Ambassador of Argentina Carlos Sersale di Cerisano and Linette de Jager meet Queen Elizabeth II (Photo by PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo)

Mourning in Mendoza

The Queen’s global reach

Artillery Row

On the other side of the world, seven thousand miles plus from Balmoral and Westminter, you hear the voices and you wonder. “She was our queen too, you know,” according to Ines, a housewife shopping at a supermarket in Mendoza, Argentina, talking of Queen Elizabeth like she knew her. “Above the sound and fury of the war between our two countries, we loved the queen,” to quote local businessman Jorge in that wine country.

For someone like me with republican beliefs, you have to pinch yourself to believe what you are hearing a world away from the tidal wave of mourning back home. It’s not just the newspaper headlines, or the incessant TV coverage, including the first King Charles address to the nation — shown at length (with subtitles). Or the BBC’s announcement of her passing, offered as an item of historic record.

This from a country that went to war with Her Majesty’s realm

It’s the foreign minister of Argentina, a fellow apt to rant about “imperialist” power — and you know he means Britain — stopping an international gathering in Buenos Aires, to pay his respects. This from a country that did indeed go to war with Her Majesty’s realm, the only time in her 70 years on the throne when it was war, Us versus Them.

Down on the Falklands, of course, the Penguin News newspaper lauded her reign, for “supporting us through the invasion and the subsequent Liberation of the Islands”. Sounded very narrow-minded to many Argentines. Mainland Argentina kept her out of that crucible of conflict, over Las Malvinas, The Falklands, preferring to see the Queen as universal, not partisan. “A mother to all of us,” according to La Nacion, the country’s paper of record. Astonishing thought, when you consider the history and the way the present government never misses a moment to drive home the national cry, painted on the entrance to any city, town or pueblo across the country: “Las Malvinas Argentinas”.

Then look up the road, as it were, in Latin America. Mighty Brazil, the lead player in the hemisphere after the United States, declared three days of national mourning for Queen Elizabeth — this in the midst of a furiously-contested election campaign. 

President Jair Bolsonaro, something of a monarch himself in terms of style, said Elizabeth was “a queen, not just for Britons, but for all of us”. Unable to stop himself, clearly, election campaign theme or not, he added that “her Leadership, Humility, and Love of country will continue to inspire all of us and the world forever”. Note the capitals.

His rival, Workers Party leader Lula Inacio Lula da Silva, former President and the likely winner this time around, joined in immediately. “She left her indelible mark on this era, and all of us,” he wrote of the Queen. I chuckled a little on seeing this. Spending a day filming with Lula, when he first ran for President in the 1990s, he wondered aloud to me: “how come a country like Britain has a feudal system, a monarch?” When I now went to his twitter account, it showed a picture of him as President with the Queen in 2009. Say no more. 

They lit the statue overlooking Rio de Janeiro in the colours of the Union Jack

The late Queen, then, is a centrifugal figure in an election for a country of 200 million people. No wonder they lit the famous Christ the Redeemer statue on the Corcovado mountain overlooking Rio de Janeiro in the colours of the Union Jack for those days of national mourning. Everyone wanted the Queen on their side as the election campaign crescendo loomed.

There’s the point, I suspect, as you hear the street in Argentina, or Brazil, and Uruguay in between. “We lost a world leader in the Queen,” according to one friend in Montevideo. “What she stood for — decency, duty, dedication — we lack in so many leaders.” Another chum in Uruguay went even further. “Her passing feels like a loss for humanity, she was a symbol of one world, at a time when we face so many one-world issues, like energy, food, climate.”

Watching, listening, saying little, not least because of those republican instincts, what’s so striking to me is what ordinary people a world away feel, emote, conclude. In the first days after her death, it is hard to escape the thought that Queen Elizabeth may be the last of her kind, in more ways than one. 

Not just the longest-reigning monarch. Not just the mother of the Commonwealth of nations. But the last head of state — sorry, let’s be bold here, let’s say leader — who boasted that priceless variable: the soft, soft power of truly global reach.

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