Friday, December 12, 2014

Argentine Civil Wars

Fig.1: If only all civil wars were fought with such ecstasy!
One of the classic conflicts that has occurred throughout history is between urban and rural: the city-slicker vs. the country bumpkin. Unfortunately this conflict has sometimes gone beyond merely making fun of the guy who gets his salsa from New York City (New York City?!). In the South American nation of Argentina, disagreements between the major city of Buenos Aires and the more rural provinces to the north and west often erupted into civil war. The issues of government power, federalism, the economy, and not knowing the difference between a hoedown and a hootenanny plunged the nation into constant fighting between the urban-dominated Unitarian Party and the rural-centered Federal Party. These conflicts uprooted Argentina's early history in the 19th century, stunting the growth of the young nation. But all that extra passion the civil wars generated was then put into the tango (fig.1), so maybe it wasn't all bad.

During the Argentine War for Independence against the Spanish starting in 1810, Patriots from the city and the countryside fought side-by-side to achieve their freedom, from the resounding victory in the Battle of San Lorenzo in 1813, to the daring exploits of José de San Martin and his crossing of the Andes in 1814, to the celebration in 1818 where everyone got drunk and just couldn't stop hugging each other. But when the Spanish left, taking away the thing that united the newly-independent Argentines (that being the hatred of the Spanish), they had a difficult time answering the question, "Now what?" Many from the burgeoning port city of Buenos Aires, which was the capital of the former Spanish colony, believed that a strong, centralized nation was the best way to move forward. Others from the sprawling fields and farmlands in the provinces like Córdoba, Santa Fe, and Entre Ríos believed each of the separate regions knew what was best for them, and didn't want to always have to listen to the yuppies in their high-rise apartments and $200 coffee makers. This led to the rise of the Unitarian Party in the city, the Federal Party in the country, and the blood pressure of all of the above.

Fig.2: Regional conflict in 19th century Argentina can summed up by saying that the 
provinces of Córdoba, Santa Fe, and Entre Ríos were a little bit country, and the city 
of Buenos Aires was a little bit rock n' roll.
The Unitarians struck first by writing the Constitution of 1819, creating a legislature centered in Buenos Aires, ensuring that taxes collected off imports into the city stayed in the city, and established all the good football clubs within the capital. The Federals rejected the constitution faster than an incorrectly-filled-out form at the DMV, and before you knew it, two armies met in the 1820 Battle of Cepeda in-between Buenos Aires and Santa Fe. Using their cattle-wrangling skills to good use, the Federals took care of business, and a treaty was signed that established a more federal government in Córdoba. The Unitarians didn't play nice however, and continued to bully the Federals around on the governmental playground in order to get their turn on the monkey bars of power. This convinced many of the provinces to sign the Federal Pact in 1831, creating a military alliance that would act in the event of a certain city invading from the high-ground of the big slide.

Fig.3: Here's the picture he 
entered into.
Enter into the picture Juan Manuel de Rosas (fig.3). He became governor of Buenos Aires in 1829 through less-than-honorable means (he was more likely to beat someone with a ballot box than allow people to vote with one). But he appeared willing to work with the provinces, as he signed the Federal Pact that was designed to protect everyone from his own city, and even made an effort to learn how to milk a cow for the cameras. Slowly but surely, however, he began to restore the old privileges of Buenos Aires, mostly the collection of import tariffs that would remain in the city to pay for important city things like crosswalks and art galleries. Feeling he was getting too big for his pantalones, the provinces rose in revolt against Rosas in 1839. The French even got involved, setting up a blockade that did not allow Buenos Aires to export...whatever it is they export (Lionel Messi?) for two years. After a brutal six years of war, where Rosas made a mess of the place by refusing to take prisoners alive, he crushed the revolt and became ruler of the whole country by 1845. Buenos Aires wore the pantalones in the Argentine relationship once more.

But then Rosas got a little too greedy. Unsatisfied with governing the provinces, he invaded neighboring Uruguay and Paraguay, thinking it would be guay if he could restore his nation to its colonial borders. Some provinces like Entre Ríos took advantage of this distraction and rebelled in 1851, but it was the declaration of war by Brazil that really plucked Rosas' petals. After his defeat at the Battle of Caseros in 1852, Rosas fled Argentina to live out the rest of his life in the UK; upon leaving, he declared, "It is not the people who have overthrown me. It is the monkeys: the Brazilians!" adding that they were admittedly the best soccer-playing monkeys he'd ever seen. Buenos Aires was subsequently captured, and the city was forced to sign a treaty renewing the Federal Pact. The capital was moved to Santa Fe, and everything would be hunky-dory for the rest of Argentina's history.

Fig.4: With civil wars, it's difficult to tell who is fighting 
on what side. In this picture, it's difficult to tell if people 
are fighting at all!
Except that Buenos Aires still didn't care to listen to that after-school special about playing nice. Pulling a South Carolina eight years before that state got around to it, Buenos Aires succeeded from Argentina in 1852 and proclaimed themselves an independent country. While the provinces might have been happy to see those jerkwads go, they still depended on the city's port to trade their foodstuffs to other nations, and it just wasn't the same without Buenos Aires bossing them around (you don't know what you got 'til it's gone). Argentine president Justo José de Urquiza, native of Entre Ríos, led an invasion of Buenos Aires in 1859, and a second Battle of Cepeda was fought (unfortunately the land did not retain that "new battle smell"). Urquize defeated Buenos Aires colonel Bartolomé Mitre, forcing the city back into the union. But soon Buenos Aires reverted back to their old ways, and in 1861 Urquize and Mitre were forced to meet once more at the Battle of Pavón (fig.4). This time Mitre got the best of his foe and forced the provincial army to retreat. The fat kid named Authority once more sat on Buenos Aires' side of the seesaw.

Though he and his city were victorious, especially after his election as President in 1862, Mitre knew something had to be done to end the constant warfare (and thus, end my work on this history as well). And so Mitre compromised with the provinces in order to find peaceful solutions to all their troubles, from the power of the central government, to the distribution of tariffs, to the theme for the upcoming Christmas party. He even worked out an Electoral College system that allowed the provinces to have more of a say in electing the President; of course when this system led to his defeat in the election of 1874, he got all whiny about it and actually mutineered a gunboat in an attempt to stop his opponent's inauguration (he used this same tactic to stop his ex-girlfriend's wedding a few years earlier). Aside from this, it appeared that the regional conflicts between Argentina's largest city and the rest of the country were coming to an end. After some griping, legislation was passed by the central government in 1880 that federalized Buenos Aires, meaning that legislation passed by the central government in Buenos Aires could actually be enforced in Buenos Aires. Wait, what?

The civil wars in 19th century Argentina are a classic example of how differences between urban and rural elements of a population can create conflict that extends beyond city-folks not knowing how to make a campfire and country-folks not knowing how to parallel park. The issues of where power lies (and vicariously, where the money stays) between the two regions of the country is not unlike the problems that plagued the early history of the United States, with similarly violent results. Luckily, peace was achieved, and just like the North and South of the U.S., both sides were then able to focus on an honorable goal that fostered a sense of national unity and comradery: the near-extermination of the indigenous population and the capture of their lands. Hooray for team-building activities! Nonetheless, if there's anything to be learned from the Argentine Civil Wars, it's that it doesn't matter where you're from or what you do for a living or whether you ride a horse or the C Train to work; people from the city and country need to work together to succeed (lest those weirdos from the suburbs take over and force everyone to manicure their lawns).

No comments:

Post a Comment