August 21, 2014
Kirchnerites in the hot seat
For the Herald
Opposition letting the government do the talking
Some insects like to keep their victims alive while they steadily devour them. So too do some politicians. The last thing these creatures want is for Cristina, who now says problems give her a headache, to take a backseat and let others run the country. They want to enjoy watching her twist slowly, slowly in the wind, as one of Richard Nixon’s henchmen memorably put it when an enemy got into trouble. That is why opposition leaders have been strangely quiet of late. Far from trying to make the most of the government’s now daily blunders, they simply let Cristina, Axel Kicillof, Jorge Capitanich and the rest of them get on with whatever they are up to as though it were none of their business.
Virtually all Peronist “dissidents”, Radicals, leftists and conservatives are well aware that Argentina’s immediate prospects are bleak indeed. They know that hard times are already upon us and that plenty more people will share the fate of the many political activists given cushy jobs as “advisers” that Río Negro’s Kirchnerite governor, Alberto Weretilneck, has just summarily booted out in order to save a bit of cash. The more pessimistic among them fear that the pre-Christmas police strikes and looting that led to mayhem in many parts of the country were only a foretaste of what is in store but, as far as they are concerned, the mess is all Cristina’s, so she should be left to deal with it as best she can.
For the president, her fellow politicians’ evident lack of interest in speeding her departure must be disturbing. If nothing else, more pressure from them would help distract people’s attention from the economic turmoil. It would also make her narrative more plausible. Along with her supporters, Cristina insists that the country is teeming with evil conspirators who, along with their foreign friends, are determined to put an end to her wonderfully egalitarian “model” and replace it with a vile neoliberal tyranny much like the one installed by Carlos Menem in the dreadful 1990s: and which, as it happened, she and her husband supported with their customary enthusiasm.
Hardly a day goes by without them denouncing greedy speculators, shadowy corporations and others who are allegedly plotting against them. Nothing would please Cristina more than a grab for power by a gang of reactionary miscreants but, it would seem, such individuals want to make sure that she stays in the hot seat until December 2015 finally rolls round.
To justify their unusually passive approach, opposition leaders can allude to their respect for the Constitution and their fervent desire to prevent the country from suffering yet another institutional crisis. The less charitable, such as Mauricio Macri and Elisa Carrió, also say they want to force Cristina to assume full responsibility for the Greek-style austerity measures that will have to be enforced because there is precious little money left. It would appear that in their view not only the people who voted for the lady back in October 2011 but also those who supported opposition candidates should be taught a lesson they will never forget.
In theory, democracy is a learning process in which electorates become increasingly sophisticated. In fact, it is nothing of the kind. No voter anywhere makes up his or her mind after carefully perusing lists of economic statistics and reading all the appropriate position papers. Instead, like millions of Argentines, they decide for reasons that are often ridiculous; it is generally assumed that Cristina bounced back after a spell of unpopularity because her husband suddenly died and people wanted to cheer her up. Will the collapse of her “model” dissuade Argentines from voting for populists in future? Dream on.
Opposition politicians are reluctant to make Cristina’s life even harder by calling on her to quit not just because the dozen or so individuals involved are devoted to the constitutional timetable or because they think it is up to her to sort matters out. The main reason is that they are afraid to say what, sooner or later, will have to be done to restore a semblance of order. It is easy enough to say that the government should rein in inflation, but it would be politically unwise to point out that the necessary measures would in all likelihood hurt a huge number of already desperately poor people and many middle-class folk who, until a few months ago, expected to keep their heads above water. With luck, we will not see a repeat of the 2002 meltdown in which half the country was thrown into poverty, but things being as they are, it would be risky to bet against it.
Given the circumstances, the least bad alternative, for the country, that is, would be for Cristina to limit herself to being a formal figurehead so a coalition of trustworthy technocrats, supported by the more sensible political groupings, could take charge of an economy that has run out of fuel. Unfortunately, nothing like that is on the cards. Too many opposition leaders think Cristina and her cronies should be put behind bars for their many financial misdemeanours for any such arrangement to work. They also fear getting blamed for ruining people’s lives. As a result, the economy seems doomed continue on its present course toward an unknown but in all probability unpleasant destination, taking along with it about 40 million passengers who, until a couple of months ago, assumed they would end this stage of their journey in a very different kind of place.