Series of question arises from the absence of blacks in Argentina National team and the Country itself, but history shows the Country as indeed responsible for the near extinction of its black populace.
Argentina is presently 97% white, making it Latin America “Whitest Country” in history.
Historians say prior to the Country’s independence, Argentina which is also one of the “Rainbow Nations” (conceived by the blend of American-Indians, Spaniards and enslaved Africans) was reported to have enslaved blacks from the 16th to 18th century.
The Country is made up of European (mostly Spanish and Italian descent) and mestizo (mixed European and Amerindian ancestry) Amerindian and African.
According to Erika Edwards, author of the “Slavery in Argentina”, in 1587 the first slaves arrived in Buenos Aires from Brazil. From 1580 to 1640, the main commercial activity for Buenos Aires was the slave trade. More than 70 percent of the value of all imports arriving in Buenos were enslaved Africans.
“Slaves came primarily from Brazil via the Portuguese slave trade from Angola and other Western states in Africa. Once arriving in Buenos Aires, they could be sent as far as Lima, Peru; slaves were provided to Mendoza, Tucuman, Salta Jujuy, Chile, Paraguay, and what is today Bolivia and Southern Peru. Córdoba functioned primarily as a redistribution center for this slave transfer until 1610.”
When black slaves arrived in Argentina, they occupied notable provinces in the Country including Santiago del Estero, Catamarca, Salta, and Córdoba.
In Buenos Aires, neighborhoods like Monserrat and San Telmo housed many black slaves, some engaged in craft-making for their masters. According to a survey, blacks accounted for an estimated one-third of the city’s population.
Slavery was officially abolished in 1813, but the practice continued until 1853 after which the Afro-Argentine population began to drastically reduce.
Two major factors were said to have been responsible for the mass disappearance of blacks; Argentina’s war against Paraguay from 1865-1870 and the onset of yellow fever in Buenos Aires (a black dominated city) in 1871.
In the war with Paraguay, it was reported that blacks suffered the most casualties as they made up 40% of the Argentine Army, despite being way fewer than other race.
General José de San Martín, the revolutionary who lead the charge to gain independence from Spanish rule, estimated that there were 400,000 Afro-Argentines who could be recruited to his own army. Black men made up 65 per cent of his troops.
Many enlisted due to promise of manumission and laws were also put in place to compel slave-owners to part with some of their slaves.
The heavy casualties suffered by black Argentines in military combat created a huge gender gap in the African population.
The population became lesser as other blacks fled to Brazil and Uruguay which accepted them.
According to the 2010 Census, African culture has imbued Brazil permanently and profoundly, in terms of music, dance, food with blacks and mixed race having the majority (50.7% of the population).
Some reports implicate Argentine President, Domingo Sarmiento (1868 to 1874) of wanting to eradicate blacks from the Country through stern and stiff policies.
These policies included forcing blacks to relocate to areas that are prone to epidemy with an absence of health care facilities.
He is also reported to have written in a diary dated 1848, that “In the United States… 4 million are black, and within 20 years will be 8 [million]…. What is [to be] done with such blacks, hated by the white race? Slavery is a parasite that the vegetation of English colonization has left attached to leafy tree of freedom.”
The black race did not completely vanish from the Country, they remained few, with 2010 Census revealing that Afro-Argentine population is at 150,000, less than half a percent of the total population.
However, Africa Vive, a black empowerment group founded in Buenos Aires in the late 1990s, claims that there are 1 million Argentines of black African descent in the Country (out of a total population of about 44 million).
Tango – an African history concealed
The Tango, a dance step which is now a major cultural heritage in Argentina was said to have been from an African heritage.
According to Miriam Gomes, a Professor of literature at the University of Buenos Aires, an Afro-Argentine, “The first paintings of people dancing the tango are of people of African descent,”
She says people have accepted the idea that there is no black in Argentina due to distorted facts over the years.
“Argentina’s history books have been partly responsible for misinformation regarding Africans in Argentine society.
“Argentines say there are no blacks here. If you’re looking for traditional African people with very black skin, you won’t find it. African people in Argentina are of mixed heritage.”
A narration also supported by Maria Lamadrid another Afro-Argentine and President of Africa Vive, who narrated how her Country’s immigration prevented her from boarding a plane in 2001.
She was told to present her “real passport” as they claimed “This can’t be your passport. There are no blacks in Argentina.”
Against all odds, the Afro-Argentine have made name for themselves in the world of Sports and entertainment in the likes of Héctor Rodolfo Baley (Goalkeeper), Wilson Severino (Striker) and Fernando Tissone (Midfider).
While Baley ended up playing just few matches for the National team, Severino and Tissone never made it to the National team, although they played club football.
Racism and Football
With the Nigeria Super Eagles playing against the Albicelestes of Argentina in the final group game of the FIFA World Cup, many have opined that it is a game of white establishment versus Blacks, a stretch that is getting some history on its side. Though the football governing body, FIFA, has always warned and kicked against racism, while also instituting anti-discriminatory rules.
In the match against Iceland, Argentina football Legend, Deigo Maradona, was reported to have made some racial gestures towards an Asian fan, a claim he denied saying
“I understand better than anyone that in the World Cup people are looking for news everywhere.
“I, from afar, tried to tell them how nice it seemed to me that even the Asians cheer for us. And that’s all, guys, come on.”
In December 2017, FIFA banned Colombia’s Edwin Cardona for five games over racist gestures against South Korea.
In 2014 Barcelona’s Dani Alves reverted to humour in a racist abuse that saw a fan throw banana at him during a La Liga match between Barcelona and Villlarreal.
Brazilian international Alves was taking a corner when the banana landed at his feet. Maintaining his composure, Alves picked up the banana, peeled it and took a bite and got on with the game which later ended 3-2 in favour of Barcelona.
After the game, Alves told reporters: “We have suffered this in Spain for some time. You have to take it with a dose of humor.
“We aren’t going to change things easily. If you don’t give it importance, they don’t achieve their objective.”
Villarreal later apologise to the Brazilian saying it “deeply regrets” the incident. The club also announced that the fan has been handed a life ban.
Today FIFA fined two Swiss players of Kosovo origin for making an Albanian ‘eagle’ hand gesture as they scored against Serbia.
Xhaka and Shaqiri, both of whom are ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, will have to pay 10,000 Swiss francs each by FIFA for making the gesture which annoyed Serbians.
Switzerland, which has a number of players of Balkan origin in its national team, beat Serbia 2-1 on June 22, putting Serbia in a situation where it has to win against Brazil to advance from the next stage of the World Cup.
This incident may have shown players motivation to make a point against racism and oppression with goals.
Nigeria’s midfielder Austin Jay Jay Okocha had said his response to racism in Europe was dribbling. Some reports say he once dribbled the 11 men on the other side twice and scored. Okocha, in an interview with Nigerian Compass confirmed this.