27 February 2007

Presidential largesse

Rosario has a long strip of green areas and parks by the river, from the port northward. One of these is the Parque España. In March 2005 a section of the park's pavement, which was built over old wooden foundations, collapsed. Only four people were slightly wounded, but it was evident that the area would be unsafe until the foundations were redone, so a 500-meter-long section of the park was closed to the public. The park is administered by the municipality, but it was originally made with funds of the Spanish Crown and the national government. Such joint architectural projects involving foreign governments are fairly common, as tokens of friendship between other nations and Argentina; this was simply especially big.

The collapse of the park was a disaster. It was way beyond the means of the local government (and well outside its priorities as well) to supply millions of pesos to repair it. However, President Néstor Kirchner vowed that the federal government would provide the funds; he would announce this during the celebration of Flag Day, which is traditionally held in Rosario because it was here where Manuel Belgrano created and first flew our flag. Flag Day is June 20, the anniversary of Belgrano's death, as we have the bizarre custom of commemorating deaths rather than births; the flag was first flown by the Paraná River on February 27, so the anniversary (by mere coincidence) is today, but it's not a holiday. Well, months went by, and words remained words.

Just yesterday, governor Obeid was told to announce that the national government would, at last, call for bids to repair the park, supplying the approximately 40 million pesos that will require. This was abrupt and unexpected, and I'm glad it finally happened. However, in today's dead-tree edition of La Capital I'm seeing a full-page full-colour ad, paid for by the government of Santa Fe, getting a bit of credit for itself and thanking President Kirchner. It reads exactly like this: "Thank you, our dear Peronist father and political patron, for fulfilling the promise you made and then forgot two years ago, sharing an infinitesimal part of the wealth in the government's overflowing coffers, and only coincidentally before election season!" (I'm paraphrasing a bit here and there).

Politicians have always used public works as propaganda. Sometimes it's obvious, other times it's forgivable, others it's even appropriate. In Argentina, announcements of public works don't carry a lot of weight but they're used a lot, like inaugurating partially completed projects. The Socialist administration of Rosario is well-known for naming every conceivable square of grass "Plaza (whatever)", and for staging costly and completely useless outdoor artistic performances for the public. But only Peronists are capable of such gross self-advertising and such fake-emotional displays of loyalty.

(I'm listening to the radio now. "Thanks, President Kirchner, for keeping up the help to Rosario." They paid for a radio ad too!)

I might add that the cost of the repairs was about AR$27.5 million back in 2005, while it's now around AR$40 million, so the delay was also a waste of money... but I don't want to sound ungrateful.

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