Argentina is filled with sad notes about inequality

Argentina, like most countries, began to emerge from the pandemic in a worse way than when it entered it.

07 December 2022 Wednesday 23:31
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Argentina is filled with sad notes about inequality

Argentina, like most countries, began to emerge from the pandemic in a worse way than when it entered it. Contrary to the augur of various hasty thinkers, who anticipated optimistic results for the aftermath of the catastrophe, what happened in the country ended up being, in the end, the foreseeable: the pandemic left greater poverty, greater inequality, greater institutional fragility.

There is little to be surprised about in a country marked, for decades, by structural inequality that today manifests itself in economic concentration in a few, and is consolidated thanks to a constitutional structure that centralizes decision-making power in a minority ( a system of organization of power that Carlos Nino called “hyper-presidentialist”). In the paragraphs that follow, I will succinctly describe the situation that characterizes public life in the country, since the covid crisis broke out, and up to the present.

I start with a brief note on inequality, because it tells us about a decisive factor to explain the past and predict what is to come. Currently, in the country, 37.3% of people are below the poverty line, and more than 8% below the indigence line. These data (which today generate a sensation of a social hotbed that is always on the verge of exploding) can be considered a surprise when one thinks about the country historically and trying to raise our eyes above the situation.

For a long time, Argentina distinguished itself from a majority of the countries in the region by a situation of full employment, and egalitarian and inclusive policies, particularly in the area of ​​health and education. From sociology, Juan Carlos Portantiero described the prevailing situation towards the end of the 20th century, as one of a "hegemonic tie", where political parties, business organizations and strong unions mutually balanced their weight, without being able to impose any of them on the rest. Somehow, the last dictatorship (1976-1983) broke that deadlock, and brought with it fundamental changes (political, economic and social), which were consolidated over the years. With a shrinking working class, weaker unions, and less able social organizations to exercise their traditional veto power, poverty and inequality began to spread to the dire levels it is today. The impoverished sectors can no longer find someone to defend them, and self-organized groups (typically, the so-called piqueteros) hardly manage to exercise self-defense and survival maneuvers (usually, in demand of social plans).

Within this context of social inequality and extreme political polarization (the crack), former President Mauricio Macri, at the head of a center-right collation, concluded his government in December 2019, with a balance that the majority considered negative. Despite the attempts to rebuild the country economically, and to clean it up institutionally, the mistakes themselves – which included a wrong diagnosis; an excess of optimism; the certainty that the problems in question required little more than changes in attitude (“open up to investments”, “end unnecessary restrictions”) – and the heavy boycott that Peronism is capable of exercising from outside power, cornered the Government against the ropes. To make matters worse, Macri tended to reproduce, during his presidency, several of the vices he had learned from his father (Franco, a famous businessman who made his fortune as a state contractor), using forms of capitalism from friends and media that dishonored his best promises of republican restoration. The only way out that the Macri government found, in the face of the accumulation of internal problems, was the recourse to a new and gigantic external indebtedness, which only ended up opening the way out, adding to the disappointment of its own and others (after four years of government, the country's gross debt went from 240,000 million dollars to 323,000 million, the latter figure from the end of 2019, when Macri ended his term).

"With Cristina it's not enough, without her you can't". In this scenario, and contrary to what many had thought, Peronism once again triumphed in the elections, thanks to a new mutation promoted by former president Cristina Kirchner. Monarchically, the former president chose Alberto Fernández as presidential candidate, whom she would second from the vice presidency. The current leader of the Executive, Alberto Fernández, then defended the formula designed, famously maintaining that "with Cristina it is not enough, but without her it cannot be done." Alberto Fernández was thus left at the head of a coalition that would be capable of including the votes of one of the extremes of political polarization (Kirchnerism maintains a high electoral floor, close to 25%, which is also similar to its ceiling), to which –predictably– many of those disenchanted with the previous government would join, without fearing a repetition of the excesses and corruptions associated with Kirchnerism: a moderate would now be at the head of the government. The problem that this coalition hid from its origins is what has become evident today: the reasons for forging this political front were (hopefully) opportunistic and short-term, while the ties capable of keeping the coalition firm were too weak. (as Borges would say: they were not united by love, but by fear).

After Peronism's electoral victory, many predicted a political development that ultimately did not occur. It could be expected that, protected by the mechanisms of a hyper-presidential system, the elected president would distance himself from the demands of his vice president, consolidate his own power, and impose a new type of verticalism (something like this had been done by Néstor Kirchner –of whom Alberto Fernández was the main adviser – after another former president, Eduardo Duhalde, appointed him as president, to succeed him). However, either because of his (remarkable) personal limitations, or because of his (partly understandable) attempt not to break the foundations of his own coalition (don't let Cristina get mad) the elected president decided not to impose his presidential authority, and to continue especially attentive to the anger and claims of his vice.

The prompt, unexpected and tragic arrival of the pandemic then opened up the possibility of a second scenario, much more promising than the previous one: an expanded government coalition, which would include a large part of the opposition. This scenario began to take shape in the early stages of the pandemic, when no one knew quite what to do, and the president –making a virtue of necessity– began to manage the crisis above the political rift, in an apparent alliance with one of the main referents of the opposition (Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, the mayor of the powerful City of Buenos Aires, a position that at the time was constituted as a launching pad for former President Macri). The popularity figures that supported this sudden and unexpected transversal coalition were exceptional: around 70% of the population, at times of pandemic and rejection of politics. Everything seemed to channel the political waters towards the consolidation of a renewed coalition, which promised –at least– a dignified way of navigating that unknown crisis. But under pressure from a Kirchnerism obsessed with preventing the growth of the opposition, the president then decided to let the train of history pass by: instead of laying the foundations of that unexpected alliance, the executive leader –under internal pressure– contributed to detonating the bases of the renewed agreement that he himself, shortly before, had inaugurated.

The colossal ineffectiveness (striking, I would add) that the Government has been exhibiting requires some explanation, which is not easy to find. Surely, part of the decadent inertia of these times is due to the president's own weakness and personality. This is in addition to the fact that his lukewarm initiatives often receive aggressive responses from his vice president. Refugee in the presidency of the Senate, Cristina Kirchner seems, for a long time, mainly responsible for the spasmodic vital movements that, from time to time, the governing body shows.

From what has been said (because of that individualistic imprint that drives the former president), many of the general movements that the Government insinuates end up being oriented towards responding to particular, personal issues that exclusively affect or interest the vice president. This is so, beginning with the courts, where she feels "persecuted" by the progress of a number of cases opened against her, related to corruption through public works promoted by her government.

As a result, and based on a firepower that is now greatly diminished (Kirchnerism today does not have enough votes in any of the chambers, but it does have enough capacity to block opposition initiatives, or insist on hallucinating bills that are always short-lived), the Allies of the vice president have taken dozens of useless initiatives for the country, but always aimed at alleviating the judicial situation of the former president. They have said almost everything, based on a lost discourse about lawfare (translation: judicial persecutions directed against popular leaders, a phenomenon that, curiously, Kirchnerism considers still valid today, even though they are the ones who, from the Government, put pressure on the Justice). They have also denounced the members of the Court of Justice as corrupt, and have described the adverse judicial decisions as coup-like (days ago, a Supreme Court decision invalidating the law by which Kirchnerism, at the time, gained political control over the Judicial Council, was denounced by Cristina Kirchner as "part of a coup d'état"). And, at the same time, they have tried almost everything: modify the law of the Public Ministry (so that they could take control over the power of the prosecutors); “democratize justice” (through projects aimed at gaining control over judge appointments, particularly in the sensitive federal jurisdiction); initiate political judgment on adverse judges; increase the number of judges on the Court (which Cristina Kirchner, during her presidency, had demanded to reduce to their current number); reform the Constitution; and so on. We are faced with irrational, obstinate and obscene actions, which predictably end in failure, but which serve to enervate the prevailing climate of political violence -perhaps, as sometimes happens in football, with the blind hope of reversing (or covering up) , at least) a foreseeable defeat, through chaos.

The other area of ​​government that registers some movements, in these months, is the economic area. Things are different here, because the extravagances or delusions to which we are collectively exposed, in this area, generate extraordinary impacts on the entire population, and particularly on the most vulnerable. Here, attention is focused above all on rampant inflation, which reached historical limits even at the Argentine level, that is, even in relation to the levels typical of a country that traditionally occupies the podium of the countries in the world with higher inflation levels. high (along with South Sudan, Zimbabwe and Venezuela). Argentina, which has already gone through several notable hyperinflation peaks since the end of the Alfonsín government, again showed extremely high levels of price increases in recent years: 25.68% in 2017; 34.28% in 2018; a peak of 53.55% in 2019; 42.02% in 2020; 50.9% in 2021; and this year everything indicates that the 50% barrier will be greatly exceeded, surpassing everything seen in the last decade.

In this fearful context, the discussion on inflation was tied to the need to define an economic plan at once (months ago, the president foolishly boasted that his economic plan consisted of not having a plan), and the plan At the same time, the economy was tied to the conclusion of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a necessary agreement, but one that triggers the worst memories in a country marked by an unfortunate history on the matter. In recent weeks, the agreement with the Fund has come to occupy the center of both the political and economic scene. Finally, the Minister of Economy, Martín Guzmán (close to Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz) managed to tie a general agreement with the IMF, after a long and arduous negotiation. However, unfortunately, as the agreement materialized, support for the minister, within the government itself, began to unravel. In this sense, the agreement came to represent the perfect excuse that the vice president needed to justify her confrontation with the president. She seems annoyed with him for various reasons (which begin, surely, with the insufficient support that she detects in his confrontation with justice, and extends to alleged disobedience that she notices in the president, who does not appoint or remove all the personnel who she wants to see somewhere else), and the looming economic adjustment offers her a good reason to publicly disavow the leader of the Executive.

The reality is that today, the agreement with the Fund, which many consider an insufficient but necessary step to stabilize the economy, is bombarded daily: not from the opposition, nor from trade unionism or the political sectors of the extreme right or left, but from within the government itself. Said fight against the Government, from within, begins with the Chamber of Deputies, where Máximo Kirchner (Cristina's son) has a leading role (he came to preside over the majority bloc of deputies, and resigned as a result of alleged "economic disagreements" with the president and Guzmán), and continues in the Senate, where the vice president has a small but influential block of legislators. The political situation that can be seen today is so tense that, in her fleeting visit to the country, the provocative and lucid Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo maintained that she saw a "self-coup" underway led by Cristina Kirchner, an allusion today unverifiable but credible, that it was widely circulated, largely because it fit the description many glimpsed behind the scenes of government.

I end these sad notes with an effort to get out of the contaminated situation, and trying to return to the initial references on inequality. Although in this world it no longer makes sense to predict almost anything, the presence of growing economic and social inequalities, reinforced by inequalities in the distribution of institutional power, help to predict something, at least. The social injustices that prevail today seem to be stabilized or deepened (rather than eliminated or reduced), because the sectors most harmed by them have lost the ability to resist them. The unions, as I have commented, have been reduced in terms of their base and weight; the majority political parties (in times of democratic erosion) appear alienated from reality and playing their own game in Russian roulette (something not very different, by the way, from what is observed in Europe); and the traditional civic energy displayed by a mobilized society (an interesting social trait, very Latin American) is concentrated today in survival maneuvers, rather than conquest or social demands. A pity: although the future is confusing and increasingly unpredictable, the horizons that are looming today do not deny the possibility of improvements, but at the same time they are not encouraging for those who most need justice.

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