Their faces showed confusion, bafflement and uncertainty. So he put down the prop and explained.
“This cup…what does it contain? Tea. Brought here by the British, from their trades in the sub-continent. The East India Company, indeed. The cup itself also comes from one of their old outposts, does it not? Made of china, made in China… Is there anything more British than a tea cup?”
A few heads nodded here and there, though most still failed to grasp exactly what their union official was getting at. They had gathered in the hall, these paid-up members of the Unión Cívica Radical, to debate the recent Roca-Runciman Treaty, not listen to bizarre tangents on the national identity of inanimate objects. Their jobs, their livelihoods, their very existence was at stake, and here was UCR shop steward Miguel Alcácer waffling on about cups of tea! The frustration was almost unbearable.
Miguel felt it too. Nevertheless, he pressed on. He had to make them see!
“This cup…it and what it contains, what it represents…has doomed us. It has damned our country. Did you hear what Roca said, after the Treaty was signed? ‘By its economic importance, Argentina resembled just a large British dominion.’ A mere dominion, brothers and sisters!”
Pandemonium broke out. The trade unionists present still could not fully grasp the damage wrought by the Treaty, nor Alcácer’s efforts to illuminate the issues, but they knew how they felt about being subservient to the interests of an imperial power. A few of the more politically savvy activists were aware of the global situation though; they recognised that they were living through a tempestuous period in world history, with fascism on the rise in Europe, communism establishing itself in Russia, and the Great Depression still crushing the people of North America.
Miguel waved his hands, trying to get the assembled mass to settle down somewhat so that he could proceed. It took several minutes, but eventually he could be heard once more.
“Lisandro had it right. He was right to mock this, this…this vicious parody of diplomacy! He said, my fellow workers, that ‘In these conditions we wouldn’t be able to say that Argentina had been converted into a British dominion…because England does not take the liberty to impose similar humiliations upon its dominions’!”
Outraged noise again erupted, with some silent individuals shaking their head at the ignominy of it all. So this Treaty left Argentina in a worse position than the British dominions?! It could scarcely be credited, yet Roca’s opponent Lisandro de la Torre had put it as crudely as that, and clearly Alcácer concurred. What a scandal! What outright villainy!
As Miguel yet again tried to bring the horde under control, he felt no joy at the fact that his words finally seemed to be making an impression on the comrades around him. Like the other far-sighted members of the Union, he could tell that this was the beginning of something dark, something dreadful… It was mere months since the conservative General Justo has been elected – everyone knew that it had been a sham, a fraudulent ballot – and already the upper class were benefiting at the expense of the nation, with corruption rife. The UCR was being suppressed like never before, and senior officials like Ortiz now sincerely feared that they would be lucky to see 1940.
Miguel swallowed the lump in his throat before he continued.
“Comrades…It is my honest belief that we are sinking into a ‘Decade of Infamy’… Look at what has already happened this year! Justo seizing power, harassing us, robbing from the poor to pay the rich, and now handing over our nation’s wealth to that inglorious empire. This cup, my friends, symbolises what we are beginning to be crushed beneath; international capitalism and imperialist global trade. We must stand strong! We must ride out the storm in the tea cup!”
So began la Década Infame.
Solidarity, brothers and sisters…✰