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Don’t Cry for Argentina Just Yet

Amidst the atrocities that have thrust Venezuela into the spotlight, another formerly prosperous Latin American state is fighting its own battles. Argentina is currently experiencing rising inflation, shortages, stagnating production, growing unemployment, and the curtailing of essential freedoms. The world’s breadbasket, once the envy of Europe and a haven for immigrants, now faces crippling brain drain and wheat shortages, thanks to price ceilings, export curbs, and nationalizations. Some will claim that the president, Cristina Kirchner, won her elections fairly, and hence has a mandate to drain state coffers. However, if an examination of her Justicialist Party is conducted, it becomes clear that nepotism and creeping statism have forged a mirage of democracy in Argentina, one that veils the construction of a new South American pseudo-leftist experiment. It now veers precipitously close to destruction, descending further into autocracy and impoverishment. 

The Kirchner couple, when they were whole, maintained a caudillo-like image of decades past, when Latin tyrants used degenerate tactics and condescending personalism as a means to consolidate absolute power. From 2003-2007, President Nestor Kirchner employed a poisonous rhetoric, denouncing business owners by name as national traitors, threatening outspoken journalists, and decrying farmers unwilling to vote for his wife to be militants. A frigid imitation of the more barbaric Chavez, he installed his equally egotistic wife, Cristina, as his presidential successor. Her failed economic policies have annihilated any semblance of stability achieved by her husband, while she has desecrated press freedom to an extent unseen since Argentina’s military government. In her six years in office, her administration has retracted over 130 broadcasting licenses and seized dozens of media outlets. Attacks on journalists, in the form of beatings or government-sanctioned searches, are increasing with frequency alongside a surging violent crime rate. Media libel cases are a select weapon in the arsenal of the Kirchner government, which is desperately trying to institutionalize the perpetual silencing of the fourth estate.

The troubling merging of the Justicialist Party with the state’s administrative infrastructure has gone hand-in-hand with personal enrichment amongst the top rungs of the nation’s political leadership. Cristina Kirchner has amassed a net worth of 13 million dollars since assuming office, and has used her position to acquire lucrative property holdings, stockholding land for the even tighter times that Argentina will inevitably endure thanks to her destructive reforms. The managed account forex renationalization of the oil sector has led to rising petrol prices and declining revenues, as well as the creation of a new bureaucratic class of technocrats, who have used socialism as a guise for profiteering. The continuance of restrictions on soy, beef and wheat farmers has made grocery shopping a nightmare in Argentina, now the third most difficulty country in Latin America to find basic necessities, right after Cuba and Venezuela. Populism, the crudeness of collecting funds from people of modest means, and then stingily distributing it back to them to buy their votes, has failed once again, leaving a handful filthy rich, and the vast majority in misery.

Argentina’s drift toward autocracy has been met with vigorous opposition similar to the indignation felt by Venezuelans, but the gauchos have achieved somewhat better results in deterring statist infringement. While the Kirchners won three successive presidential elections, the Argentine public punished the Justicialists at the legislative polls in 2009 and 2013. Democratic principles may be under duress, but casting a valid ballot is still a protected right. Last year, Kirchner attempted, in the face of pleas by Argentine legal groups and Human Rights Watch, to “democratize” the judiciary by having judicial magistrates, the officials charged with appointing judges, to be elected to their posts and tied to a political party. Her omnibus bill would also have prohibited appeals against constitutionally unsettled laws. The Supreme Court, one of the few remaining sovereign institutions, struck it down following public outcry, demonstrating that most Argentinians are engaged enough to recognize the blatant co-opting of justice.

The stifling summer months appear to have boiled Latin America’s blood, and the Argentinians are no exception. With crumbling infrastructure and skyrocketing electricity costs, citizens have mobilized at levels unseen in decades, demanding a return to the political and economic freedom that once made their homeland the envy of its hemisphere. They may indeed be successful in their quest, with Kirchner’s approval having fallen to around 20 percent, and refreshing political parties now gaining ground. The tumultuous road to redemption will be long, but the country’s self-unraveling could soon finally grind to a halt.

So it’s worth a tear, but don’t weep for Argentina, because her ruling demagogues may very well be dancing their last tango.

 

-Avik Jain

 

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