Argentina presents a lonely exception to the review of Mediterranean and European lands which attracted Maltese emigrants. The Maltese never emigrated in significant numbers to Argentina, but Argentina and Brazil represent two pathetic efforts to establish a foothold in Latin America.
Mr. Henry Casolani, Malta's supreme spokes-man on emigration in the years 1919 - 1929, failed to realise the great potential of South America and his judgement on that continent has proved him historically wrong. Casolani's attitude to South America reflected the current prejudices of the time, when although the Maltese were urged to leave their island to save themselves and to spare their country, they were also advised to steer clear of South America.
In his review of Maltese emigration since the Armistice, Mr. Henry Casolani claimed that the republics of South America had never proved to be very attractive to Maltese emigrants. Casolani also referred to the fiasco of 1912-1913 when some thirty families were shipped to Brazil to work on two fazendas, one was called Sanjos de Fortaleza and the other was that of Santa Eulalia. The Maltese did not stay long on the coffee plantations. No one spoke Portuguese, the food was unfamiliar and they had no one to speak up for them. There had been no serious preparation of the migrants before they left for Brazil. By the middle of 1913 practically all the Maltese had to be repatriated at the expense of the Maltese Government.
The failure of the Brazilian venture was still fresh in Maltese minds when Casolani was dismissing so lightly any idea of organised emigration to Argentina. Casolani knew that there was a section of Maltese opinion which was inclined to consider emigrating to Latin countries rather than to those within the British Empire. Emigration to non-British lands was the cry of those who opposed the Pro-Imperial faction and who wanted to support the retention of Italian as the language of Maltese culture.
While Casolani claimed that Latin America was not fir for Maltese emigrants, thousands of Europeans, particularly Germans, Italians and Poles were flocking to Argentina to build their future in a country which was to grow rich and populous.
Dr. Enrico Mizzi, leader of the Pro-Italian party, favoured Argentina because it was a Latin country with a language that was very similar to Italian. Immigration restrictions prevalent in U.S.A., Canada and Australia, made a number of Maltese contemplate emigrating to Argentina. In 1923, Dr. Joseph Howard himself was of that opinion even though in 1919 he had declared himself against emigration to South America. Naturally enough, Lord Strickland remained thoroughly opposed to emigration to countries which he classified as "foreign".
Dr. Enrico Mizzi was stoutly supported in his pro-Argentina stand by the Senator Rev. I. Panzavecchia and by Mr. Gustav Xuereb. When Mr. Henry Casolani was in London in 1922 he still expressed strong reservations about sending Maltese migrants to Argentina, but he conceded that skilled mechanics who were unemployed in Malta could find lucrative jobs with British companies in Argentina. While in London Mr. Casolani contacted Sir Brodie Henderson of the firm Livesey, Son and Henderson. The firm provided consulting engineers to most railway companies in South America.
Sir Brodie was of the opinion that in Argentina employment was slack because no great projects had been undertaken since 1914. He saw little hope for Maltese mechanics to obtain good jobs under the prevailing economic slump. Sir Brodie did promise to contact the Emigration Depart-ment in Malta should his company need workers from Malta. Still Casolani maintained that emigration to South America was not a going proposition. In his book "Awake, Malta" he stated that he had known many Maltese who had done very well for themselves in the U.S.A. and in Australia, while no similar stories ever reached him from those distant republics of South America.
In 1924 Senator A. Cassar Torreggiani went to Paris where he had a meeting with Senor T.A. Le Breton who was then the minister of Agriculture of Argentina. The Senator wrote his report which was presented to the Legislative Assembly of Malta on July 14, 1924. In that report it was stated that the Argentine Government welcomed agricultural workers who would cultivate wheat and help in the production of animal foodstuff. Educated immigrants who intended to seek clerical work, were not in demand.
Le Breton told the senator from Malta that when they arrived in Argentina, immigrants were housed at the expense of the State. State officials found work for the newly arrived immigrants who were also transported to their place of employment at the expense of the local authorities. Wages were higher than in other countries in Latin America though these tended to rise and fall according to demand and supply. Workers were expected to give eight hours of work every day, though out in the fields it was to the advantage of the workers to work as much as it was humanly possible at that particular time. Though work was plentiful at the time of the interview, the State could give no positive guarantee against eventual unemployment.
Immigrants in Argentina were not liable to military service but their sons were not exempted. Senor Le Breton also said that his Government was willing to grant to the Maltese one square league of arable land in the province of Cacha, north of Santa Fe, where the weather was very amenable and where the means of communication by river and by rail left nothing to be desired. The minister said that his offer was on condition that at least twenty-five families would decide to emigrate. When these families arrived in Buenos Aires they would be housed in that city at the expense of local authorities. These same authorities would also provide free transportation to the allotments in Cacha.
Le Breton also assured Senator Cassar Torreggiani that in Argentina people enjoyed complete freedom of religion and that the Maltese would find no difficulty in practising their faith which, after all, was the faith of the Argentinians. Senator Cassar Torreggiani also informed the Minister that on no account would Maltese workers work with coloured people. Le Breton calmed such racial preoccupations by telling his guest that no coloured labourers were employed in Argentina.
The Report by Senator A. Cassar Torreggiani is only of historical interest. Nothing came out of it and Maltese interest in Argentina never produced any significant migratory movement to that country.
Source: The Great Exodus by Fr Lawrence E. Attard. (C) P.E.G. Ltd - 1989.