British in Argentina

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British in Argentina

Just before the advent of Juan D. Perón in 1943, the British in Argentina numbered about 40,000. Compared with Italians, Spaniards, or even Jews, this figure appears small. Nevertheless, the British community in Argentina was the largest outside the empire and commanded formidable assets in Argentina. British railways there were not far short of the network in Britain, while port installations, meat-packing plants, grain elevators, banking, and even retailing exhibited remarkably high British participation. However, with the substantial dismantling of the Anglo-Argentine connection between 1946 and 1955, numbers dwindled to 16,000 British residents, becoming a community less distinct within the country's population at large.

The Anglo-Argentine connection began with the British penetration of the South Atlantic in the seventeenth century and intensified with the commercial association of London and Buenos Aires in the 1820s. The restricted market in Britain for Argentine products, however, prevented Argentina from keeping up debt service on British capital investment. By contrast, British export trade to Argentina remained the weakest element of the economic trilogy—food-stuffs, manufactures, and capital. By 1914, British exports were worth only half of Argentina's exports to the United Kingdom. Henceforward, the British persistently sought opportunities to compel the Argentines to reject foreign manufactures even though Britain was a proponent of free trade. Although World War I afforded Britain the opportunity to uproot German business through the use of blacklisting and shipping controls, the United States took advantage of the opening. By the 1920s the Anglo-United States trade rivalry in Argentina was so great that war seemed imminent. During this period Argentine railroad workers came into increasing conflict with the British-owned railroad companies. Consequently, the Argentine government began to regulate the industry to placate labor in this critical sector.

The D'Abernon trade mission in 1929 would have diverted enough Argentine purchases to Britain to enforce a balance of trade, but the agreement remained unsigned when Hipólito Irigoyen's government was overthrown by General José Evaristo Uriburu. The Roca-Runciman Pact (1933), however, turned the tide in Britain's favor. It harnessed the Argentines to obsolete British manufacturing by threatening Argentina's meat industry with the diversion of British import trade to her colonies.

In reality, the treaty led directly to the dissolution of the very Anglo-Argentine connection it was intended to shore up. It was a political gift to incipient Peronism, which made it a byword for the collaboration of the ruling oligarchy with British imperialism. In June 1943 Peronists overthrew the "ven-depatria" elite. Three years later Perón became president and ordered the buying up of British assets and the diversification of Argentina's commerce and industry.

The Falkland Islands were the focus of the last major dispute between Britain and Argentina. With a population descended from nineteenth-Century Scottish immigrants, the Falklands (in Argentina known as the Islas Malvinas) lie off the coast of Argentina and are under British rule. In 1982 Argentina laid claim to this territory, invading the islands and thus provoking war with the United Kingdom; after holding the islands for ten weeks, Argentina lost to Britain. Britain and Argentina resumed diplomatic relations in 1990, but a permanent agreement as of 2007 had not been reached on the status of the islands.

See alsoBritish-Latin American Relations; Falklands/Malvinas War.


Henry S. Ferns, Britain and Argentina in the Nineteenth Century (1960).

Andrew Graham-Yooll, The Forgotten Colony: A History of the English-Speaking Communities in Argentina (1981).

Roger Gravil, The Anglo-Argentine Connection, 1900–1939 (1985).

Additional Bibliography

Gallo, Klaus. Great Britain and Argentina: From Invasion to Recognition, 1806–1826. New York: Palgrave, 2001.

Gúber, Rosana. Por qué Malvinas?: De la causa nacional a la guerra absurda. Buenos Aires: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2001.

Lynch, John. Massacre in the Pampas, 1872: Britain and Argentina in the Age of Migration. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1998.

McLean, David. War, Diplomacy and Informal Empire: Britain and the Republics of La Plata, 1836–1853. London and New York: British Academic Press, 1995.

                                      Roger Gravil

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