May 18, 2013
By Michael Soltys
Buenos Aires Herald Senior Editor
The year ending today was curiously sterile and eventful at the same time. The economy resembled a snake eating its own tail as the self-inflicted wounds of government policy drained it of all dynamism. On the political side the year began with a bang and ended not so much with a whimper as with another kind of bang — the clang of sabre-rattling in the early months over the Malvinas in the 30th anniversary of the 1982 South Atlantic conflict and the far more aggressive expropriation of Spanish Repsol shares in YPF oil company had turned after a winter of discontent into the somewhat different sound of November’s saucepan-bashing (far vaster in scale if not intensity than the looting just before Christmas). Yet not for the first time in Argentine experience, the seminal event perhaps most profoundly shaping perceptions came not from the powers that be in politics nor the world of high finance but everyday life — February’s Once commuter train tragedy claiming 51 lives.
While most critics tend to focus on the self-destructive economic policies of currency and import curbs and inflation denial, perhaps the biggest negative lies in international relations and Argentina’s growing isolation from the rest of the globe — as if the country’s star actress is congenitally unable to share the spotlight with the world stage. Thus, apart from the nationalistic obsession with the Malvinas, barely a squeak all year on Syria from a government priding itself on its human rights priorities — instead the deranged idea of talks with Iran announced at a United Nations Assembly where the Iranian nuclear threat was a prime concern. The saga of the naval training frigate Libertad in Ghana was a classic example of Argentina running behind events elsewhere instead of helping to shape them.
The ultimate sterility of an eventful leap year does not lie so much in the scant economic growth as the failure of 2012 to produce any real alternatives — a highly contradictory political system nevertheless does not seem big enough to either create or contain its own contradictions. If the first week of 2012 saw the transfer of the metropolitan subway from national to municipal hands, the identical move is now scheduled for the start of 2013 after many twists and turns — talk about tunnel vision. Yet the good news from last year remains that for all the far from unjustified institutional alarmism, Argentina remains a democracy with adverse court rulings grudgingly accepted over that most sterile issue of all in 2012 — that futile dispute over who writes the story rather than who makes history.