January 17, 2018
Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Argentine Dream once more deferred

Néstor Kirchner.
Néstor Kirchner.
Néstor Kirchner.

By Robert Cox

From Where I Stand

Many of the great expectations aroused by Kirchner in 2003 have been dashed

CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA. — To paraphrase T.S. Eliot: “This is the way the Kirchner era ends: Not with a bang, but a whimper.” With 22 months to go to the end of the second and final term of the presidency of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, it’s going to be a long whimper.

The middle years of Kirchnerism promised to be far worse. That was when the president announced that she was “going for everything.” The threat then was that free expression would be limited by the government’s attempt to use the Media Law to silence the opposition press. It was followed by the Orwellian-sounding “Legitimate Justice” movement spearheading an assault on judicial independence while the Supreme Court came under attack.

Fortunately for Argentina’s vulnerable democracy, the government proved to be as dysfunctional in promoting its “reforms” of democratic institutions as it has been in formulating workable economic policies.

Today the Kirchner administration is entangled in contradictions. So I decided to go back to the beginning and re-read the inaugural speech of the late Néstor Kirchner.

For some time, I have been haunted by the memory of watching — from Beaufort, South Carolina, via a blurry Internet television link — the then almost universally popular King Penguin deliver the address which launched Kirchnerism. It was a discourse that raised enormous hopes after the political and economic collapse of 2001 and 2002.

Many of the great expectations aroused by the speech on May 25, 2003, have been dashed since then, particularly after Cristina was elected president in 2007 and in the wake of Néstor’s sudden death on October 27, 2010.

Néstor Kirchner’s inaugural address was a laundry list of good intentions and uplifting exhortations. What stands out when under review today is that so many of the promises were unfulfilled. It is also significant that there is no mention in the entire speech of human rights, which, to my mind, is the one single initiative which will earn Néstor Kirchner the approbation of future historians. But the fact that human rights was not on the K agenda from the start suggests that the decision to end the immunity of criminals who tortured, murdered, stole babies and plundered property during the military dictatorship may have been opportunistic and prompted by political expediency.

Here is a short-list of policy objectives outlined by Néstor Kirchner more than a decade ago that caught my attention:

· Diversity will be respected by introducing changes without dividing society.

· Economic policy will focus on reconstructing national capitalism, re-introducing social mobility and securing a wider distribution of income to strengthen the middle class and eliminate extreme poverty.

· Corruption: People will have “a guarantee that the fight against corruption and impunity will be implacable; institutions will be strengthened to eliminate any possible suspicion (of corruption).” No more “shady agreements, political manipulation of (state) institutions or spurious pacts behind the backs of society.”

· Security: Solutions can be found not only in the Penal Code but in the National Constitution which specifies the right to work, a fair wage, decent and equitable work conditions, adjustable retirement pensions, obligatory social security, family allowances and access to decent housing, among other rights.

· “The state must strictly follow the law in fighting crime, but must not give in to extortion by anyone, neither from those who take advantage of a position of power in any of the branches of the state or the economy nor from those who exploit the needs of the poor for political advantage.”

· Inflation: The country cannot go on covering the deficit by either permanent indebtedness or by printing money without control, which risks inflation and culminates in harming those with lower incomes.

· Governability: “We must ensure we have a normal country, without upheavals, with the public and private sectors each playing their respective roles. The Argentine Republic must have a good administration, governability, stability with social inclusion and progress with competitiveness.”

· Public works: “The state will become an active player in the economy, finishing incomplete public works, generating genuine work and strong investment in new projects. We are not talking about projects for show, we will target public housing and infrastructure in critical sectors of the economy to improve the quality of life and form a more competitive country, distributing investment with a federal criterion and developing our productive potential.”

· Public spending: “We have to return to the planning and execution of public works in Argentina to discredit with facts on the ground the discourse of neo-liberalism that stigmatizes public spending as unproductive. We aren’t inventing anything new. The United States in the 1930s overcame the worst financial and economic crisis of the century in this manner.”

The content of the speech and the spirit in which it was given helps explain why so many of the best and brightest economists signed up to work in the government. While it was an extensive “wish list,” it was not without substance. President Néstor Kirchner touched on most of the major issues. Surprisingly, in view of the idiotic turn in foreign policy that has made Argentina something of a laughing-stock in the world of statecraft, he pledged that Argentina would have “a serious, broad and mature relationship with the United States and the countries of the European Union” while reaching out to emerging nations and playing a positive role in the United Nations and other international organizations.

I had forgotten that the speech concluded with Néstor Kirchner’s version of Martin Luther King’s “I had a Dream” speech. The president proposed “a dream that we once again have an Argentina with everyone and for everyone.”

He reiterated: “I am here to propose a dream: I want a united Argentina, a normal Argentina, I want us to be a serious country and also a fairer country.‘

I don’t think the dream has died; but once again, I fear, the Argentine Dream has been deferred.

Read the entire speech at:

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