Jan 17, 2011
By Brian Berenty
US expat since 2000
Argentina is like an old girlfriend who kicked you to the curb after you showered her with a fortune in diamonds, furs and expensive clothing over the course of many years. It isn’t enough that she was the one that ended the affair but that she also kept everything you gave her.
During the reign of Queen Victoria, Argentina was an integral part of the United Kingdom’s informal empire and became a privileged benefactor of massive British investment.
Entrepreneurs and business-owners from the United Kingdom flocked to Argentina in droves and developed large-scale farming throughout the fertile Pampas, set up banking institutions to facilitate extensive infrastructure and building projects, and organized massive import and export of valuable goods and services.
Roads were laid. Cities were electrified. Hospitals were built. Fortunes were made. At one point in the 19th century, as much as 10% of the United Kingdom’s foreign investment was in Argentina.
England recognized the importance of a firm and friendly, yet distant, presence in South America. Portugal had a strong foothold in Brazil, and Spain was represented throughout most of the remainder of South America.
From a nearly blank canvas, cities were laid out with broad boulevards and lined with stately trees. Wide sidewalks were set back from the street, designed to showcase successive decades of the very best and grandest architectural styles from opulent Beaux Arts to sensuous Art Nouveau.
The love affair was destined to last forever, but Argentina had other plans.
The End of The Affair
Just before Britain was drawn into World War II, nearly 40% of the investment in Argentina was British. Perhaps England was a bit preoccupied with the steady bombing of London and the threat presented by Adolf Hitler to see what was happening in Argentina.
Much of the attraction that propelled President Juan Peron into public favor and office was his opposition of foreign domination of industry. No one thought to question that the industry wouldn’t have been there in the first place without foreign investment.
But by the time the war had ended, Peron had simply changed the names of many of the buildings and streets throughout the country to erase any vestiges of British presence. Thousands of miles of railroads became the property of the government, and many British-owned businesses were handed over to Argentines, many of whom were personal friends and family of the President.
It was as if Argentina had simply changed the locks.
Argentina does not appear to be overly concerned with the preservation and restoration of its past, as much as it is with the assimilation of the past with the present and future. Today, slick office towers and ultra-luxury, high-rise condominiums are interspersed between elegant mansions and office buildings built during the golden age of Buenos Aires. Elegant parks and flower gardens are scattered throughout this city where an active café society remains.
Portenos, as residents of Buenos Aires are known, are generally a heady and attractive mix of Spanish and Italian heritage. They are shamelessly proud and obsessed with youth and beauty, though the mullet hairstyle still appears to be fashionable in some circles.
For years Buenos Aires has bristled at being described as “The Paris of South America.” In some ways Buenos Aires appears as familiar as Paris, but with the bravado of New York and the far niente attitude of Rome. Yes, Buenos Aires appears a bit run down and tattered in places, just as did Paris in years past. Still, the old girlfriend looks pretty good for her age, though her fur coat is looking a bit worn and tattered around the edges and some of the jewelry she has had to pawn to pay for her vices.
And like any spurned suitor, England insists on retaining at least one souvenir of their relationship: the much-contested Falkland Islands, known as Las Islas Malvinas and claimed by Argentina to this day.
About Brian Berenty:
Brian Berenty grew up in Southern California and majored in Arts and Humanities. His career path has included working as a Financial Consultant for one of the world´s largest investment banks in San Diego, Boston and London. He has owned a restaurant in San Diego, managed a massage clinic in Houston and opened a day spa on the island of Ambergris Caye in Belize.
He has returned to his passion for writing, show casing his broad experiences. He has traveled to more than 34 countries throughout Europe, North America, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia and has been on safari in Africa. Constantly challenged by new and exciting opportunities, he is additionally certified in the United Kingdom as a Holistic Massage Therapist and studied in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where he became certified as a Practitioner of Thai Massage.
Brian has been married to his soul-mate since 1983 and is the very proud father of an awesome daughter and an amazing grandson. Presently resident in Buenos Aires, Argentina, with his wife, daughter and grandson, Brian´s focus is on exploring the vibrant and fascinating city of Buenos Aires, as well as the country of Argentina and travel throughout South America. This is his third international relocation (to this date his mother continues to write his address and phone number in her address book in pencil) and offers tremendous insight on practical information of why, where and how to relocate internationally.