September 18, 2014
No, we don’t cry for you, Mr.Cohen
For the Herald
In spite of problems, the country’s current situation refutes The New York Times’ criticism
Thursday’s edition of The New York Times included an opinion piece headlined “Cry for me, Argentina” and signed by Roger Cohen, which once again trotted out the tired old myth of the rich and prosperous Argentina of the past, in contrast to the presumed abominations of its present.
This country’s current situation imposes the inescapable duty to refute each and every one of Mr. Cohen’s concepts, which only rehash the standard fare of Mario Vargas Llosa and other illustrious columnists in newspapers like El País, The Washington Post, O Globo and many others. Who in turn are only echoing the exaggerated correspondents of the major Buenos Aires dailies, which in turn reproduce and highlight these efforts in their front pages and websites while celebrating them as partial victories against Kirchnerism.
For the purposes of clarifying colleagues like Mr. Cohen, in the first place it is necessary to underline that describing Argentina “as richer than Sweden and France a century ago” is a lie. We were then a peripheral country, almost a colony, with great natural wealth but structurally backward and subjected to a racist, corrupt and servile leadership rife with patronage.
Mr. Cohen’s deep disgust with Peronism is, of course, understandable but what matters here and now is not debating Peronism with him but pointing out his incapacity to shed prejudices which lead him to confuse the complex reality of a nation which 100 years ago was not only not better than now but was infinitely worse because it was much more unfair, primitive and under the thumb of a blind and mean aristocracy whose wealth aroused the praise of external greed.
It is not worth replying to his clichés regarding statistics, exchange rates and capital market shares, which seem taken from articles published here and authored by television economists with sinister pasts. But it is worth clarifying that in Argentina we have no “obsession” with what he contemptuously calls “a little lost war” in the Malvinas, but what we do remember very painfully as a historic outrage is the criminal stupidity of a murderous military government which Mr. Cohen’s country immorally protected and aided.
In this respect it would also be good to urge Mr. Cohen to comment on the political morality of the great victorious wars in which his country participated for at least the last 150 years, in other words, all the world wars in which several million human beings died.
It should also be pointed out that Argentina was never as prosperous as Sweden, France, Austria, Japan and other countries he gives as an example because since Independence it has been a harassed and exploited country with illiterate masses lacking social legislation or adequate housing, public health and schooling — headed by fraudulent politicians who only knew how to thrive from the sweat of criollos and immigrants alike.
It is true that we had “the world’s richest top soil in the Pampas” but its concentration in a few families and zero taxation of fallow land made this wealth a mirage for millions of citizens lacking almost any rights.
Whether Mr. Cohen likes it or not, that “colonel called Juan Domingo Perón and his wife Eva” were those who began to change things. With populist and demagogic strategies, if he likes, and with an exalted and general clumsiness which it would have been better to avoid. But they opened up the possibility of a decent life for those who had only suffered humiliations until then.
Mr. Cohen himself recognizes: “There was so much to be plundered, such riches in grain and livestock, that solid institutions and the rule of law — let alone a functioning tax system — seemed a waste of time.” Of course, he never asks who was doing the plundering nor who owned the grain and livestock. Nor who prevented “a functioning tax system” for decades. If he were to ask, the answer would be very simple — the plunderers and owners are still more or less the same people as 100 or 30 years and the same people who (even if we now do have a tax system) evade it something fierce.
I’m not one to defend Peronism but Mr. Cohen should know that due to a wartime neutrality which neither his country nor white Europe would ever pardon, they invented the myth of a Nazi-fascist Perón with a sluttish and ambitious wife, thus sullying any chance of comprehension and analysis. Only in ignorance of that fact could he write that we Argentines love that “strange mishmash of nationalism, romanticism, fascism, socialism, backwardness, progressiveness, militarism, eroticism, fantasy, musical, mournfulness, irresponsibility and repression.”
Mr. Cohen only shows that he knows nothing of this country. Pure clichés and the same old slogans of certain Latin American rightists.
In his lead paragraph he writes: “Brazil is in the process of becoming Argentina, and Argentina is in the process of becoming Venezuela, and Venezuela is in the process of becoming Zimbabwe.” That is a racist and discriminatory commentary offensive to the African nation, Brazil and ourselves but above all, it is a mistaken affirmation and far from innocent. Perhaps he mourns the Free Trade Area of the Americas or cannot stand Unasur or CELAC but a good professional journalist should not overlook that all developing nations have severe conflicts and that national processes are unique and cannot be transferred.
And it is true that today we have inflation without policies against corruption. And also that the Argentine middle class is drained and that there are still at least three million social outcasts in this country. But at least they go out on the street and protest and at least they have free schools and hospitals, even if unsatisfactory in many cases, but they do not suffer like the 40 million poverty-stricken people in Mr. Cohen’s country who cannot go to free public hospitals because these do not exist.
I have my differences with the current Argentine government but it is the government elected by the Argentine people and the day it goes will only be because another party has won in free elections. Meanwhile people like Mr. Cohen who comment so presumptuously and ignorantly about Argentina are pathetic. As pathetic as the people who celebrate them here.