March 11, 2014
Watching the bonfire from the inferno
For the Herald
Despite unrelenting heat and record-breaking temperatures, what most affects the national mood is, of course, the continuous economic overheating organized by minority and corporate sectors which are extremely powerful and who have long demonstrated their capacity to fire their torpedoes below the Plimsoll line of any government. Finally this week they succeeded in knocking a hitherto invincible Kirchnerism off course.
Recognizing that reality (at least up to Friday evening when this column was written), the same government which has effortlessly and even arrogantly stood up to all onslaughts for years now (and for the first time) finds itself down, if not out, while it withstands the earthquake.
The questions which so many people are asking include: Are we returning to the horrendous times of zero predictability and governance which this country has suffered so long? What is the way out and what are the costs for 38-39 million Argentines who surely have not seen a dollar or a euro in all their lives but who work hard and who all they want and need is a return to the predictability regained since the disaster of 2001?
The situation is complex and lends itself to all kinds of interpretations because without doubt the reality is worrying and given propaganda overkill by the mass media and their mendacious television channels but it is also true that Kirchnerism has shown a thick skin and the capacity to handle everything thrown at it and to recover the agenda and the protagonism every time it has been harassed.
Nevertheless, we have known more galvanized weeks in the past. The economic course regarding the dollar, reserves and inflation was pretty erratic until Friday’s announcements at the behest of Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich and Economy Minister Axel Kicillof, two officials who speak with the same authority as the President.
Thus this weekend nobody knows for certain (we will see as from tomorrow) if the free sale of dollars “to keep and save”as announced by Capitanich is better than the curbs, if the price controls work. if the exporters respond by cashing their foreign currency at the new exchange rate, among various unknowns. On the other hand, if the corporate pressures continue with the habitual conspiratorial conduct and the coupmongering zeal of the highest reaches of the business world, the currency game could continue, also stimulated by the irresponsible sermonizing of economists expert in failure and the endemic speculative obsession of sectors which have made more money than ever before but who are always insatiable.
The week boiled over in every sense. And although the rain and the farcical “urgent summons” from Mayor Mauricio Macri to his economic team when all the action was already over brought temporary relief to porteños, in the rest of the country other things were occurring. Such as the incredible snowfall in Bariloche and Esquel, the launch of Salta Governor Juan Manuel Urtubey’s presidential candidacy, all-time record temperatures in Córdoba topping a searing 50 degrees and the unstoppable advance of the soybean frontier.
On top of all of this the president reappeared on Wednesday, with one of her typical speeches although this time more moderate in style and without provocation or irony to announce a new social plan to assist the studies of youth in the 18-24 age-group who are either unemployed or earning less than the minimum wage. She did not, however, speak about inflation, the dollar, the worrying fall in the foreign currency reserves and the progressive devaluation which are today the critical issues facing the government and that two days later practically blew up in her face. And which incidentally, are also the weak points, marking a dangerous downward turn for a 10-year administration whose achievements can be overestimated or minimized in the most malicious manner but which nonetheless remain what they are. Argentina has changed in a decade as never before and the changes have generally been positive, beyond the errors, contradictions and the militant fury of opposition media power.
On that note, another important development this week was that Grupo Clarín finally agreed to change the channel grid for its cable television service, yielding to the Media Law stipulations. Moving its flagship news channel (TN) to Cannel 8 and accepting TV Pública between Telefé and 13 is quite a gesture, as much as finally including in its programming the excellent Paka Paka, Telesur, Incaa TV and 360TV, among other modifications.
These changes are not merely pro forma but also contribute to the necessary but always delayed improvement of the poor information access suffered by Argentina. And we’re not just talking about television here. Last Wednesday, for example, the web portal for La Nación featured five articles about the “collapse” of the economy, five about crime and robberies and seven on international news and sports. The general thrust of such journalism is to underline the allegedly horrible country we Argentines supposedly inhabit — “one of the worst-ranked in the world,” to quote directly — and to that end offered space to former officials of all the failed Argentine governments of the last 20 years who are now regular columnists offering presumably messianic recipes. Among them Martín Redrado, Emilio Cárdenas, Daniel Montamat, Alieto Guadagni, Martín Lousteau and the list goes on.
We will have to see how the patient progresses, as is often said in hospital bulletins. In those cases — accidents, epidemics or scheduled surgeries — it is assumed that the professionals watching over know what they are doing. And those who disagree in general exhibit prudence, discretion and even magnanimity. Three qualities missing in those who caused this crisis and which would do so much good to this country which always seems to be on the verge of bursting into flames.