09 October 2006


Nobel Peace Prize Adolfo Pérez Esquivel on our country: "Argentina is a feudal country". Wow! Although it's certainly no news, it's a good thing someone with actual moral standing (not a politician) states it out loud.

Argentina is nominally a federal republic. In practice, it works like this: the provinces are on their own for all practical purposes. The federal government gets money from the provinces, uses it for its own workings, and then re-distributes the rest (this process is called coparticipación -- I don't get exactly who is co-participating in what, and with whom, but that's the name). Not surprisingly, the federal government often favours the provincial governments that are of the same political party, or tries to co-opt them/buy them with the promise of more money, more nationally-financed public works, etc. Quebracho-Head Guy, who was governor of La Rioja before he taking office as president, redirected a disproportionate amount of federal funds to his home province, and famously built a first-class airport near Anillaco, his birthtown (pop. 2,000) using them.

Other than that, each province has its own constitution, elects its authorities the way it sees fit, and raises its own internal taxes. Couple this with the fact that a large part of the population in some places is either poor and dependent on provincial welfare, or not-so-poor but employed by an overblown provincial state, and you have a recipe for a country largely made up of fiefdoms -- with the caudillo/governor being reelected ad aeternum, or his relatives and political minions taking turns to fill the job, with a vast captive clientele continuing to vote for them. Political adversaries are few and often suffer persecution. This is most of Argentina except the larger and wealthier provinces (Buenos Aires, Córdoba, Entre Ríos, Santa Fe). These large provinces concentrate most of the population, most of the productive land, most of the GDP, most of the industries, and all the good ports. The rest live on primary products, are underpopulated, and basically slip under the radar of everyone except tourists looking for quiet places where to see actual live Indians in Argentina and buy knicknacks from them. Welfare, personal security, basic amenities, all depend on the local governments, and they make people pay a high price for them -- loyalty, submission, votes. When they don't, well, the police are always better paid than the rest of the public employees...

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