April 16, 2014
The Barracas blaze and the sharks
It remains inexplicable how the controls of Iron Mountain failed to work, unleashing such a fire
The week’s big news was, without a doubt, the horrendous fire in the Iron Mountain depot in the Barracas neighbourhood with a toll of nine firefighters dead and many indications pointing to arson in the eyes of investigators. It remains inexplicable how the controls of a company specializing in the protected storage of documents failed to work, unleashing such a gigantic and devastating blaze.
The striking thing is that Iron Mountain has a prior record of other major blazes in its warehouses — in July, 2006, in Ottawa, Canada, and another in London where six storeys of paper storage were razed. And before that in March, 1997, there were two other fires in New Jersey which were investigated as “presumably intentional.”
The multinational Iron Mountain Corporation, founded in 1951 in the United States, has been in Argentina since 2000 and its Internet site guarantees the safety of its depots. Nevertheless, as is entirely logical after such a blaze, there are various conjectures as to possible responsibilities, above all proceeding from the suggestive fact that the presumed owner of Iron Mountain is the powerful US speculator Paul Singer, the same man who had the frigate Libertad impounded and held for nearly three months in Ghana (later released with punitive fines for Singer and his group) and who heads the rejection of all Argentine proposals to resolve the debt swap. That is why (and perhaps no coincidence) that the day after the blaze here, some Republican senators were equally inflammatory with regard to Argentina’s present and future in a hearing to consider the White House’s appointment of its new ambassador to Buenos Aires.
The director of the NML Elliott Capital Management fund, Singer is the chief operator against the interests of Argentina in both the US courts and Congress. With experience in other countries, including Peru or Congo in their time, Iron Mountain is, according to various Internet sources, one of his many companies, in this case to store the documentation and files of corporations like Shell, HSBC and chemical laboratories operating around the world. In our country, Iron Mountain has stored the documents of foreign trade, transnational and speculative firms and it is indeed striking that last Wednesday’s blaze came a few hours after the Central Bank announced a multi-million tax fraud investigation into various major companies.
Whatever the causes, the tragedy plunged the entire country into mourning although in the midst of the grief provoked by the loss of nine heroic lives, it was pathetically amusing to see City Hall’s frantic efforts to justify the many hours it took for Mayor Mauricio Macri (who seems to have the rare talent of always being on holiday when the major tragedies occur) to appear on the scene.
And immediately — so fast are events moving in this country — much of the citizenry started mobilizing to give battle for the control of prices.
Of course, there was other important news in the week’s agenda, such as a prosecutor’s summons for Vice-President Amado Boudou to testify before Judge Ariel Lijo in the Ciccone case, thus triggering a journalistic jamboree and overacted demands for his resignation from jaded legislators expert in futile denunciations. And although many now consider that Boudou’s 2011 candidacy was a political error, for now he only has unproven media charges against him and in that sense his immediate and spontaneous presentation before the judge on Friday deserves praise.
Another issue with far less splash but no less important was the news that in Santo Domingo, a small soy-growing town in Santa Fe province, the deaths from cancer have trebled in the last 20 years. As in San Jorge, Romang and other places, that is the other side of the Argentine tragedy — the uncontrolled use of agrochemicals and fumigants flown by crop-dusters over cities and towns, a routine practice in the face of the inexplicable silence of all political leaders, whether pro-government or opposition.
But, of course, the central issue in Argentina continues to be the devaluation, which does not seem to have been brought completely under control. In the last three years the peso:dollar ratio rose from four to one in January, 2011 to 6.50:1 last month and now eight to one — the question is how long it will stay there. A huge challenge for the government, no doubt, but above all for the citizenry because new exchange rates inexorably modify the distribution of wealth to the detriment of the popular classes, who depend on the product of their labour. A devaluation always degrades wages immediately and that has been the experience of the last few decades with the general impoverishment of the population. That is why the government worries so much about how it can boost consumption and deploy inclusive policies although, over and above the good intentions, there are doubts as to whether the desired results are achieved.
For many it is worrying to see how mildly the government reacts to the war declared on a daily basis by the major business and media groups and by their political, trade union and social lackeys. Given the fear that the national government is repeating an old error, it is perhaps worth recalling that famous phrase uttered by Raúl Alfonsín’s then Economy Minister Juan Carlos Pugliese in 1989: “I spoke to them with my heart and they answered with their pocket-books.”
This means that the efforts of Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich and Economy Minister Axel Kicillof should go beyond rhetorical threats if they want results. How can millions of tons of soy be extracted from their silos for export without strict application of anti-hoarding law No. 20,680? And nor is it clear how the government will broaden the basis of its support with those who are decidedly opposed to the powerful monopolies but are not Kirchnerites, although they back some of their policies. Nor when the Pink House will call the opposition to the negotiating-table in order to unblock it and agree on at least a minimal consensus to stand up to the sharks.
Everybody knows that sharks cannot be tamed but you do not keep them at bay with a scolding.