream, cold drinks and even the sandwich sellers were making a killing. One near to me can be seen at a table where they were making sandwiches to order can be seen on one of the videos.

Police presence was very low-key until the march took the turn down the road to the Congress building. What the authorities didn’t want was for anyone to go straight ahead. This is the logic of the road but down there the Summit was being held.

To prevent that happening a wall of these metal ‘vallas’ had been created, the ‘L’ shaped metal Meccano like barriers which could be made as long as you like. Behind this barrier could be seen the heads of some of the 20,000 police who were there to ‘maintain order’. Their helmeted heads peeking out like Kilroy. Behind them stood all the technology developed to be used against people who a modern state can provide – the power of which I wouldn’t have a clue.

(I did pass small groups of police in riot gear along the route of the march as I overtook the main march after ending my recording. But they were discreet and many of the marchers would have been unaware of their presence, yet there was one group I passed who were being taunted with the chant below.)

On reaching this area many of the groups would start a chant which basically meant that what they wanted was for the federales to ‘fuck off’. I’ll try to (eventually) post that chant here.

And that last point is worthwhile stressing. Demonstrations, for those who can remember when people were prepared to fight for what they believed in and against injustice were like being in a morgue. Some people would chant something but after a while everyone else would get bored and silence would resume.

Not in Buenos Aires. A singer, with amplification, would start a chant and it would go on forever. Often accompanied by drummers and other instruments. When I say forever I mean from before the march moved off to when I arrived at whatever its eventual end would have been. And this was all amongst all the different groups.

The march moved off, hesitatingly, at just after 15.30 and arrived at the Congress Building about two hours later. From there the march broke into different groups following a route they had planned beforehand, taking the message to the people living in that area and then (I learnt afterwards) heading towards the Teatro Colon where a Gala was to be held at more or less that time. I’m sure the ‘dignitaries’ had all arrived there in plenty of time to avoid being molested by the hoi poloi.)

I made a mistake in my last post saying that this Gala was to be held on the Saturday night. That would have meant them staying in the country for a few more hours and no one really wanted to do that. Once the photo calls and press conferences had been endure it was time to go home.

I had a long diversion to get around the blocked streets but ended up in a bar a little before 19.00. I then had the very dubious ‘pleasure’ of being able to watch this Gala performance.

First came the group photo with all the world’s most powerful ‘leaders’ having made sure they weren’t by their worst enemy.

Then the Gala.

As I watched this mercifully short (about 40 minutes) performance I honestly started to feel sorry – but only for a few seconds – for these people who were forced to watch such performances and do so with a smile. It was supposed to have represented Argentinian culture, especially the tango dance and its regional varieties. But I though the choreography was banal and generic. What might work with a couple doesn’t necessarily do so on a full stage. I’m sure all the 19 ‘heads of state’ and the EU would have liked to have been anywhere else.

(But the theatre looks like it would merit a tour once the hype of the weekend is forgotten. Perhaps when I return to Buenos Aires later in my stay.)

Then they all went off for a meal, the cost of which would have kept an Argentinian worker in food for a year.

They do it because they can. Why do we let them?

(There are a series of ten videos, of varying length, which I’ve posted on YouTube. The first of these can be found at The mass demonstration against the G-20 in Buenos Aires, November 30th 2018.)

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