Civilization versus barbarity in the upcoming midterm elections / By Mempo Giardinelli
Corruption as the central issue of politics and the axis of pre-electoral debate.
Even if every week in Argentina offers up a morsel for every taste, the most recent events have been largely conditioned by the de facto kidnap suffered by Bolivian President Evo Morales. Held back in Europe by rumours that his aircraft was concealing Edward Snowden, the spy on the run from the United States, this conflict threw the rulebook of global diplomacy out of the window — perhaps because it is already obvious that if the fugitive is running loose (not to mention his tongue), this would be extremely dangerous for Washington and its European overseers.
But we are also Argentines and you can sniff out some racial elements in the case of President Morales — he’s an “Indian,” as some of the commentators of major newspapers have written with brutal sincerity, aiming below the belt.
Argentina’s president took charge of the matter via her Twitter account as soon as events began to unfold on Tuesday evening while all the UNASUR heads of state — mobilized by the Presidents Rafael Correa of Ecuador and Ollanta Humala of Peru — rallied to repudiate Europe’s affront to their South American colleague.
Of course the inevitable remembrance of colonialist racism would be one of the factors in the situation. But another ingredient, and no less powerful if behind the scenes, is nothing more or less than the very different political, economic and social prisms through which Hispanic America and Brazil see the things of this world.
Anyway, and just to come back to earth amid Argentina’s reality, the week offered other disturbing issues. One was pretty basic when the national government ignored an injunction and the Christopher Columbus statue came tumbling down, after which whole episode became pathetic when Macri’s City Hall kicked up a fuss as if they had ever cared about the state of statues.
But there were also complexities when a video clearly showed that over and above all the fussing and fighting and accusations, the Castelar train crash had in reality been caused by human error. The engine-drivers’ union immediately came out against the use of cameras to film locomotive cabins while the basic issue remained frozen in the courtrooms.
Of course, the best of all is that while the news of the coup d’état in Egypt, where the armed forces overthrew the president and placed the Supreme Court chief justice in his place, was coming out, there were coupmongering overtones in the embarrassing headlines of a certain very traditional newspaper.
Of course Argentina’s Supreme Court Chief Justice Dr. Ricardo Lorenzetti, was busy with his argument with the AFIP tax bureau while the Court as a body entrusted Attorney General Alejandra Gils Carbó with ruling on the questions raised by the already legendary Broadcasting Law which Clarín has been holding up for four years. Everything indicates that that ruling will go against the interests of the multimedia group but in this crazy country nobody in their right mind would bet on the seven Supreme Court justices favouring the government.
What seems certain is that habemus rem (we have a ruling) but meanwhile the country is thrust into an electoral process with the same, old style of combining quality candidates with opportunists of the worst kind on the television screens and on the ballots. Such as Gerónimo “Momo” Venegas and Julio Piumato, Elisa Carrió and Fernando “Pino” Solanas, Margarita Stolbizer and Ricardo Alfonsín, mingled with personalities such as Luis Zamora, Julio César Cleto Cobos, Rodolfo Te-rragno, Alfredo De Ángelis and Julio Bárbaro.
Along with singers, officials, trade unionists, musicians, journalists and businessmen, making up a very broad ideological spectrum — both on the left and right there are candidates for every taste, from the “law and order” brigade to those who do not believe in democracy.
The offer is rounded out by figures like Víctor Santamaría, Li-liana Mazure, “Pimpi” Colombo, Luis Brandoni and even the prestigious ex-president of Vélez Sársfield Club Raúl Gámez, the staunchest foe of Julio Grondona’s eternal presidency of the Argentine Football Association (AFA). Not to mention the yesteryear leader of the masses Juan Carlos Blumberg, television host Beto Gianola and former soccer referee Luis Baldassi.
Of course, the big splash in these elections seems to be the man who was the most repudiated politician in Argentina in 2001-2002, Córdoba’s Domingo Cavallo. Along with Messrs. Oscar Aguad and Luis Schiaretti from that province, he makes up what some would consider a proof of democracy’s generosity and others a trio capable of making many tremble.
On top of all this Carlos Menem turned 83 in La Rioja, readying an appeal against his prison sentence for gunrunning while president. That trial, which lasted 17 years, showed the changes in speed of which Argentine justice is capable, knowing exactly when to slam on the brakes or move into top gear to obey the commands of the corporations.
Corruption indeed, in all its shapes and sizes, has been turning itself into the central issue of Argentine politics and it is entirely foreseeable that it should be the axis of pre-electoral debate. But that is not so striking as the fact that some cases erupt as if they were new. And it is also striking that some people are shocked as if they were innocent white doves suddenly finding the cuckoo in their nest. If truth be told, corruption is in a way the daily bread of this country and this world. Hypocrisy and cynicism are the order of the day, here and in Madrid, in Brasilia and in Mexico City, in Washington and in Moscow. And it did not start today or yesterday.
It bothers (really bothers) some people that now the middle-class television viewers pretend to be horrified when certain cases of corruption in high places are shown up by journalists of dubious morality at the service of business interests of equally dubious morality.
That places many people in the odious position of having to do a balancing-act in order to steer clear of both the deplorable defence of the current batch of crooks and the tiresome finger-pointing at the corrupt of yesterday and forever.
In this sense this week has shown that the debate between civilization and barbarity has remained open just as Domingo Faustino Sarmiento presented it 150 years ago. Because in this Argentina, where there is a free vote and a democracy perfecting itself very slowly, everybody knows perfectly well that the “civilized” will stop at nothing barbarous to maintain their privileges. Just as the “barbarians” have voted in their executioners any number of times and look where it’s left them.