Saturday, August 12th 2006 - 21:00 UTC

Buenos Aires celebrates routing of British invasion

The 200th anniversary of the “invasiones inglesas” (British invasions) is marked this weekend in Buenos Aires, Argentina with the Reconqista (Re conquest) remembered Saturday August 12. In London, Argentine Ambassador Federico Mirré will be opening the residence, in Belgrave Square, to Argentine residents and British guests, to mark the event.

It is 200 years since Britain's invading army was routed from Buenos Aires ? a mere footnote in British history, but, says military historian Peter Caddick-Adams, a historic event in the forging of friendship between the two countries that eclipses the Malvinas/Falklands falling-out.

Did you hear that right? We are marking the bicentennial of the Reconquest of Buenos Aires by Argentine forces from the British in 1806 and the Argentine ambassador to Britain Federico Mirré is hosting a memorial.

If, as Winston Churchill said, battles are the punctuation marks of history, then the events in far-off Argentina 200 years ago rate as a relatively minor comma. That said what were the Brits doing in the River Plate, Uruguay and Argentina, in the first place?

This (English) summer marks the first of two invasions of Buenos Aires in 1806 and 1807: military expeditions that took place within the framework of the Napoleonic Wars with France.

Spain, then a French ally, ? remember that it was a combined Spanish-French fleet that Nelson attacked off Cape Trafalgar in 1805 ? was at war with Great Britain and one way of hitting back was for the Brits to attack the Spanish colonies in South America. The overall aim was to gain control of the River Plate by conquering the dominant city of Buenos Aires.

On June 27, 1806, a British force of 1,500 men under Colonel William Carr Beresford occupied the city, for about six weeks until surrendering in mid-August to a ragged militia, led by Santiago de Liniers y Bremond, a French nobleman and mercenary at the service of Spain. The militia was organized from the "Faithful and Reconquerer City of Montevideo".

A second, better-resourced invasion followed in May 1807, under Lieutenant-General John Whitelock, attacking Buenos Aires in July. After a couple of days of street fighting, the British surrendered to an army it had considered no more than a rabble.

After losing substantial numbers, the British signed a ceasefire on July 7 and left for home, where Whitelock was court-martialled in 1808 and cashiered.

War often defines nationhood: just as the US was said to have come of age in 1776, when British colonists declared their independence from the Crown, so Buenos Aires felt it had a chance of becoming a separate state, having fought against the British.

Within three years of routing the British, Buenos Aires established a government independent from the Spanish Crown, anticipating the eventual declaration of independence of Argentina of 1816. This was just one part of the wars of Independence throughout South America that ended Spanish domination elsewhere in 1826.

When dignitaries gather in London Saturday to mark the 200th anniversary, hopefully Ambassador Mirré will remember not the British invasion, but its lasting impact.

Argentina has much to thank Britain for: a war which led to her independence. Furthermore, some of the British, and Irish, prisoners-of-war from 1806 and 1807 decided to stay and took part in fighting the Spanish military machine elsewhere in South America, securing the independence also of Chile, Peru and Ecuador.

Irish-born William Brown, considered the founder of the Argentine navy, led Argentine fleets, first against the Spanish, then Brazil in the 1820s.

This obscure Napoleonic campaign also saw key British generals, such as Beresford, and another, known as Robert "Black Bob" Craufurd, tested in war, before they later took on the French in the Peninsular War.

Ironically by then, Spain had enough of France ? who had deposed Spanish king Ferdinand and occupied most of the Iberian Peninsula ? and its army was fighting alongside the British and Portuguese, led by the Duke of Wellington, to repel the French.

Of course, the Malvinas Islands are never far from British minds when thoughts go to Argentina, but they were never really a bone of contention until made into one by a military junta in 1982.

According to British history, they were discovered by English navigator John Davis in 1592; the French took possession and founded the settlement of Port Louis in 1764. The British, who claimed them on the grounds of their previous discovery, removed the French in 1765.

Meanwhile France had sold her rights to Spain who yielded the islands to Great Britain in 1771.

It was only in 1820 that Argentina laid claim to the islands, but the British declared them a crown colony in 1833.

A recreation of the Reconquista (Re conquest) is scheduled Sunday afternoon in Buenos Aires Plaza de Mayo. Seats will be set up for audiences to sit while a mix of actors and television screenings recreate the legendary fight. Earlier in the week, Buenos Aires Herald editor Andrew Graham-Yooll presented his newest book Ocupación y Reconquista: A 200 años de las Invasiones Inglesas (Occupation and Re conquest: 200 years of the English Invasions) at Cúspide book store in Village Recoleta.

More information can be found on the web at the following addresses: www.invasiones-inglesas.org and www.buenosaires.gov.ar/areas/cultura/invasions (Buenos Aires Herald).-

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