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July 10, 2014
Sunday, January 19, 2014

Mourning, US dollars and coups d’état

In a file photo,Juan Gelman (right) sits alongside his granddaughter Macarena Gelman, who he found in 2000. She was appropriated by a family linked to the military during the last dictatorship.
By Mempo Giardinelli
For the Herald

The week was marked by Juan Gelman’s death and by the ‘blue’ dollar reaching new records

In this strange, boiling, porteño summer, the prevailing mood continues to be stoked by people who seem specifically specialized in fanning the flames so that the country approaches once again confrontations that will have no winners and only losers, except for the powerful groups that have always run the show, as the unforgettable María Elena Walsh used to say.

All this is happening, strangely, as Argentine society is mourning the loss of another poet, Juan Gelman (1930-2014).

An unrivalled poet that was universally recognized, these days have nonetheless not been without the usual compatriots that for all eternity have and will always look for the fly in the ointment.

Beyond these trivialities, however, it must be said that when a society is moved by the death of a poet, it is inevitable to think that within the pain contained by that loss something positive is happening in this conglomeration of humans. That was what happened this week after Gelman’s death in the Mexican capital, where he had resided for almost two decades and received all kinds of honours, including the prestigious and super-Spanish Cervantes award.

The Executive’s declaration of three days of mourning with the flag at half mast is an unusual gesture that may have gone unnoticed by many, but which reflects an esteem that goes beyond the life and works of Gelman. Because it isn’t common in the history of this country that a literary figure, an intellectual, is honoured with such a dispensation. And further to that, considering that he was not only a giant of a poet — many consider him the greatest after Borges — but also a leftist political activist, a member of the Communist Party in his youth and in his adulthood part of revolutionary Peronism and the Montonero leadership. Gelman was also an exemplary fighter for human rights as he searched for his family members that were disappeared during the dictatorship.

Above and beyond the human, literary and political value that one assigns Gelman, the government’s gesture is nothing short of incredible given that the gathering storm clouds and an extreme heat that smothers spirits like never before, many of them suffering from power cuts that are simply unbearable.

But the oven that porteños are now living in isn’t exclusively a result of global warming. The usual suspects — upper crust, Argentine and porteños have also added to the fire that is daily life. Experts in reheating the daily grind, they have been able to turn the exchange rate into January’s dominant theme. Or better said, the excesses of the supposed value of the US dollar, that at the time of writing is hovering around 12 pesos, a number that reveals the ferocity of a small, perverse market that transcends economic considerations to be, simply put, an instrument of destabilization. Or, even more clearly, an element of a coup.

It isn’t an exaggeration, although some may think that it is. In Argentina coups are always linked to frustrations, and in this case it is palpable in sectors that, given the strengthening of democracy and its institutions, will never be able to achieve power through constitutional means. That makes them invent ignoble methods and to throw spanners in the works. It has always been like that, just like these kinds of accusations have always been denied.

In Argentina there have been innumerable episodes like those we lived through in the past, when it was easy to convince generals to lead a coup d’état, civilians to publicly support it, and for priests to bless them. But happily all that has passed and they are only methods of the past.

It is well known of course, that the past repeats itself at least in some ways. And that is what is happening in Argentina, at least since the crisis of the also sweltering summer of 2009. And since then in a sustained crescendo.

Because what is truly unbearable for these groups — powerful and with an evident impunity granted by the media — is that they are facing a government that despite some errors maintains the political initiative exceptionally, like no other in many years. Decision-making by Kirchnerism has been a constant. One can agree or not with the decisions, but there isn’t a day that goes by without a public works announcement, proposals for new laws and investments. And the nonsense about whether the president speaks too much or too little doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, nor does the foolish speculation about a more than evident leadership.

A coup is therefore once again the question. As in 2009 and in each of the last five years, the campaign of the destabilizing worker bees is based on a Calvinist imagination, backed by a stunning media power and an insatiable appetite as if its actors were inviagorated — a neologism — or just high.

Does this text exaggerate? Fat chance, as the kids would say. It is enough to see the so-called currency “market” and its frenetic upward trend that doesn’t match the country’s actual conditions and the levels of production and consumption.

In fact the next moves are already visible on the horizon: the announcements made by sectors labelled as “rural” — an inappropriate self-titling as an antonym to the unnamed “city”— that are already preparing the war paint to wage new battles against export duties. They have unveiled their weapons (tractors, storing grains, on-call journalists) to heat the summer or to spur the return of millions of Argentines from their holidays. As if their privileges and the extraordinary wealth that they have accumulated in the last few years wasn’t sufficient, they are certainly the ones going all in. They are seeking the power that they had in other times and so must displace the battered Kirchnerite power, which will have to demonstrate if it is still able to set the agenda and take the political initiative or if it is as weakened as it appears at times.

The death of a poet marks on every society and throughout History, an aesthetic that defines a period. The dollar, as it always has been in Argentina, is the most effective destabilizing mechanism of daily life. A coup, as it also has always been, is the most despicable of anti-democratic actions. And the denial of a coup, yet one more time and as always, may be an unconscious mode of political suicide.

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