Resentful resignation in Buenos Aires: 'It'll be the same as always. The British will stay in the Malvinas, and we will keep protesting'

 

The buffers in the train station in Buenos Aires tell a story of friendship between nations. “Ransomes & Rapier Ltd. Ipswich 1913 England”, reads a stamp in the blackened iron. The terminus itself was built largely in Liverpool and shipped here for assembly. Just outside, meanwhile, stands the “Tower of the English” in brick and Portland stone.

But to visit the 250ft monument today, built in 1916 by British residents of Buenos Aires as a gift to the country they loved, is to be reminded of the fraying of those bonds.

It was after the Falklands War that the name was changed to the “Torre Monumental” – all reference to the English was erased. The war was over 30 years ago yet this weekend’s referendum on the islands’ sovereignty means that tensions between the two governments have been reignited.

The Government here is under no illusions about what the result will be. A memo was dispatched last week to all the country’s overseas embassies instructing them to dismiss the vote as “illegitimate” and downplay the outcome. Its wording included an acknowledgement that an overwhelming vote by the islanders to retain their ties to Britain would be a setback to this country’s attempts to get Britain to the table to discuss the future status of the islands.

The cable, seen by La Nacion newspaper, warns that the result could divide members of the “decolonisation committee” at the United Nations and that Britain will use it to “resolve the sovereignty once and for all”. A source told the paper: “We are very worried about the political impact of the referendum. But we will take measures to act”.

For now, at least, that sense of anxiety does not seem to have reached down to the streets. Most porteños, as they call people who live in Buenos Aires, shrug when asked about the referendum.

“It’ll be the same as always, the British will stay there and we will keep protesting,” retorts Jorge Revello, one of the city’s harried taxi-drivers.

The suspicion persists that President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, re-elected in 2011, has turned to the Falklands – known here as Las Malvinas – to stir nationalist fervour and distract popular attention from her country’s snowballing economic problems, which include inflation that some estimate to be running at 25 per cent (the official government rate is lower) and the threat of a new, possibly catastrophic, default on its overseas debt.

That the country’s economy is again flirting with dysfunction was underlined by the decision of the International Monetary Fund last month to formally reprimand the government for failing to present honest economic indicators, including on inflation. It opens a procedure that could end in the country’s expulsion from the organisation.

“Argentina is spiralling into chaos,” writes Hal Singer, managing director at Navigant Economics, in Forbes this week. “The culprit here is the short-sighted, politically charged, irresponsible economic policy of the government, forcing up inflation, drying up investment, and triggering capital flight with each successive bad idea.”

One such notion was a recent order by Ms Fernandez to all supermarkets to fix prices for two months. They complied, but – according to residents polled here – only after jacking them up in advance to make up any ground they would lose.

Today, Ms Fernandez was returning to Argentina from Venezuela where she attended the lying in state of President Hugo Chavez, an ideological ally. She did not wait for the funeral. How she will respond to the result of the referendum may depend on how much pressure she is feeling at home, including on the country’s economy.

Not everyone here is impatient with her or with her stance on the islands. “Cristina is only trying to close old wounds,” says Daniel Martinez, 46, crossing the square in front of the Casa Rosada, the official presidential residence, on his way home from work in the federal tax office. “She is trying to repair the mistakes of old governments. It is hard to disagree with what she is saying – that the islands are Argentinian. But it is not worth spilling blood over.”

Luis Gernnini, 52, was a reservist during the war guarding the Patagonia shoreline in case the British thought to head towards the mainland, and today is part of a protest encampment outside the Casa Rosada demanding he be paid a pension for his service. Even for him the squabble is almost semantic. “In the end I don’t care what nationality they want to be so long as they know they are living on Argentinian soil. It is as if they are intruders in my house.”

As for the loss of kinship with Britain, Mr Martinez says it saddens him. “You know, until the Malvinas we had a good image of the British,” he says, before pointing down a long avenue towards the railway station and the thousands of miles of rail lines beyond that Britain built. “So many towns in this country happened because of the railway.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'