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Argentina 1910: Latin America’s Guardian

By Jordan Buchanan

Argentina was once the front-runner in the defence of Latin America from incipient U.S. imperialism. The South American republic celebrated the centenary of its declaration of independence in 1910, firmly established as the leading economy in the region.[1] In the prelude to Argentina’s anniversary, The Economist acclaimed that ‘it is probable that Argentina in the twentieth century may make as rapid progress as did the United States in the nineteenth.’[2] Argentina was attracting international praise for the success for its export-oriented economy that had stimulated average annual growth in export income by 14.1% between 1900-1910.[3]

The anniversary coincided with a period of rising U.S. interference in Latin America. The USA coveted the role of economic hegemon, while purporting to promote peace and prosperity in the region. The Latin American republics increasingly required protection against a powerful U.S.A., and due to its recent growing reputation, Argentina was best placed to take up this role. The centenary of the Argentine Republic was an opportune moment for Latin American countries to appeal for Argentine assistance in defence against U.S. interventionism and a chance for Argentina to continue to aggrandise its international status.

A letter from the Peruvian Ambassador in Buenos Aires addressed to the Argentine nation embodies this desire. He appealed to the Argentines’ philanthropic potential, soliciting Argentina to defend Latin American nations in the international arena. He writes that Argentina ‘presents itself before the world… working for conciliation and peace between the American countries.’[4] According to the ambassador, it was the budding Argentine that could promote and protect harmony in the continent via international advocacy. He emphasises Argentina’s importance by opining that the country was a model for Latin America to follow; describing it as ‘the noble example of the Argentine Republic.’[5] This calls upon the leadership of Argentina to protect its Latin allies. This Peruvian correspondence was an example of Latin American nations putting their faith in Argentina as a protector of the region.

This letter was published in Caras y Caretas with an accompanying illustration, “The Work of American Solidarity”, which reinforced Argentina’s international status.[6] Redolent of the ideology circulating throughout Latin America at the time, the artwork depicts the classical sentiments of liberty and progress. It portrays a muscular figure erecting the Argentine flag in the face of liberty; the colour theme alludes to a new dawn. These features combine to express the emotion that Argentina was a rising nation, responsible for the defence of Latin American values: liberty and progress. Argentina was the champion who would safeguard the region from foreign intruders. The Argentine periodical sponsored this image, subsequently distributing it to promote the notion of Argentina’s potency. This self-propagation on the part of the Argentines reveals an egocentristic motivation for Argentina in establishing a narrative as a Latin American leader. Both Argentine self-interest and Latin Americans’ want for support from the country coalesced to position Argentina in a lead role.

Rubén Darío, a renowned Nicaraguan poet, corroborates this Latin American perception of Argentina. The ceremonies of 1910 inspired Darío to hail the success of the republic. In his essay “Argentina as the Latin American Avant-Guard”, he indicates his vision for the country’s role in Latin American relations.[7] With U.S. intervention in Nicaragua progressing, Darío communicated his optimism for Argentina to serve as the opposing force to North American domination. He romanticised that ‘it is the Argentine Republic that gives us the counterweight to Yankee power… This is the country that will… put an end to [USA’s] present and future imperialist ambition.’[8] Argentina’s economic rise between 1900-1910 gave encouragement to other Latin Americans that the country could confront the North American giant. Darío’s address was indicative of Argentina’s position as a beacon of hope for the region, capable of guarding it from perpetual foreign intrusion.

These sources, elucidating contemporary Latin American perspectives, provides a snapshot of the Argentine position in 1910; it was the major regional force on the world stage. It was not only the premier economy of the region; it was also the leading country on an international level. This was the protagonist that was to protect Latin Americans from the dangers of external interference and manipulation. Argentina was honoured to take up this image, challenging the United States on Latin American issues while it remained influential prior to 1914.

Image: “La Obra de Soldedaridad Americana.” Caras y Caretas, 9 July 1910, available via permission from publisher.

References:

[1] Maddison, Angus. The World Economy, Volume 2: Historical Statistics. (Paris: OECD Publishing, Development Centre Studies, 2006). p. 511.

[2] “A Hundred Years of the Argentine Republic.” The Economist, 21 May 1910.

[3] Anuario Estadístico de la República Argentina (1913).

[4] Original text: ‘se presenta ante el mundo… trabajando por la conciliación y la paz entre los países americanos.’ “La Obra de Soldedaridad Americana.” Caras y Caretas, 9 July 1910.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ruben Darío. “Argentina as Latin American Avant-Garde.” In: Nouzeilles, Gabriela & Montaldo, Graciela R (Editors). The Argentina Reader: History, Culture, Politics. (London: Duke UP, 2002) p. 207-208.

[8] Ibid, p. 207.

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