April 24, 2014
Against memory blackouts
That second Christmas known as Epiphany today will find millions of people starting or already enjoying their summer holidays, many of them determined to forget the nightmarish blackout experience from most of last month which prompted so much heated indignation. This editorial proposes to do neither thing — neither to forget the problem now the crisis has been downgraded to a yellow alert nor to analyse the issue from the perspective of the knee-jerk outrage highlighting the bad news which characterized so much media coverage. The blackouts extended to any accurate appraisal of the true dimensions of the disaster, which veered between two opposite extremes depending on whether official reports or popular perception formed the basis. First of all, official estimates of one to three percent of the population were generally mocked and they indeed seem impossible to sustain given that it is hard to find anybody who did not suffer at least half a day during the apparently endless three-week heat wave, even from neighbourhoods far from the worst-hit areas of Mataderos, Liniers, Flores, Caballito, etc.
To play the devil’s advocate to the extreme of being politically incorrect. a newcomer here might well conclude that Argentina has a remarkably good power grid when measured against the household electricity bills paid (especially if ignorant of the subsidies factor). Naive perhaps but a couple of clichés should be challenged. And the other commonplace is that this situation would never have existed without the folly of derisory pricing that benefits wide percentage of population who can pay much more — power cuts have plagued Argentina under every type of government and indeed until recently peaked in 1997 at the height of privatization and convertibility (and also unemployment for those who see blackouts as a problem of growth).
Instead of blowing a fuse over these outages and then forgetting them once the catharsis is over, we need to keep a cool head at all times about a problem which is sure to return.