Cristina, you are a genius! You just sent those coup-inciting filthy rich farmers packing, and you unveiled a master plan that will show Argentinians the extent of your generosity, vowing to put those billions of dollars of tax exports to use on the things the poor and the struggling working class need — roads, public hospitals, unexpensive housing. If only I could believe you!
As I write this, I've just finished hearing President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's speech on the national broadcasting signal (Cadena Nacional) which she had used only once before. I'm posting it now, on the day after the speech, because I just posted something else, something personal about my weekend, something of no importance.
I must say this — Cristina showed that she's not beyond reflection and change, and everybody took note of that. That that simple fact is a huge relief shows clearly how low our political culture has gone. The President, in the most contorted fashion, acknowledged that the government made a mistake, and asked for forgiveness to anyone she might have offended. I bet several million of my compatriots had never dreamed they'd hear such words coming from a Kirchner.
Now for the real content of the speech, things aren't so bright. Before Cristina began, the official spokesman read aloud a decree that will be published tomorrow, creating a "Social Redistribution Programme", which will be funded by the mobile tax exports on soybean whenever they climb above the 35% mark, and will be in charge of building public healthcare centers, roads and "popular homes". The Programme will be "decentralized", said the Prez; the national government will leave it to the provinces and municipalities to implement what they need. So far, so good.
Now, the Kirchners have been doing this kind of "federal decentralization" for years — it works by giving money to politically obedient governors and denying it to provinces ruled by the opposition (opposition doesn't mean just a different party — anyone who disobeys is opposition). There's no sign that this time it will be different. The Programme's funds will be administered mainly by Federal Planning Minister Julio De Vido, who has the power to do whatever he wants with great chunks of the budget.
At no time during her 30-minute speech did the President explain why this plan is presented to the public now and not before, or why the extra couple of billions that might be collected from farmers couldn't be replaced by the US$4 billion they're spending on a bullet train for the rich. It's obvious the Programme was made up in the last few days, and we Argentinians know perfectly well that such great plans never come to fruition, mainly because middlemen divert (steal) the funds.
Cristina said we're not in a crisis anymore, which is right, I believe. If so, however, our useless, yes-people-filled Congress should reclaim its duty to manage the national budget, which they gave away (in violation of the Constitution) years ago because we were in an emergency. The emergency is over, right?
Moreover, the need for a paternalist, strong-handed government is over as well. We don't need an Evita lookalike implementing her version of a Great Leap Forward. We need a federal state that lets the provinces have their own money and manage it, not granting them leftovers from an unconstitutional tax. Only allied governors and government-addicted mayors were invited to Cristina's speech, to nod and smile and applaud. No room was allowed for dissent. The Kirchners firmly believe they're the only ones who know how to run the country, and they refuse to hear, let alone follow, other people's opinions.
Cristina did one thing right: she noted that it all began because a certain specific group of people, who on average are doing quite well compared to the average, refused to accept that the state took away part of their profits (again). Of course, we all knew that, and it's a testimony of the profound ignorance of the Kirchners that they turned a focalized reaction against tax collection into a divisive countrywide revolt that brought down their image and caused huge losses of money and time for everyone.
Here are links to the coverage of the speech, in Spanish:
- El Gobierno anunció que las retenciones móviles financiarán un plan social (La Nación)
- Cristina anunció un plan social con fondos de las retenciones (Clarín)
- La presidenta anunció un plan social solventado con las retenciones móviles (La Capital)
- Cristina "descentralizó" la distribución de las retenciones y pidió perdón (Rosario3)
- "El error fue la ingenuidad de tocar la renta extraordinaria de un sector" (Crítica Digital)
- and this article published this morning, which follows Cristina's speech so closely that it's obvious it was leaked to the most government-friendly newspaper: ¿Podría pasar? (Página/12)