May 23, 2013
When 'no' means not very much
The government has certainly taken its time coming to grips with the Border and Coast Guard pay mutiny (perhaps in the hope that the protest would fade away of itself) and the problem is indeed intractable. Basically it pits the illogical — the incredible folly of a government playing games with the remuneration of security forces all too often required to lay down their lives — against the illegal — dereliction of duty by the guardians of a democratic society. If one lesson of Sunday’s impressive Hugo Chávez election win in Venezuela indicates that a populist government with the full weight of the state and oil wealth behind it is unbeatable, other explanations of Chávez’ clout might might lie in the physical might of the former paratroop officer with a privileged, well-oiled and well-equipped military caste behind him — if the outcome of the Venezuelan election might thus favour humouring the mutineers, this would set a disastrous fiscal precedent costing many more billions for everybody else after paying billions to appease the security forces.
The Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration gave an answer of sorts to the protests yesterday in the form of tedious statements by Economy Minister Hernán Lorenzino and Cabinet Chief Juan Manuel Abal Medina (new attrition tactics?) — Lorenzino tried to blind everybody with science by giving a highly technical rundown seeking to present previous pay structures as arbitrary while Abal Medina insisted that nobody would earn less than before (perhaps relying on inflation to escape the fiscal consequences) while resisting the pay floor claims of a monthly 7,000 pesos by the security forces. Almost needless to say, these statements did nothing to dispel the crisis. Indeed perhaps the most interesting question about Lorenzino does not lie in any of yesterday’s jargon but what he was doing here at all, given that he was supposed to be participating in the annual general meeting of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank in Tokyo — should we take at face value the official explanation that he stayed behind to deal with the complex fiscal aspects of this crisis or could Lorenzino’s absence in Japan be interpreted as new levels of defiance of the IMF, enboldened by the Chávez victory in Venezuela and stung by the recent IMF ultimata over mendacious statistics?
Official data are not only suspect over inflation but also over crime — perhaps the government best comes to grips with the pay protest when it starts looking realistically at the security sector as a whole.