Buenos Aires – football, politics and tango

If you ever find yourself in Buenos Aires then either avoid the topics in the title or be prepared for a long and passionate discussion. Each of them plays a vital role in the life of the city but also has contributed to the divisions within it. 

Argentina, like much of South America is a relatively young country. It surprised us to learn that the majority of people in the country have Italian heritage, even more so than Spanish. Most of this is due to a large amount of immigration in the years leading up to the 1920s. The government in the 19th century wanted to improve the economy by encouraging skilled Europeans to come to Argentina, so wrote in to the constitution that immigrants were welcome and even promised them land and money.

Football in Buenos Aires is divided between Boca Juniors and River Plate. They both started off in the Boca working class area of the docks. River Plate later moved to the more upmarket Palermo area and the rivalry intensified. Boca is a really interesting place to visit and alongside the regeneration and promotion of the area as the ‘art district’ of BA there remains people living in the one hundred year old shanties that may have a satellite dish outside but inside have changed very little. 

Politics in Argentina is very binary. You are either a Peronista or not. The Peron in question was the husband of Evita. Although she is the character most of the world is familiar with, her time in a position of power was relatively short but her influence on Argentine life still persists. Argentina has had six periods of military rule in its short history, we are currently in the longest period of civil rule, the last junta having been overthrown in 1983, largely as a result of losing the gamble they took in starting the Falklands (Malvinas) war. All over BA there are monuments and statues to various leaders and generals. An example of the politics at play here is the large ironwork portrait of Evita on the side of a building at the end of the most prominent avenue. We wondered why no one had thought to illuminate it at night as it would have literally lit up the area. We later found out that it originally was but the current government have dictated that it should not be illuminated, needless to say they are not Peronistas!

The Falklands is an issue which, according to one of our tour guides, the majority of the country don’t really care that much about. However successive governments have used it as a political deflection tool and the image of the islands can be found everywhere. The school curriculum even teaches how the peaceful Argentine island was seized by British pirates. The Falklands war was a ploy by the ruling junta to improve their popularity at home. At the time questions were starting to be asked about the ‘disappeared’, activists who disagreed with the junta were taken, often in the middle of the night, and never seen again. It is thought that many were taken on helicopter flights and thrown into the river. The mothers of these people started to ask questions and came to the main square to protest. Under the laws of the time they were not allowed to gather so they walked in a circle around the fountain in the square. This protest is still going on, every Thursday the women, some now well into their eighties, gather and with supporters walk around the fountain. It is thought around 30000 people were disappeared. 

Tango was also divisive at one time! It was very much born in the working class slums. 95% of the people living in these areas were men as they were there to work. The 5% of women also worked. The tango started as a mock knife fight between two men as a way to keep themselves entertained. Tango then had singing introduced as part of the performance and this act was taken to Paris. It was a hit in Paris, the gaucho clothed tango singer, although completely unlike the real tango performers, was fashionable. Rich Argentinians wanting to appear cosmopolitan then claimed tango as their own. 

BA is a beautiful city. It is very European in it’s architecture and not just colonial Spanish like most South American cities. It has a mixture of Italian, French and neo-classical style. You really feel like you are walking along a boulevard in Paris. Even the street furniture has that Gallic influence.

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