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.”

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Senior Application Support -Fidessa, Charles River, Oracle, FIX

£50000 - £65000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Application Support - Fide...

Product Specialist - (Application Support, UNIX, SQL)

£45000 - £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Product Specialist - (Application...

Technical Specialist - (Application Support, UNIX, SQL)

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Technical Specialist - (Applicati...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home