Inspired by Donald Trump’s racism in USAmerica, Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri stokes the fires of xenophobia

by , under Enrique Tessieri

Argentina has a reputation among some Latin Americans of being the most racist country in the region. The election of President Donald Trump has emboldened politicians like Argentinean President Mauricio Macri to parrot his USAmerican counterpart’s racist worldview. 

Argentina, like Canada, Australia and the United States, is a nation built on immigration. When we speak of immigration, however, we have to stress that we mean white European immigration.

Between 1881 and 1914, over 4.2 million immigrants moved to Argentina from Europe.[1] By 1914, 30.3% (2.358 million) of the country’s total population was foreign born with as many as 49.4% of the inhabitants of the capital Buenos Aires being born elsewhere. [2]

When you ask Argentineans about what happened to the Amerindians, which were wiped out of their lands in the nineteenth century, some of their answers justify genocide. “There were so few of them,” is one response you may hear, which means that they were near-non-existent and therefore it was acceptable to commit genocide.

Few Argentineans know that at the beginning of the nineteenth century, when Argentina was a Spanish colony until 1816, that 38% of the population of about 400,000 people were whites with 32% being blacks and of mixed black ethnicity. [3]

European immigration during the second half of the nineteenth century and in the following century effectively whitewashed Argentina of other visible ethnicities such as blacks and Amerindians.

While Argentineans proudly claim that they are a tolerant and understanding country because they took in so many immigrants, we must ask to which immigrants and groups were accepted.

Read the full story here.

Racist comments by some white Argentineans reinforce how racism and bigotry are still alive and kicking in the country. “White” in Argentina means anyone who has a European background. Those of mixed mestizo ethnicity, Europeans mixed with Amerindians, are called disrespectfully cabecita negra, or little black head.

One Argentinean told me once how racist the country was. He said that some Argentineans consider Buenos Aires a European city. “When they travel to countries like Peru they state that they are going to visit South America,” he said.

Taking into account Argentina’s racialized society and its history of racism, should we be surprised that President Macri wants to score brownie points with the voters by spreading xenophobia and fear of outsiders?

“We can’t allow criminals to keep picking Argentina as a place to commit offenses,” he was quoted as saying in The Guardian. According to the London-based newspaper, the comment was made after Macri signed a controversial and far-reaching executive order that permits foreigners to be deported from Argentina.

Singling out and scapegoating immigrant groups is the same questionable narrative found in the United States and in European countries.

Security Minister Patricia Bullrich, who belongs to one of the country’s richest families, didn’t mind labeling and linking crime to immigration.

“Peruvian and Paraguayan citizens come here and end up killing each other for control of the drug trade,” she said.

Her statement provoked an angry protest from Bolivia and a special commission to visit the country. Bolivian Senate President José Alberto Gonzáles warned that the Argentinean president’s executive order has unleashed “a wave of xenophobia” against a visible group like the Bolivians.

For any Argentinean who understands the suffering that our immigrant parents, grandparents and great grandparents went through cannot stand idle and permit a government to spread racism and bigotry like President Macri’s government does.

It is shameful and cowardice and questionable “leadership” that will only end up hurting the country.

[1] Fernando Devoto: Historia de la inmigración en la Argentina. Editorial Sudamericana. Buenos Aires 2004 (second edition). p 247.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   [2] INDEC (Instituto Nacional de Estadistica y Censos): Anuario estadistico de la República Argentina 1973, pp. 82-83.                   [3] John Lynch: The Spanish-American Revolutions, 1808-1826. W.W. Norton & Co. Inc. New York 1973. pp. 37-38.