May 20, 2013
Trouble is brewing
When the money runs out, unrest will spread
To the alarm of much of the sentient population, some angry people have taken to giving prominent Kirchnerites a taste of their own medicine. Ever since Nestor Kirchner moved into the Pink House in May 2003, he, his wife and the many who jumped on their bandwagon have been gleefully savaging anyone who disagreed with their political ideas or dared to criticize their often boorish behaviour, while the targets of their wrath have for the most part been reluctant to reply in kind.
It was tacitly agreed that the abrasive “K style” should remain a government monopoly and that, in any case, it would be best for the opposition to make a show of upholding civilized values by reacting calmly and speaking wistfully about the virtues of democratic pluralism. And then there was what might be called the guilt factor, it being widely accepted that the military, the Radicals, the “neoliberals” had done badly in the past and therefore deserved the occasional tongue-lashing.
Though it should be obvious enough that the Peronists, especially the ones who clustered around Nestor and Cristina Kirchner, are responsible for the country’s unhappy state and had done more than anyone else to make Argentina what foreign onlookers described as the most striking, and least explicable, political and economic failure of the 20th Century, non-Peronist opposition leaders have preferred not to point this out for fear of reopening old wounds.
This strange, one-sided non-aggression pact may have saved the country some unpleasant confrontations, but it has also done a great deal of harm. The willingness of opposition leaders and others to respond forcefully to the frequent presidential diatribes allowed Nestor Kirchner, while he was still with us, and then his wife, to persuade themselves they could do and say pretty well whatever they liked. As a result of the absence of checks and balances, the country is about to go tumbling over its own version of the “fiscal cliff” the US faced barely a month ago. At the last minute, the North American political elite managed to slam on the brakes. Argentina’s will not be able to do the same; the ramshackle vehicle they have put together does not have any.
Inflation could soon go through the roof: most economists say it will reach 30 percent this year, but as the government, with October’s legislative elections in mind, will try to boost consumption by churning out huge numbers of pretty 100-peso banknotes bearing a portrait of Evita, their predictions look overoptimistic. Union bosses are girding up for wage negotiations. As blackouts proliferate, the bill for imported energy seems certain to rise. For understandable reasons, nobody appears to be interested in investing more than is absolutely necessary to remain in business. The building trade millions of ill-educated workers depend on for their Spartan livelihood is in a coma. The presumably illegal “blue” dollar has parted company with the green one; though nobody knows where it will end up, it may be assumed that it will eventually flutter out of sight.
Much of the middle class is clearly fed up with the government’s antics. That is why not only Vice-President Amado Boudou, a man fated to symbolize corruption, but also the second-in-command at the error-prone Economy Ministry, Axel Kicillof, a cocky academic who favours a mixture of Marxism and Keynesianism, recently found themselves loudly jeered at by irate citizens who told them they were crooks.
As Argentine office-holders are widely considered to be extraordinarily venal, even more so than their counterparts in Greece or Italy, that may seem fair enough, but hereabouts corruption only becomes a major issue when a government is heading for the exit and more and more people decide the time has come to speed it on its way. That, and the fear that both the government’s supporters and its foes could be about to start resorting to physical violence, is why virtually all opposition spokespeople came out with statements roundly condemning the “fascist” treatment meted out to Boudou and Kicillof, though many reminded us that the Kirchnerites and their allies of the hard-left, the picket squads and gangs of soccer hooligans have up to now been the worst offenders.
The government thinks it can afford to lose the backing of the relatively well-off, a category that includes many who in the US or Europe would be regarded as poverty-stricken, but it knows it would be face a grim future if it were deserted by the enormous numbers of desperately poor who regularly vote for the local Peronist candidate and the movement’s current leader, Cristina. To ensure they stay in line, the government has to send lots of money to town mayors and the politicians who run the outrageously politicized relief programmes that, if nothing else, help millions to keep starvation at bay. But the more money the government pumps out, the more it gets eroded by inflation and the less it can buy.
In the coming months, unrest, eagerly fomented by leftist organizations, will in all probability spread to the dilapidated townships of Greater Buenos Aires and the backward provinces of the North and Northwest, giving rise to more looting sprees like the ones that broke out just before Christmas.