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April 23, 2014
Sunday, December 29, 2013

Moody heat and Albert Camus

By Mempo Giardinelli
For the Herald
A journey driving through Santa Fe and Córdoba under a blazing sun with high temperatures

Curiously enough, we already know all about this last week of the year and have even written about it — been there, seen that. The only possible subject is the heat which penetrates everywhere and burns everything up — especially the mood of the porteños.

The political activity, the economic tussles, the claims of the governors and the threats to nationalize the power utilities are all, so to speak, mere expressions of the same thing — the searing heat, which in some of the great works of universal literature such as L’Étranger of Albert Camus determines and conditions everything, and especially the vilest human conduct.

For that reason in today’s column, which every week strives to review the political and civic life of this marvellous but always tormented republic, we will be going on a journey. One I made all this past week driving through two Argentine provinces (Santa Fe and Córdoba) under a blazing sun with an average temperature of 40 degrees Centigrade — not an epic crossing by any stretch of the imagination but an incursion into paradoxical realities.

The first and greatest is the abundant wealth which can still be appreciated not only in the fields but also in the small towns and cities. Before your eyes stretch the immense fields of sunflower, maize and soy (above all soy) along the side of the road for hundreds, even thousands of kilometres. That is what can be appreciated from every highway, whether a trunk road or a secondary route.

The second observation is the virtual disappearance of the forests, which in the case of Córdoba is a mockery because every now and then you see giant blowups in which the provincial government talks of everything it is doing for the native forests in a context of an absolute lack of such forests..

And the third (and somewhat painful) confirmation is the almost total disappearance of cattle which previously (some decades ago this columnist travelled through this area two or three times a year, entering many small towns via byroads), which were the main protagonists of the landscape. And, of course, I’m not buying the argument that the cattle are now all in feed-lots and nor will I blame it on a presumed perverse government policy to wipe out all our livestock. Rather it seems evident to me that the ranchers have moved onto soy for strictly pocket-book reasons. What is regrettable but also logical is the lack of any national agricultural policy to restore the balance.

Whatever, it is not only a different geography which you observe in the provinces but also a different sociology and the change is appreciable. The countless towns and cities with less than 20,000 inhabitants continue living as they did years ago, cordial and friendly and submerged in what the poet Alfredo Veiravé has aptly called their sacramental siestas. The emerging cities with a population of 20-100,000, like Reconquista, Arroyito, Rafaela or San Francisco, are today industrial centres of agri-business and seem to enjoy full employment along with the natural conflicts between traditions and an always aggressive “modernity.”

It is the big cities which reproduce, in the worst way, the crisis which Argentina has undergone since the dictatorship — including the Raúl Alfonsín and Carlos Menem periods — and with the crowing bestiality of entry into the third millennium — extreme poverty and destitution, shantytowns offensive to human dignity, abominable shacks and the visible lack of drinking-water and the most basic services. Some of these clusters are bigger, others smaller but they all surround the big cities — Santa Fe, Rosario and Córdoba, each one of which is a scale reproduction of the horrors of the most horrendous places of Greater Buenos Aires. Not only are they breeding-grounds for the worst social conduct but they are a standing accusation of the appalling policies carried out by the local powers that be.

In this context, the highway police go out on the roads almost exclusively to graft bribes. Regardless of whether the offence is great or small or even non-existent, each checkpoint (I went through eight in four days) features an almost hilarious — if it weren’t so disgraceful and depressing — verbal skirmish between the man in uniform looking for ways to strike a deal with the alleged offender and the driver, who in many cases has every reason to feel offended and frustrated. And not everybody behind the steering-wheel gives the only answer which can be recommended — “Let me continue or write me a ticket but I’m not giving you money.”

In Buenos Aires, on the other hand, all this seems exotic because the fury there is always stage-managed with its own press and the fires stoked by those at the service of the most cretinous interests. There, in contrast to the provinces, there is an enormous effort under way to destabilize. Like hornets’ nests, they work arduously to prevent governments from arriving at the end of their terms and long, hot summers always suit them. In former times March tended to be the coup season. And it was at the end of summer when Alfonsín fell just as it was in summer that Menem’s frayed mandate ended and it was in another hot summer when both the government and society blew up in the face of Fernando de la Rúa.

At least from what you see on the television these days and the war-clouds being mounted from certain media, it is evident that they are at it again, as the major media clearly show.

And more than ever, this nation today is two countries.

All the result of the heat, as Camus would say.

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