January 23, 2018
Saturday, May 17, 2014

What will be left for 2016?

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announced this week a 40 percent increase of the Universal Child Allowance.
By Andrew Graham-Yooll
For the Herald

The good and bad bits, if you want to be fair with the decade

People ask for an opinion on this government. The most reasonable remark must be that some good things have been done, and there may be some that are quite wrong. The rejoinder is that the reply is insufficient, we don’t vote in governments to do things wrong.

As the campaign for the August 2015 primaries can be seen to be under way, it might not be too early to take a look at the gains and losses, bearing in mind that in Argentina each passing government has usually been worse than the one preceding — speaking in economic and social terms, which excludes the horrors of the last dictatorship. It is usually imperative to state that I am a liberal, which is an easy way into a bitter argument with those who cannot understand the context of freedom of action and debate which is involved in being a liberal. And in that context too, it should be mandatory to see what is right and what is wrong as the end of a government of a decade and more grows closer.

What might be seen as good governance? The Child Allowance (Asignación Universal por Hijo) is a good measure, so are the twice-yearly increases for pensioners, even if the first slice in March was only 11.5 percent. And so are the cheapo computers for school kids, single sex marriages, legal access for some abortions, faster than ever issue of identity documents (DNI and passports), family subsidies and unemployment assistance (both introduced by Eduardo Duhalde to stave off the threat of a country ablaze in 2002).

A new media law was, and still is, necessary. What was confined to the dustbin belonged in another age and rapidly changing world of communications. There were still items dating back to the neo-Fascist military coup of 1943, there remained clauses from Juan Perón’s nationalization programme as from 1947, proposed by his Press Director Raúl Apold, but in the run-up to the law 26,522 of Audiovisual Communications Services passed by Congress in October 2009, the preference was to blame all flaws on the last dictatorship. Pity it is that the modernizing legislation was used for a battle between government and Clarín. In the end, the government got little benefit, and shareholders and heirs were saved from a domestic battle by an early allocation of bits of the Clarín group.

Also deserving points in favour is the promotion by improved funding of the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), while the growth of theatrical activity throughout the country, largely funded by the National Theatre Institute created by the Menem government in 1997, but expanded now. Peronism never could come to terms with “Culture”, but has resorted to what it does best, throwing money at the object. This has been done well throughout the arts.

Argentina has much to be proud of, even if you wish to exclude the president, and yet she too is rightly proud, if we exclude foreign policy. Your list of preferences and dislikes can vary widely. But against the good steps, the bad ones have to be noted.

The nation’s overcrowded economists’ club (who constitute the only real expression of opposition extant as there are no men of significance, hence no ideas, therefore no proposals for a working opposition to follow) will trot out a battery of statistics.

For example, supermarket sales dropped six percent in April. Shopping mall sales fell 15 percent in April and retail sales were down 7.5 percent last month. New car registrations fell by 33 percent in March and another 35 percent in April La Nación reported that even Coca Cola sales had declined. Now that really is a crisis. Industrial output dropped 4.8 percent last month and real estate operations fell seven percent, the latter largely due to the restrictions on foreign currency dealings, while consumer credit fell ten percent. You might say “so what!” to much of the preceding data, but you might add to that the fact that we don’t know the changes in the cost of living, except that it is “a lot” more than last year, the estimates running from fifteen to forty percent. There is no longer a reliable official CoL reference in Argentina.

That’s just the start. Look at the crime figures and you’ll run screaming to the Departures lounge. Between 2005 and 2011 Argentina has the worst record in Latin America for robberies and burglaries per 100,000 population. I got that from La Nación. In 2007 21.7 percent of homes were targeted by robbers. So far this year the figure rises to 36.4 percent. By the way, 70 percent of people in prison had regular, albeit “informal”, employment of some sort other than robbery.

What is not clear is the reason for the state of denial that the government wants to encourage by its own example. Every crime with violence is dealt with as if nothing of that kind had ever happened before.

The drug business, in which consignments of cocaine and marijuana have been shipped in, and out, by land, water and air, is not something that began a few months ago to annoy the president. It has been growing in worrying terms for ten years (the traffic was there long before, but it is growing). Figures can only be wild estimates and much of the problem would seem attributable to corruption.

So we come to corruption. Again, incomplete estimates owe more to guesswork than knowledge. Research and scattered personal information point to monumental figures. People who claim to know say that even the signs of collapse and failure make small beer when off-set against the levels of corruption. Carlos Saúl Menem, who led a decade of farce and fortunes, is seen not so much as a babe in arms, but a distant second compared with this lot. That takes some doing. The Kirchners know all about these matters but usually accuse past governments of wrongdoing, forgetting that their praise for the Menem consortium was even greater than that of Menem’s friends.

And in the end, after summing up the good, the bad, the dangerous and the rotten, the mystery will remain of this mis-named “won decade” to be solved in 2016, when we may or may not be told what lies inside the package handed down to the next lot.

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