07 April 2008

Eye of the storm

Your typical countryside scene Now that the farmers are off the roads and the president is off her soapbox (the farmers are hastily harvesting; the president is busy in Paris — see, I can even alliterate parenthetically!) I'll say some things I've been holding up about this mess we've all gotten into.

I say all of us, because countryside or town or big city, rich or poor, oligarch or proletarian, tax-burdened or welfare-assisted, we can't escape one another. Even Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has to come back from Paris and face the country she was elected to govern.

I'm not going to discuss the illegality of blocking roads. That's ridiculous, in a country where everybody has been blocking roads to ask for whatever they felt was their right since 2002. It may be a nuisance or a huge inconvenience, but the farmers did it and they had reasons.

What political analysts say, and they must be right, is that people block roads (an extreme, disruptive form of protest) because they've found that's the only way to get the attention of those who can solve their problems. And that's because those who are supposed to represent them (us) aren't doing their job. Not a single governor, deputy or senator reacted to the strike of the campo to understand what their constituencies were telling them. Politicians are supposed to have quick reflexes in this field. Our politicians, however, have had it easy. That's bound to change soon, I expect.

Cristina, for example, delivered an aggressive speech when she had to go for appeasement and dialogue. She was met with rage in the countryside, and banging pots and pans in some of the big cities. Her answer was to organize a show of strength, bringing thousands to applaud her, not without first letting that rabid classist bigot Luis D'Elía loose with his band of thugs. Her ministers publicly defended D'Elía's mob tactics. Deputy Agustín Rossi, instead of representing his district (Santa Fe), turned into the de facto Kirchnerist Political Commissar and went around attacking the critics. The president gave another speech where, after insulting the farmers and the cities' protesters in several ways, she invited the farmers to dialogue in the most affected way.

All this time, nobody tried to, or was able to, get close enough to Cristina or the members of the Cabinet to explain them that this is no way to handle a country in flames. Cristina continued to believe that she, her husband, that filthy rat Alberto Fernández, and that pathetical rag doll of an economy minister Martín Lousteau, were basically right.

The Kirchners don't know how to deal with a normal country. In the crisis, Néstor Kirchner fared well because he was stubborn and didn't fear bending the rules. He started making mistakes when the waters quieted down and the "normal" troubles began creeping in, such as inflation. Cristina received an isolationist government, and eagerly embraced it. She's aware of her surroundings, of the typical urban politics of Buenos Aires, of his allied robber barons encroaching on the metropolitan area, of large-scale political ties with the quasi-feudal governments of the outer provinces. Nothing else. And yet she and her team seem to think they can micromanage a country like Argentina just by tweaking inflation figures, paying or pressuring the media to publish their version of the truth, keeping hold of a few governors of provinces chronically dependent on federal relief, and periodically forcing busloads of unionized workers and squadrons of welfare slaves* to attend meetings with banners inscribed "VIVA CRISTINA" to show the rest of us how powerful she is.

* If a strong union has a presence in your company, and said union is allied with (or bought by) the government, your union delegates will come to you and suggest that you should march with the guys and cheer for Cristina in the upcoming rally, for which they'll supply transportation to and from, as well as drinks, some food, and maybe complimentary hats. If you're a poor person enrolled in one of the many social movements that were born of the 2001 crisis, and which the government controlled by delegating distribution of welfare and favours on their leaders, then said leaders will come to you and suggest that you should go and cheer for Cristina, too, to show your appreciation for the hand that feeds you. That's how it's done. I mean, poor people gathering freely, for free, just to applaud a filthy-rich politician? In Argentina, Land of the Ever-Complaining? Please.

It doesn't work. It can't. A sizable minority of Argentinians hate Cristina's guts because she has a past of leftist militance, because she's a Peronist, because she relies on the strength of the "insolent poor". Peronism is divisive — not a topic I can deal with. A few hate the Kirchners because they interpret their human rights policy as revenge — the revenge of "terrorist sympathizers" against the state terror of the 1970s. Others don't like how the government tolerates the requests of poor people (pickets and disruptive demonstrations) and encourages "laziness" through welfare, while "decent working people" have to bear with increasing inflation and insecurity and feel nobody brings answers to them. Some criticize the fine points, or the whole layout, of the economic policy. The opposition is a complex mix, and though disorganized, it's not an isolated minority that can be scared by hired crowds.

Cristina Kirchner threw them all into a single bloodied bag. I found myself inside that bag, next to really despicable people, and I didn't like it. She still doesn't understand. She's been bringing back a really dangerous cocktail of ideas from the past, mixing in some unsuitable modern ingredients, stirring with liberal doses of misguided rhetoric, and serving it to people unable to resist the punch, or to people who believe that such ideological cocktails are passé — for which she only gets a complaint and loses a few customers, while 30 years before she would've had the whole bar set on fire.

We're now at the eye of the storm. There were the pickets, the roadblocks, the milk being spilt beside the road, the thousands of starving chickens being killed, the empty supermarket aisles, the cacerolazos, the displays of intolerance and exaggerated outrage, the marches and countermarches, the speeches, the awful media coverage. Then came the truce. Thirty days. The government wasted a week already. The opposition is moving together in Congress. Cristina is in Paris, looking all stateswomanly and probably shopping for jewelry in her spare time.

I have so much more to say about this... I'll leave it for another day. It's so complicated, I tell you, I don't want to ramble, and still, just see what huge mess I've just written.


  1. Anonymous20:28

    Pablo, looks like another meltdown may be in the cards. In fact, avoiding a meltdown seems nearly impossible. I am worried about the people of Argentina, and what the future holds.

    Do you agree that major hardships are inevitable?


  2. I don't think a full-fledged meltdown is coming, but this year will be difficult. Inflation continues to rise, everybody is justly demanding a higher pay, and the trouble with the farmers is just beginning. This government isn't completely incapable of constructive dialogue but the wakeup call they need will be very, very loud.

  3. Anonymous11:24

    I still feel stunned after seeing how POLARIZED this society is! Argentine seems less like a country than a collection of hostile "tribes" that want to destroy each other. The INTENSITY of the class hatred is something I was blissfully unaware of until the strike. Amazing.

  4. Barbara - Sadly, classism and social inequality are naturalized in Argentina. Most governments have simply ignored it (until 2001, when the crisis made that impossible). A while ago the Kirchners returned to their leftist-Peronist roots, and that exacerbated that classism. They say they want to fight inequality, but I don't think that's their aim now. Apparently they've decided it's easier to turn the poor against the middle class, while keeping the friendly rich happy.


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