Evita implored Argentina not to cry for her; should we be crying for Argentina (and Brazil and Chile)?


A recent cruise to South America re-kindled my fascination with that continent. Unfortunately, I didn’t love what I saw. It can’t happen here, can it?

In a recent post I mentioned a trip Sharon and I embarked on in January – an almost three-week South American cruise. The trip included port calls in Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. As I wrote in that post, it was my first visit to South America since 1968 when I was Gunnery/Fire Control Officer aboard USS McCloy (DE-1038) during which, as part of joint operations with various South American navies called “Unitas IX,” we circumnavigated South America.

Even before that Navy deployment I had always been enamored of South America, particularly Argentina and Chile. Why? Perhaps it was the fact that my language of choice in school was Spanish. While my linguistic skills never really evolved beyond the first page of my junior high Spanish primer – “¿Qué es un burro? Un burro es un animal. ¿Es un burro un animal malo? No, un burro es un animal bueno.”* – my real interest was centered around the history, the culture and, ultimately, the unfulfilled potential of these countries.

(*What is a donkey? A donkey is an animal. Is a donkey a bad animal? No, a donkey is a good animal.)

That Navy deployment in 1968 was an eye-opener. The South American navies our task group sailed with were smart and efficient; their officers, sophisticated. One example of that sophistication was a lunch I and my fellow McCloy officers were invited to aboard the Chilean navy flagship, the Bernardo O’Higgins, formerly the American cruiser the USS Brooklyn.  (Bernardo O’Higgins was the Chilean liberator who helped free Chile from Spanish colonialism in the early 19th century. He was the Chilean counterpart to Simon Bolivar [Colombia and Venezuela] and Jose de San Martín [Argentina].

At that lunch we were served aperitifs before, and wine with, the meal (strictly verboten on U.S. Navy vessels). But more shocking was the heretofore unknown (to us) first course – a whole steamed artichoke! As we sat there staring at this weird, green, cactusy looking thing on our plates, the captain of the Bernardo O’Higgins, seeing our discomfort, smiled and said, “Pull off a leaf, dip it into the dressing, put the leaf in your mouth between your teeth and pull. The taste was exquisite; I’ll always remember my first time – with an artichoke!

After 55 years, the anticipation of a return to South America was palpable. Unfortunately, what I saw was more of that unfulfilled potential.

Brazil, where we visited Rio de Janeiro and several other smaller coastal cities, is uncomfortable to be in. Not only are tourists admonished not to wear any expensive, flashy jewelry, they are also told to remove their Apple watches (yes, there have been instances where these watches have been ripped off tourist’s wrists) and to also keep their iPhones in their pockets since an iPhone held in one’s hand is an invitation to having it swiped. And I won’t even get into the lookouts who monitor tourists purchasing high-end items in shopping malls, alert their accomplices at the mall exits who then accost the unsuspecting tourists, robbing them of their purchases and money.

In the magnificent city of Buenos Aires, home to the Teatro Colon, one of the greatest opera houses in the world (for me, the renown of a city’s opera house is one way of recognizing a city’s greatness) the rate of inflation is 100%!

In both countries (and in Chile), the recent history of military coups, social injustice, income disparity, government corruption and systemic government sanctioned disappearances of protesters is beyond belief. Beyond belief given the level of education and the natural resources of each of these countries.

Only Uruguay, the tiny country surrounded by all this instability, has escaped the misfortune of its neighbors. Perhaps that’s why the capital, Montevideo, is becoming a haven for expats dissatisfied with life in their own countries.

Despite all this, my interest in South America has not wavered; if anything it has intensified as I try to understand through books and films what went wrong.

Since my return, I’ve added books like, “The Spanish-American Revolutions, 1808-1826” by the British historian, John Lynch and “Evita: The Real Lives of Eva Peron” by historians Nicholas Fraser and Marysa Navarro to my bookshelf and Kindle library. And begun re-watching films that covered the turmoil. Films about Argentina’s Dirty War from 1976-1983 including “The Disappeared” and “The Official Story;” “The Year My Parents Went on Vacation, “a film concerning Brazil’s 1970 military coup which resulted in the persecution of political activists; and Chile’s seminal, 3-part film, “The Battle of Chile: The Struggle of an Unarmed People,” which chronicles the political tension in Chile in 1973, and the overthrowing of leftist president Salvador Allende, a coup assisted by the American CIA.

My quest is to understand how the countries that came out of the South American revolutions of the early 19th century, revolutions coming so soon after our own American revolution, turned out so differently than ours. How Argentina, which before the Great Depression was among the 10 richest economies in the world, succumbed to Peronism, the cynical duplicity of Evita and later, even worse chaos. How demagogues and generals in all three countries became despotic dictators at the expense of democracy and the people, many of whom became known as “Los Desaparecidos” (“the disappeared”).

What can we learn from South America’s unfortunate history? Can that misfortune happen again? Can we sit here at home, content in our “American Exceptionalism” when we have politicians impugning the integrity of our own free and fair elections through their “big lie?” Can we feel secure when two years ago we experienced our own insurrection, fomented by a sitting president? Can we be complacent when a member of Congress, whose influence with the leaders of her party is only exceeded by her arrogance, racism and stupidity, calls for the secession from the Union by “red states” (a “divorce”in her dog whistle terms), an issue that was settled by the founder of that member’s party, Abraham Lincoln, in a Civil War over 150 years ago.

Can the United States be the next Argentina, or Chile, or Brazil? Yes, the idea may be farfetched. But not so farfetched that it stopped Sinclair Lewis from writing his 1935 dystopian political novel, “It Can’t Happen Here.” Or Phillip Roth from writing his 2004 alternative history, “The Plot Against America.” Were Lewis and Roth seers or doomsayers? I don’t have the answer. But I do wonder, how low can we go?

Published by Ted Block

Ted Block is a veteran “Mad Man,” having spent 45+ years in the advertising industry. During his career, he was media director of several advertising agencies, including Benton & Bowles in New York and Foote, Cone and Belding in San Francisco; account management director on clients as varied as Clorox, Levi’s and the California Raisin Advisory Board (yes, Ted was responsible for the California Dancing Raisins campaign); and regional director for Asia based in Tokyo for Foote, Cone where he was also the founding president of FCB’s Japanese operations. Ted holds a Bachelor’s degree in communications from Queens College and, before starting in advertising, served on active duty as an officer on USS McCloy (DE-1038) in the U.S. Navy. Besides writing Around the Block, Ted is also a guest columnist for the Palm Beach Post.

7 thoughts on “Evita implored Argentina not to cry for her; should we be crying for Argentina (and Brazil and Chile)?

  1. We wanted to go to a conference in Atlantic City and meet my son and daughter-in-law. To take one carry on and one checked bag (that’s 2 pieces) was $250! Oh yeah, you want a seat. You know the answer. Looks like we’re not going.


  2. Thanks for the depressing thoughts!!! Did laugh over the artichoke as the first time Dave came to our house we had artichokes and he didn’t know what to do!!! But back to the topic – the Republicans seem to be deep in trouble or making a lot of trouble for us. Even the Speaker giving away plans to Tucker Carlson is UNBELIEVABLE and wonder what stupid move will McCarthy make to appease the few vote changes he needed. Would kick the cat now — but we don’t have a cat!

    Nice seeing you last week – but not for the reason.

    Hugs, Sue



  3. America barely fended off the Red Tide in 2022, but they managed. Can it happen again in 2024? Not if all the redistricting is allowed to stand, or if certain groups of people lose their franchise, as is being attempted in so many states.
    As an outsider looking in, while I hope America can get through this political era without losing its way I am no longer convinced it will. I do not understand where are the legal responses to the Jan. 6th Insurrection.
    I actually laughed that day, watching a bunch of crazed weirdos running around in the Congress building. That was no insurrection, that was a leaderless mob pretending to be rioters. And the rest of the world laughed with me.
    But we are laughing no more. While some footsoldiers are ending up in prison, not one of the leaders has even been indicted yet. America is no longer a just nation.
    What once seemed impossible is now possible. Fifty-five years ago Steppenwolf asked the question, “America, where are you now?” In 2024, that question is going to be answered, probably in the wrong way!


  4. “LTJG, thank you for your service, then and now. Finally, Joni and I learn something new about you. A Spy, probably (CIA) still working. “




  5. A cogent and remarkable writing with examples of 50 plus years in passing and the degration of our South American democracies.
    How ironic those footsteps seem to sound outside our own doors these days with the likes of the infestation of certain members of Congress and the Lucifer they all bow down to?

    How has our Country lost its way and clamor for divisiveness over inclusion? It makes E Pluribus Unum sound so hollow.

    Educate our unwilling masses or we are certainly on the doorstep of the gate of our South American neighbors.


  6. Well written. Your reference to Spanish in high school reminded me of one of my few regrets in life, taking French instead of Spanish. Your description of South America was very meaningful to me. Mention to your resident travel agent that Roberta and I won’t be taking a cruise there anytime soon. Again, an excelle nt piece. Stu Sent from my iPhone



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