Thursday, November 25, 2010

The French and the British versus Argentina

Juan Manuel de Rosas

Monday was a new national holiday in Argentina, El Día de la Soberanía - The day of National sovereignty.

It commemorates the Battle of Vuelta de Obligado which took place on November 20th, 1845 when the Argentine Confederation went up against a mighty Anglo-French fleet of eleven warships on the shores of the Paraná River.

Juan Manuel de Rosas, who appears on the Argentine twenty peso banknote, was Governor of Buenos Aires province from 1829 to 1832, and again from 1835 to 1852. During his second reign he managed to really tick off the Brits and the French, who both had interests in the region, when he upped national tariffs in an attempt to protect national industry. When he then went and tried to include both Uruguay and Paraguay in the confederation, the Anglo-French alliance panicked. They did not want to be paying even close to a fair price for exploiting the region’s resources, and had no intention of playing by the rules.

The development of steam powered sailing in the early nineteenth century enabled the British and French to sail straight up the River Plate estuary and on into the inland regions of Argentina, bypassing customs in Buenos Aires. In doing so, the Europeans dodged Rosas’ taxes and hence, reaped the rewards of flogging what they gathered at cheaper prices than their competitors.

Juan Manuel Rosas thought this ever so slightly unfair, and closed the Paraná River to foreign vessels. When the British and French governments decided to ignore his authority, the battle was on.

With their eleven state of the art warships, three of which, HMS Gorgon, HMS Firebrand and the Fulton were steamers, the Anglo-French Fleet sailed up the Paraná River until they came across an Argentine line of 3 vessels and 21 barges blocking their way. The Argentines had also set up four batteries with thirty canons on the shores, and so by the 20th of November conflict was inevitable.

Canon fire and rocket discharges got things going, but the military force of the Anglo-French, which had perhaps 418 canons, was just too much. The French Fulton broke through the barricade and accosted twenty-one of the Argentine canons. With 150 dead soldiers and as many as 400 injured, the local forces were defeated and the Europeans were able to sail on.

Their victory was short-lived however as the foreigners suffered further attacks on the Paraná River. And by the following year, despite the economic incentives of tax evasion, the British and French deemed it impossible to sail Argentine rivers without Argentine permission.

The 20th of November has been observed as the Day of National Sovereignty since 1974, and became a national holiday this year. It rained but was a nice day off nonetheless.  

The reverse of 20peso note commemorates the Battle

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