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November 26, 2014
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Poverty and the misery of rhetoric

A young mother and her baby take part in a takeover to demand housing solutions in BA City.
By Mempo Giardinelli
For the Herald
Destitution is suddenly the main concern for politicians and journalists who have never noticed it before

Just as in rapid sewing jobs where you immediately see the thread, the most improvised and deplorable voices hogged the centre of the national panorama — certain politicians, economists and pen-pushers talking about poverty and misery in speeches which in some cases were themselves miserable.

Suddenly denunciations and accusations burst out like mushrooms sprouting up after the rain — purely media-driven, of course — concerning the alleged “concealment of the poverty and destitution data on the part of the government.”

Unfurling the inaccurate “alternative estimates” to which the major opposition dailies usually resort, they now calculate from one day to the next that poverty is reaching 36.5 percent of the population (i.e. 15.4 million Argentines).

A document of the Instituto de Pensamiento y Políticas Públicas (IPyPP), co-ordinated by the economists Claudio Lozano and Tomás Raffo, assures us that some five million people go hungry or 12 percent of Argentines. Their sources for this calculation? Note this — their own data from dissident ATE state workers unionists and a former INDEC price director displaced by Kirchnerism.

To this confusing and dubious panorama contributed, needless to say, a certain sector of the Kirchnerite government specializing in clumsy gaffes. Now they evaded releasing the preliminary poverty and destitution data which INDEC was going to publish in its current stage of recovering — or attempting to recover — transparency. Whereby they only did their foes a stupid favour.

We can be sure that neither is real poverty in Argentina as depicted by the government which, although it has constantly implemented policies of social inclusion, still remains a long way off from the objectives necessarily befitting the extraordinary resources of this country. Thus the various government offices recognize percentages ranging from 4.7 to eight percent at most (between two and four million poor and destitute), with the obvious intention of showing the bounty of the inclusive Kirchnerite policies in contrast to the horrendous poverty indexes of early 2003 affecting half or more of the population.

But in any case the genuine percentage of poverty and destitution, which has now been forced into media debate in such a scandalous manner, is not really the core issue. Because poverty and destitution have existed in Argentina on an overwhelming scale at least since the military dictatorship (1976-1983), and also since the total absence of social containment policies in the first governments of democracy (1983-2001). Since then and especially following the eruption of poverty and generalized misery resulting from the political carnival of corruption which was Menemism, it was extremely difficult to revert the social alienation with its overload of resentment, educational disadvantage and violence of every kind.

It must be repeated (whether one likes it or not and however much fury it produces) that in the last decade Kirchnerism did much of what was necessary to heal the wounds left by this social abyss. You can take this typically Peronist policy or you can leave it but in these years it has been the only genuine and constant effort to narrow the social gaps.

That is why, leaving aside all the fussing and finger-wagging, what is really irritating now is the embarrassing role played by so many politicians and indignant journalists who never worried in the least about poverty but now disguise themselves as aggrieved prophets of social justice.

For those of us who know them close up, what we see is the ugliest face of everyday Argentina for decades — an attitude at the very least obscene. Miserable in itself — a human misery not measured by INDEC or “alternative estimates.”

That poverty supposedly concealed by the government and now revealed by opportunists of various kinds only brings into evidence that those who did not see before did not because they never wanted to. Because it is there where it always was and is equally horrifying, regardless of whether the poor of this country number three, 10 or 20 million.

Poverty and misery are today a disgrace for any nation and make no sense historically because there is sufficient food and resources in this world to feed all the planet and give everybody a decent standard of living. But there is also a system of economic concentration governing the world and it is deeply unequal and anti-social.

According to the World Bank, over a billion people worldwide continue living in misery and many more suffer hunger and are vulnerable to environmental crises and market abuses. Today we know that the 85 richest people on the planet earn as much money as the 3.57 billion poorest and that is a disgrace to mankind.

According to Wikipedia there are 46 million poor people in the United States where the number of poor people of working age has grown to levels similar to the 60s. In Spain 22-28 percent of the population is below the poverty threshold. And Eurostat (the European Office of Statistics) recognizes that one out of every four Europeans is poor or lives at risk of social exclusion — i.e. 24.5 million poor people. And even in Brazil, where the presidencies of Lula and Dilma Roussef have also carried out extraordinary policies of social inclusion, it is still calculated that the basic needs of 30 percent of Brazilians are not satisfied. And among the 10 percent poorest, 77 percent neither study nor work.

How can one then not get upset and repudiate the political and media use of one of the most painful faces of Argentine, Latin American and world reality?

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