September 17, 2014
Counting the dead
Rather than the presidential speech, the flags or the new 50-peso banknote, we would prefer to hail as the most positive aspect of Wednesday’s Malvinas war commemoration the stress on efforts to identify the 123 Argentine war dead “known only to God” because surely this occasion should be all about them and not about honouring in any way the mistaken decision of a brutal military government 32 years ago last Wednesday. Otherwise we would prefer not to take sides. If President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s interpretation of a British nuclear-fuelled (not armed) submarine sometimes moving through adjacent waters as proof that the disputed islands are NATO’s main permanent nuclear base in the South Atlantic was unprecedented hardball, it seems mild enough compared to recent Fleet Street sensationalism positively raising the spectre of war. Otherwise it could also be asked whether intransigence cutting off all dialogue is not more comfortable for islanders enjoying a favourable status quo than any “charm offensive” which might force them to be unreasonable.
That absurdly rash adventure back in 1982 in many ways corresponded to the classic strategy of seeking an overseas distraction for domestic socio-economic woes. Three decades later the situation makes nonsense of any comparisons which crop up in the discourse of the islanders and some British politicians — not only because this is a democratic government with no war in mind or because Argentine society is fully aware of the error of that war but also because today’s economic uncertainties are still months away from resembling anything like the 1980-2 financial crisis. There are, of course, rhetorical fireworks in the presidential speech, The current situation is highly complex because there is something of a middle-class backlash which could be interpreted as a swing toward the right and which finds its most extreme expression in the recent lynch mobs but at the same time the government’s economic policy moves to the right seem to be costing it considerable popularity despite an apparent success in heading off the post-devaluation crisis. CFK’s nationalistic rhetoric over the Malvinas could be seen as compensation for recent orthodoxy in a bid to return to global capital markets and if so, it would be a more convincing counterbalance to economic correctives than other speeches which rerun the bonanzas of the “won decade” — some real enough, others at risk and others pending — amid the new restrictions. But if all the drama of a war ultimately did nothing to interrupt economic crisis, then far less will a speech change anything.
The Malvinas public holiday has now come and gone — perhaps the question most immediately on the horizon is whether the general strike called for next Thursday will be an unofficial and involuntary public holiday or not.