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The Patagonia Rebellion

Late 19th-century Argentine and Chilean Patagonia was a world unto themselves, far from their respective federal governments’ influence. Huge sheep estancias were little fiefdoms in the hands of British and other immigrants. Three families—Braun, Menéndez and Nogueira, joined by matrimony—controlled imports, exports, shipping, banks, phone and electrical companies, insurance and meat packing plants from Puerto Natales to Puerto Deseado.

In 1920, dangerous work conditions, low pay, poor housing and other complaints stirred ranch hands and dock workers to strike throughout Patagonia. An agreement addressing these issues was reached, but most estancia owners decided not to abide by it. The next season (1921), the workers again struck, taking over estancias. The landowners’ Liga Patriótica Argentina called upon Argentine President Hipólito Yrigiyen to step in.

For several months, the military hunted down strikers, killing an estimated 1,500. The largest massacres were at Anita (near El Calafate), Punta Alta and Bella Vista (near Gobernador Gregores), among others, many owned by the Braun-Menéndez family. Sociedad Obrera organizers Albino Agüelles (Puerto San Julián), José Font (a.k.a. Facón Grande, Puerto Deseado) and Ramón Outerrelo (Puerto Santa Cruz) were assassinated. Only Antonio Soto of the Río Gallegos office survived, fleeing to Chile. Military campaign leader Coronel Varela was killed outside his Buenos Aires home by syndico-anarchist Kurt Gustav Wilkens, revenging the workers’ deaths. Wilckens, in turn, was shot in his prison cell by Jorge Millán Temperley, Liga member and relative of Varela.

The Braun-Menéndez-Nogueira mansions in Punta Arenas (Chile) are now museums. Throughout Patagonia, monuments honor the strikers. Estancia Los Granaderos, the locale of one mass killing, conducts the Tras los Pasos de los Huelguistas tour, beginning in Gobernador Gregores and following the 1920-1922 strikers’ footsteps (Roca 1168, Gobernador Gregores, Tel: 02962-49-1163, E-mail: info@ealosgranaderos.com.ar, URL: www.ealosgranaderos.com.ar).

José María Borrero’s La Patagonia Trágica (1928) was the first book about the massacres. The history was then hushed over, until Osvaldo Bayer’s exhaustive investigation, La Patagonia Rebelde (1972-75). The same-titled film, directed by Héctor Olivera (1974), is based on Bayer’s work.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Patagonia: Gato And Mancha, History and A Brave New World.








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