The annual protests against the Botnia paper plant on the Argentine-Uruguayan border have started. Of course, the annual protests don’t mean much, in the sense that the nearby bridge has been shut to traffic since November 2006. But the protestors did two new things (AFAIK) in this demonstration. The first was to hang an 80-foot banner proclaiming, “Botnia go home.” (Mercopress did not get the translation right.) I kind of like that, along with the Finnish flags adorned with a skull-and-crossbones. Piracy and poison from our Finnish overlords! Very slick.
The second was to wave flags like this one with the red stripe:
Which caused me a bit of startled recognition. You see, that flag doesn't proclaim “Stop Argentina,” which is what an uninformed observer might think. Rather, it’s the banner of the Federal League (also known as the League of Free Peoples), an insurgency led by José Artigas that waged a long war against Buenos Aires between 1813 and 1820. (The Wikipedia entry is essentially unreadable.)
For a while the League ruled both modern Uruguay and several littoral provinces of northern Argentina. As usual for the period, it wasn’t always clear what the fighting was about. Artigas’s early demands were for federalism, although he was a bit vague on commercial issues. He rejected secession, even when Buenos Aires offered it, but he also rejected a federal compromise with Buenos Aires that would have met most of his early demands.
Artigas became more radical as time went on, and in 1815 he redistributed land from political enemies (whom he amusingly called “bad Americans”) to “free blacks, mixed-race of this class, Indians, and poor creoles.”
Artigas also later became the symbolic founding father of Uruguay ... even though he rejected the idea of Uruguayan independence. What I did not know was that the Federal League still possessed enough historical resonance that angry Argentines would carry its flag in a protest against the Uruguayan government’s decision to approve a big paper mill on the other side of the river.
It must mean something, but my pop sociology is failing me. Surely our Canadian and Kiwi readers must see some parallels, no?