November 21, 2014
An anomalous ritual
The traditional Rural Society farm show in Palermo has clustered in its closing week the main opposition leadership, many of whom were present for the inauguration last Saturday. In the course of the show the leading anti-Kirchnerite politicians, almost without exception, have used the Palermo venue to say that if they reach the presidency in 2015, they propose a reduction or elimination of export duties —these days the main source of hard currency, essential for staunching the drainage of dollars from the Central Bank. That loss of state revenue is supposedly to be compensated by a better business climate which attracts capital and new business investment.
Saturday provided the occasion for Rural Society President Luis Miguel Etchevehere to hurl a speech defaming the government under the title of the “ravaged decade” as against the “won decade” used as a slogan by Kirchnerism. The farming leader denounced corruption, alluding to Vice-President Amado Boudou, and commented ironically on the risk of default provoked by the trial in the Manhattan courtoom of Thomas Griesa while looking forward to a change of government in 2015. What jars in this rhetoric is not so much that Etchevehere himself faces charges of corruption and submitting farm hands to slave labour on one of his family’s ranches, factors which have prompted an appreciable number of resignations at various levels in the leadership of the Rural Society, the historic grouping which congregates the country’s main landowners (even if its current importance might well be overrated after the transformation of agriculture by the soy boom in the last decade with different structures such as pools). These charges do not disqualify him as a critic of a government which does indeed have its weak flanks. Nor is it strange if a Rural Society indulges in lobbying — perfectly normal in a democracy in which every sector has the right to demand what it feels to be its right and where strong language forms a regular part of Argentine public debate.
Where the anomaly lies is in this annual ritual of a president of a specific business sector setting himself up on an ornamental rostrum and posing as the full counterpart of a head of state elected by millions of voters. If Argentine democracy is now advancing into its fourth decade, it is high time that some ceremonies shed the overblown pomp they gained in dictatorial times and, above all, that the democratic political leadership (whether government or opposition) should not feel obliged to show up to events in which they can only act as purely decorative figures.