Ambassador in Buenos Aires

Appointed ambassador in the Argentinian Republic on 16 December 1927, possibly at the suggestion of Pedro Sainz Rodríguez,14 Maeztu arrived in Buenos Aires on 19 February 1928, after stopping and giving a conference in Montevideo, which was not entirely favourably received. A clue to this unflattering reaction was the appearance of a comment in El Dia, which stated that if these were the ideas that Maeztu intended to use to bring Spain closer to America, it would be better if he got back on the boat and returned to Europe. In fact, according to this opinion, Maeztu’s words confirmed the suspicion that he was not the ambassador of a people, but of a regime imposed and kept in power by force; the representative of a man and an institution, instead of a nation.15

On 20 February, he presented his credentials to the president who accepted them by signing the correspondent decree on 1 March. In Buenos Aires, the progressist magazine Nosotros criticized the designation,16 while the Catholic Criteria described it in its first issue as ‘the best gift that the Motherland has given us for a long time'.17 La Nueva Republicà also bestowed on him a very enthusiastic response. On its cover page it stated that Primo de Rivera’s governance could not have chosen better, considering the nomination to be a signal of rapprochement between Hispanic America and Spain based on the ethnic and historic bonds temporarily destroyed by independence. ‘When the last repercussions of the battle for independence are over - it is read - Spain will return to be the mother of twenty countries formed with its blood and spirit’.18

Maeztu arrived in Argentina when the era of radical governments (1916-1930) was coming to an end and when the nationalism of the country was entering a new season fuelled by immigration conflicts, the workingclass issue and the theoretical criticism of democracy. The writer Leopoldo Lugones took a relevant stance in this context, proposing in 1924 the regeneration of Argentina through the adoption of military values intended to be the nation’s religion.19 In the following years he would also inspire various initiatives linked closely with the fascist ideology.

From 1922, the president was Marcelo Torcuato de Alvear of the Union Cívica Radical, who promoted a more moderate political tendency in comparison to his predecessor. Hipólito Yrigoyen (1916-1922), who was reelected president in the 1928 elections, after a harsh conflict with Alvear that ended up dividing the radicals. This conflict would continue during the following months, and be worsened by the impact of the 1929 economic crisis and violent protests in the streets, and it came to an end only with the general José Fèlix Uriburu’s coup on 6 September. This coup inaugurated the military intervention in politics, which lasted until 1983.

Opposed by all the Argentinian Right sectors, Yrigoyen found, in Maeztu, an admirer. In his reports to Madrid, the Spanish ambassador highlighted the plebiscitary nature of the new presidency: ‘Never had an Argentinian politician, since the days of Juan Manuel [de] Rosas, caused a storm so deep, as had Mr. Hipólito Yrigoyen in this second election’.20 Maeztu showed himself to be very understanding of the older president who, aware of the special importance of the relations with Spain, reserved equally cordial treatment for the ambassador. Writing to Madrid. Maeztu affirmed that he did not see the coup as a solution, disagreeing with the interpretations that displayed the president as responsible for the crisis. He pointed out that the accusations and attempts to discourage him in Parliament were not supported by all and came only from high society circles.21 In particular, Maeztu highly appreciated Yrigoyen’s steadfastness towards the United States: a position that allowed Argentina to remain neutral during the First World War giving the countrywide autonomy with regard to international politics. On 23 November 1929, when writing to the State Minister. Maeztu confessed a strength of emotion in verifying Yrigoyen’s capacity to resist the pressure of the United States, thus defending the Argentinian sovereignty, ‘which was also the defence of Hispanism towards the arrogance of other races’.22 This aspect differentiated Maeztu from most of the Argentinian nationalists who - with some exceptions, such as Manuel Gálvez - despised the plebiscitary traits of the radical government.

After Hipólito Yrigoyen’s re-election to the presidency, various sectors of the resistance suggested the use of force as the unique solution.2 ' If in 1916 the conservatives considered Yrigoyenismo as a passenger phenomenon, 12 years later they would be calling for a military intervention to put an end to the radical government. Different premises lay behind the criticisms coming from the conservative field. According to one of its section, the main flaw of the radical government relied on its scarce adherence to the provisions of the constitution and in the consequent risks that this entailed insofar as democracy was concerned. For instance, from 1928, La Nación repeatedly maintained that the nature of the relationship between the radical leader and its supportive masses evoked the anti-democratic tendencies seen in the regime of Mussolini in Italy, of Primo de Rivera in Spain and of Augusto Leguia in Peru. According to other sectors, such as the one expressed by the newspaper La Fronda, the problem was indeed represented by democracy. Starting in 1928, this newspaper started to request a change of regime and of the electoral law influenced by various authoritarian European tendencies, particularly by Maurrasianism. Obviously, the attacks of La Fronda against the parliament and the ‘political professionals’ were particularly focused on the radicals, without targeting the traditional ruling class, whose dominion eventually had to be restored.24 It was the usual conservative reaction towards the birth of new political actors, seen as usurpers of those roles that were typically monopolized by the élite. The changing climate within the conservative world was also translated into a greater receptiveness of authoritarian ideas in the Army. This was demonstrated by the fact that Leopoldo Lugones’ articles revealing his anti-liberal positions, appeared in La Nación between 1927 and 1930, and were eventually published in a volume entitled La Patria Fuerte, printed by the Circulo Militar. The book was distributed by the Circulo Militar among its members, free of charge, on the eve of Uriburu’s coup. Just a few weeks earlier, during an Armed Forces dinner, Lugones had directly instigated the military to seize power.

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