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Lecture. Explaining Argentina To Britain.  By Eugene Mllhington-Drake, Counsellor of H.B.M. Embassy at Buenos Aires.

Eugene Millington-Drake

Counsellor of H. B . M. Embassy at Buenos Aires Appointed British Minister to Uruguay (at Montevideo) October 1933.


This lecture in its original form was given between Oct. 11 and Nov. 4, 1930, at the following places: Malvern, Bedford, Eton, Cheltenham, City of London College (for Anglo-Spanish and Spanish-American Institute), Oxford University, Birmingham, Oundle, Cambridge University, Harrow, and Liverpool School of Commerce.

In its present form it was given between Oct. 8 and Nov. 4, 1932, at Uppingham, Fettes, Edinburgh University, Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce, Glasgow University, Downside, Wellington, Manchester University, Marlborough, and in London at the Grocers’ Company’s Hall (by arrangement with the London School of Economics).





(1) Historical: Before any other European country the British became political and economic pioneers in Argentina and collaborators in her development—Great Britain, thanks to Canning, was the first European country to recognise (1842) the independence declared in 1816 of "The United Provinces of the River Plate" (now Argentine Republic)—At that time British exports to Argentina already amounted to £5,600,000, due to the "Industrial Revolution"—In 1825 a Treaty of Amity and Commerce was concluded; its Centenary was celebrated when H. R. H. the Prince of Wales visited Argentina in 1925.

(2) Economic: As a result of (1) there is to-day more British capital in Argentina than in any other country, viz, at least £515,000,000 nominal—Argentina has been one of Great Britain’s best customers not only for manufactures but also for invisible exports, e.g. shipping, insurance, investments—Conversely Great Britain is by far Argentina’s best customer for her grain and meat, above all the latter—Thus Anglo-Argentine trade and prosperity have been complementary and interdependent—Argentina does 52% of whole foreign trade of South America.


(3) Commercial: Since 1914 our position in Argentina seriously threatened by competitors—In other words, to-day we sell to the Argentines less than half the amount they sell to us—Thus much money resulting from sale of Argentine produce in Great Britain is utilised to buy imports from other countries in spite of advice of enlightened Argentines to "Buy from those who buy from us"—To remedy this the British Empire Industries Exhibition, the biggest all-British Exhibition ever organised outside British territory, held in 1931, and H.R.H. the Prince of Wales visited Argentina a second time to open it—Other British efforts to this end and desirability of continuing them—Need of cooperation of Argentine Government especially for alleviating too heavy burden of labour charges and working conditions for British public utility companies in present exceptional bad times.

(4) Cultural: For the above purposes something more is required than purely commercial activity—Need of pioneering in a new sphere in accordance with the spirit of the times, viz, cultural understanding and co-operation with Argentina as emphasised by H.R.H. the Prince of Wales when opening the Exhibition—Main object of the Lecture is to facilitate such understanding.


(5) Immediate topical interest: negotiations for a Trade Agreement imminent following Ottawa Conference: Latter will perforce somewhat affect Argentina’s exports to Great Britain-Federation of British Industries has just urged that in commercial negotiations with foreign countries following the Ottawa Conference precedence should be given "to countries whose basic development for some time to come is likely, to be complementary to our own, both as offering a more promising field for a substantial advance towards freer interchange and the fewest technical difficulties in negotiation"—To begin such negotiations the Argentine Ambassador has just returned to London after conferring with his Government—Latter has received from two important Argentine institutions petitions urging an early agreement giving the greatest possible tariff preference to imports of British origin which should be "treated with the same liberality with which Great Britain treats our imports."


1580: DAYS OF ELIZABETH: COLONISATION BY SPANIARDS. Putting Argentina on the world map—How Spanish "bootleggers" sought to put it there in the latter half of the XVIth century—They sought a better route to "Eldorado," i.e. in their quest for silver in the mountains of Peru—already a Spanish Vice-Royalty (1551). To reach Peru they sailed a thousand miles up the Parana River—hence its estuary (on which Buenos Aires was founded in 1580) was named "Rio de la Plata" (River of Silver) and the whole country was eventually named "Argentina" - The older and official route was by Panama; new route was boycotted for nearly two centuries by Spanish Government and big Spanish merchants—Broad comparison with Cape Colony, Suez and the "Eldorado" of India, before and since opening of two canals.

1806: THE NAPOLEONIC WORLD WAR—British "side-show" for capture of Buenos Aires, now a separate Vice-Royalty under the Spanish Crown—Its failure and contribution towards Argentine Independence by increasing spirit of self-reliance—"Redcoats" settle in the country—Rodriguez Larreta therefore said that they came as "the first red streaks of the dawn of Argentine Independence."

1816: DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE FROM SPAIN by the new Federal State "United Provinces of the River Plate"—Its army crosses the Andes under General San Martin to help fellow colonists in Chile and in Peru—Help of Admiral Cochrane—Expedition commemorated by fine monument on the "Hill of Glory" at Mendoza—British members of the Expedition.

1824: RECOGNITION BY GREAT BRITAIN at the instance of Canning "to bring in the New World to redress the balance of the old"—The first British Diplomatic Agent, Sir Woodbine Parish, signs Treaty of "Amity and Commerce" with President Rivadavia, the great Argentine patriot of the time—Parish’s personal impressions of life in Buenos Aires, its lavishness and cost, exactly those of the lecturer to-day.

1916: THE WORLD WAR: NEUTRALITY maintained by the first Radical (Labour) President of Argentina, Dr. Irigoyen, elected at first election under Universal Suffrage Law—But grants loan £40,000,000 to Allies for purchase of Argentine grain crop.

1930: "THE REVOLUTION": mere change of government, explained by cartoon regarding President’s procrastination in signing documents—The President of the Revolutionary ("Provisional") Government, General Uriburu, handed over to a constitutionally elected Government early in 1932 with General Justo as President.


Area: Area over a million sq. miles—Would hold comfortably 13 important European countries (film and animated map showing this when possible), and stretches some 2,000 miles north and south between latitudes corresponding roughly to those of Shetlands and the Soudan—The Central Plains, or Pampas, are in a temperate zone, and from them come most of the cattle and grain which form the country’s great wealth—Argentina is in the main a white man’s country and Buenos Aires, in this zone, has the climate of a southern European capital.

Population, Race and Language: Population: 12 millions, of which 2 1/4 are in Buenos Aires, the only big city in Argentina—Race: roughly 50 per cent. Spanish, 30 per cent. Italian, 20 per cent. miscellaneous—Practically no African, and only a very small percentage of aboriginal Indian blood—Language: Spanish, differing from Spanish of Spain somewhat as English spoken in America differs from the English spoken in England.

Government: Federal Republic with a constitution (1853) broadly on the lines of the American Constitution — President his own Prime Minister —Fourteen Provinces and ten "Territories"—State Religion is Roman Catholicism—No legal divorce.

Principal Produce and Production:

Northern Sub-Tropical Zone. Sugar cane in the Tucuinan region (e.g.. Leach’s Argentine Estates). Hardwoods, especially quebracho and its tannin extract (e.g. Forestal Co.) in the Chaco forest region — Tobacco, cotton, oranges and yerbamate, mostly in Corrientes and Misiones regions— Iguazu Falls.

Central Temperate Zone. Grain (wheat, linseed, oats and especially maize of which Argentina is the world’s biggest exporter) in the vast central plains (pampas) with the world’s longest straight piece of railway line, viz., 168 miles. Cattle with its livestock industries ("Frigorifico" factories for preparing chilled and frozen meat and beef extract, e.g. Bovril and Liebig, and dairies). Vineyards and wine industry of Mendoza region.

Southern and Colder Zone. Sheep and wool in Patagonia (a British Land Company owning 600,-000, acres and 100,000 sheep). Oil, large production in Comodoro Rivadavia Oil Fields (big refineries near Buenos Aires). Fruit growing by irrigation in Rio Negro valley.

Manufacturing Industries: Mostly "light," sprang up of necessity during world war—Have rapidly developed with protective tariffs and low cost of production (low taxation).

Taxation: Until 1931 there was no income tax and latifundia (big estates) unpenalised—Half of State revenue was derived from Customs duties and only one-tenth from direct taxation—To meet universal crisis Argentina has taken radical and courageous steps towards balancing her Budget by drastic reduction of expenditure and the imposition of new taxes, notably a reasonable, graduated income tax, increased tax on property, a universal tax on business transactions and higher customs duties.

Finance: Argentina almost only South American country which has not defaulted on her Government loans (largely from United States), though payment of interest on these is now very onerous owing to present unfavourable exchange—But this makes almost impossible the payment of interest on commercial loans, i.e. dividends on capital (largely from Great Britain) invested in the country in railways and public utility undertakings—These in most other countries have been created and financed by means of government loans—Argentina off gold standard since 1929, but 44 per cent. gold backing all currency—Lack of a bank of issue on modern lines to give most advantageous effect to this gold reserve— The Buenos Aires Bourse is economic nerve centre, being not only the Stock Exchange but also the grain option and freight market—The Argentina investor used to expect to get 15% for his money from Mortgages or Land Appreciation, so did not invest in Argentina Railways or other British enterprises, but is now beginning to invest in local industries.


Their preponderate influence on Argentine economic development, external and internal.

Europe to Buenos Aires by sea about 19 days by British liners but only about 14 by fastest French, German, or Italian liners—50% of shipping calling at Argentine ports is British — Air line (mail only) of Compagnie Aeropostale in 9 days (by motor despatch boat between nearest points of Africa and S. America). Times from New York about the same: American air lines (all the way) by both Atlantic and Pacific coasts of S. America (latter crossing Andes).

Railways, easily built on the pampas, were all the more useful and profitable because of lack of roads until some 10 years ago. The British railways represent a capital of £227,000,000 and have some 16,000 miles of line, being about 70 per cent. of all the railways.

River Transport up the River Parana and its confluents northwards from Buenos Aires for about 1,000 miles along eastern side of Argentina up to Paraguay and Brazil—Practical monopoly of the Argentine Navigation Company which was originally started by a Dalmatian boatman, Ni-colas Mihanovich, and became a British Company in 1912: its recent re-sale to Argentine interests is significant.

Roads: Proper roads practically inexistent until 1920 owing to the lack of stone on the pampas for macadam—Since then many have been built partly by patent earth-baking processes—Growing competition with the railways—Bill before Congress for the control of road traffic on the lines of the measures recently taken in the U.K.

(Mostly taken by the lecturer himself.)

Buenos Aires, the Federal Capital: the largest in Southern Hemisphere—City and parks—The Cattle Show—The Races—Sports Clubs—"El Tigre," the Argentine Maidenhead.

Great development of Sports in Argentina: Attained World Championship class in polo, association football, boxing, swimming, athletics, and golf (e.g. the polo team winners of North American championship, 1931; Firpo, the almost victorious challenger of Dempsey, and two, winners Olympic boxing events, 1932; Tiraboschi, who in 1924 swum the Channel in then record time; Zabala, winner of Olympic Marathon, 1932; Jurado, runner-up, British open golf championship, 1931)—rugby, tennis, and netball very popular.

The Pampas and Estancias: Houses—Water, the great problem—Absence of proper roads (due to lack of stone in the plains) now being remedied— The Gaucho, the Argentine cowboy—His customs: drinks maté (Paraguayan green tea) and plays the accordeon, hence the tango—A stud farm—A Derby winner—Prize pedigree bull, worth £3,000 to £6,000.


The links between British and Argentine literatures are: (1) The writings of the early British travellers and pioneer settlers, now among the classics of early Argentine history; (2) W. H. Hudson, the famous naturalist (e.g. "Far Away and Long Ago"); (3) Mr. Cunninghame Graham (e.g. "The Conquest of the River Plate").

Position up to 1915: Broadly speaking, Argentine intellectuals had up till then satisfied themselves with keen criticism and discriminating appreciation of the best that the arts and literature of Europe could produce, e.g. Caruso first sprang to fame in Buenos Aires— The art of oratory was perhaps the one positive national achievement and in a sense took the place of literature—There existed already intellectual leaders—Rodriguez Larreta, diplomatist, orator and writer, comparable to Lord Crewe—Leopoldo Lugones, forceful publicist, poet and writer on essentially national themes, an Argentine Kipling, friend of Great Britain during the war (" Mi Beligerencia ")—Dr. Montes de Oca, G . B. E .—Dr. Zeballos, a great historian and lawyer—Dr. Drago, an international lawyer of world fame-And a number of enthusiastic volunteers in the rank and file. The intellectual establishments consisted of the ancient university at Córdoba founded in 1613; modern universities of Buenos Aires (10,000 students, 8 Faculties), La Plata and Tucuman.

The position in 1932: The three first-mentioned leaders, and many new leaders-the late Ricardo Guiraldes, the author of Don Segundo Sombre.— Hugo Wast, a writer of best-sellers, the W. J. Locke of Argentina—Dr. Ibarguren’s historical best-seller "Manuel Rosas "—Painters: Quinquela Martin (his successful exhibition in London), Bernardo de Quiros and Fader— New Sculpture in quebracho hardwood—First-class Grand Opera— Actors: Parravicini and the late Roberto Caseaux—Actress, Camila Quiroga; her successful season in Paris—Berta Singerman, the Argentine Ruth Draper—Most of the plays, ancient and modern, played by Argentine actors in Spanish, i.e. Ben Johnson’s Volpone, Journey’s End and The Last of Mrs. Cheyney.

A new University of the Littoral has been established with its Faculties distributed among the towns on the banks of the river Parana—To day Argentina spends yearly on her universifjes £1,657,000 ($19,895,758)—Lastly, ever-increasing numbers of noteworthy writers, poets, painters, musicians, singers, actors, and journalists, the shock-troops of literature.


The foregoing brief review shows sufficiently that there is ample occasion for such co-operation: indeed it is a necessity for future relations in the present time of scientific and intellectual direction of industry and human enterprise.

Steps Already Taken:

Official: Sir M. Robertson created the Argentine Association of British Culture, 1928—Lord D’Abernon’s Mission, 1929; his Report urged necessity of cultural relations —Further emphasised by H.R.H. the Prince of Wales at opening of British Empire Industries Exhibition with its educational exhibits—Visit of British Cultural Mission—Creation of Prince of Wales Scholarship at Oxford for two Argentine students (on lines of Rhodes Scholarships)— Establishment of Ibero-American Institute of which H.R.H. the Prince of Wales is President, and Mr. Philip Guedalla Honorary Director—Under its auspices eminent British scientists have lectured in Argentina, 1931 and 1932.

Unofficial: Visit of Oxford and Cambridge undergraduates to Buenos Aires in 1931 as guests of Club Universitario, representing some of the best and most progressive elements in the Argentine Universities, both in intellect and sport—Return visit of latter to Great Britain, 1932.


The new movement towards cultural, i.e. intellectual, artistic and athletic development in Argentina outlined above, has perhaps arisen largely from self-reliance unconsciously learnt during another World War (just as a century ago Argentine political independence was achieved largely from the same cause during the Napoleonic World War) .—It amounts to-day to another and new Argentine independence, or "self-determination" in culture—It is built up on the foundation of the previously existing great economic development itself based on vast natural resources—Hope that not one but many youthful Cannings of intellect and sport will be found to recognise this fact and to visit Argentina so that on their return they can bring back (if Canning’s famous phrase in the House of Commons in 1824 may be adapted) something of this New World of commerce and culture, not perhaps to redress, but at least to adjust the balance of the Old.

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