John writes: For me, having been in the military, it was slightly strange to visit a country we had been at war with…albeit now nearly 30 years ago, and one guide book says best not to mention the Malvinas…and certainly don’t call them the Falkland Islands! We were therefore uncertain what reaction we would get when we said we were English. But we need not have worried. Despite the dispute over the Falklands going back some 150 years, the British have played a huge part in the development of Argentina over the last 200 years – and it was odd to see railway stations looking just as they would in rural England….which was not surprising since we built much of the rail system. We found the people warm, friendly and gregarious throughout. Our lack of Spanish prevented us making as much contact as we would have liked, but sign language and smiles carried the day.
But this is a land of sadness as well, with deep scars. Argentineans have an almost in-built pessimism, acquired through watching their country, one of the world’s economic powerhouses in the 19th and 20th centuries, descend into a quagmire of huge international debt. They’ve endured military coups, severe government repression, and year after year they’ve seen their beloved Argentina, rich in resources, people and beauty, plundered by corrupt politicians.
But there is some hope and freedom of _expression_. After the fall of General Gaultieri in 1983, democracy gradually returned, and banners and protests can be seen everywhere. Although there are still quite frequent police road checks, it seems that both the army and the police are contained within the democratic process. Every Thursday, the Madres de La Plaza de Mayo still gather in Buenos Aires. They first protested in 1977 to demand information about their missing children, who had “disappeared” during a long periods of torture and the killing of anyone the government considered a dissident. Our visit to Buenos Aires coincided with their gathering. Some of the original mothers were there. They were greeted with warm applause and much respect by the crowd. Now other social causes are also openly protested.
30% of the population of Argentina lives in Buenos Aires, and it is easy to understand the allure of this attractive city with its beautiful tree lined streets of fine buildings. From much of the architecture one could be in Paris or Madrid. BA has more of a European feel than any other city we visited in South America. As one person said to us “We like to think that we are first-world citizens – but in our own way”. One can but wish this beautiful country the luck it deserves.