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Argentina: saviour or scoundrel?

June 19, 2013
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The latest bout of Argentina-whacking is to be found in Foreign Policy magazine, the Pravda of the airport lounge-dwelling American CEO. The 1000-word rant is tacked to an opening paragraph accusing Argentina of passing a law last month which invites criminals to launder money.

In the next sentence the author Douglas Farah admits: “That’s not, of course, the official plan.” In reality the government is effectively holding an amnesty for people who formerly misdeclared their tax, letting them invest hidden hard currency in building projects and the state oil company. The law is designed to bring much-needed dollars back into circulation.

The move smacks of official anxiety but it’s not disastrous either – and it’s normally the sort of liberalisation that the magazine loves.

Possibly sensing the shakiness of his position, the author goes on to squirt his vitriol across a wider target. President Cristina Kirchner has created “chaos” – that catch-all tabloid buzzword – and “shortages” (no mention of what).

Chaos

Chaos

Farah then lies that capital flight is “massive”. In fact, strict capital controls last year brought capital leakage down to its lowest level since 2006. During the first quarter of the year capital flowed in, compared with a net outflow in the same period the year before.

In order to hide her sins, Kirchner is supposed to have “moved aggressively” to “neuter” the independent judiciary. I’m no dog, but surely neutering isn’t something that happens by degree; either you’ve got balls or you haven’t.

Farah charges that the government has spent millions of dollars advertising the state-owned media. Imagine the BBC advertised itself. Would it ever dare?

It’s when the article moves on to international relations that the anger really begins to pulsate from the page.

Argentina has committed the abominable crime of antagonizing the United States. What this really means is that Buenos Aires refuses to follow Washington’s edicts on free trade and said that it won’t pay the billion dollars in bond repayments demanded by an American vulture fund following the country’s 2002 sovereign default.

Somehow connected with this, Kirchner is “growing ever closer to Iran”, which is, as if we didn’t know, a US-designated state sponsor of terrorism allied with Venezuela, and – wait for it – Cuba! No evidence is presented for this alleged Tehranian cosiness, and it’s almost as if being close to Venezuela and Cuba is seen as worse.

The intention, of course, is to insinuate the word terrorism into the paragraph so as further to besmirch Kirchner. Even mention of the word Cuba is designed to provoke an attack of eye-rolling and teeth-clenching among the American corporate class.

Next Kirchner morphs into cocaine dealer. At this stage I was beginning to wonder if the author would somehow explode across the page like a red-faced cartoon balloon.

Apparently the country is a way-station for Bolivian and Peruvian drugs heading to Europe. This is apparently a result of policies peddled by a group of presidential advisers who, in an alleged long-term plan to dominate politics blend Marxist, fascist and utopian policies.

If successful they’ll surely be the first to do so. What would they call their ideology? Narco-Mussoleninism? National coke-ialism?

Farah seems to forget that Argentina now has a functioning democracy in which people are free to vote out those that they don’t like. Kirchner was re-elected two years ago with 57% of the vote, compared with 17% for her nearest challenger, although her support has since declined. Not that democracy has worried the US in the past – Guatemala, Nicaragua, Haiti, Cuba, Chile?

In my four months in Argentina I met not a single person who so vociferously opposed Kirchner. Some were critical, like the physicist we met near Bariloche who worried about the upturn in crime and inflation but who was glad that the government was addressing poverty. Or the nurse from Buenos Aires who similarly admired the president’s egalitarianism but said she should do more to tackle the big landowners who withhold agricultural produce so as to maintain high prices.

The right-wing international press ignore the reality that the economy grew faster than Europe’s or America’s during the decade of rule by Kirchner and her husband, who preceded her as president, and faster than at any time in recent decades. Poverty tumbled to historic lows even using the figures of the political opposition. National debt is lower than in Europe and the US. The jobless rate is below Europe’s and roughly the same as in the States.

You get the sense that the author is slinging every nasty slur he can think of and hoping that one might stick: money-laundering, Iran, drugs, fascism, Marxism. Couldn’t he have worked paedophilia in somewhere, too?

His conclusion is that the United States should treat Argentina as a rogue state. Soon there’ll be no non-rogue states left. Is there some sort of register of countries due for promotion to the axis of evil?

Contrast the Foreign Policy axe-job with the measured positivity of the June edition of the New Internationalist.

Admitting that not everything about the current government is rosy, such as its deafness about indigenous rights and its authoritarian leanings, the magazine instead asks whether certain features of Argentinean society might even present a model for others to follow.

New Internationalist quotes Arnaldo Bocco, former director of the Central Bank, as saying that Argentina may be pursuing an unorthodox economic policy but that the country is “not in crisis”. Chief among the achievements he cites is the repayment of almost the country’s entire foreign debt stock by 2012, with the ratio falling from 120% of GDP in 2003 to 14% in 2012. In fact, he thinks, the economy may be the government’s strong suit at the October 2013 mid-term elections. (I doubt it. Spiralling inflation and capital controls will cut Kirchner’s majority).

Progress on human rights has been rapid, with the government  passing one of the most progressive laws defending the rights of transgender people and three years ago legalising gay marriage. Progress has been made in bringing to justice the perpetrators of the 1976-83 “dirty war” in which an alleged 30,000 opponents of the dictatorship were tortured, raped and killed.

A host of new worker-owned companies have sprung up. Last year 6,024 new co-operatives launched in industries from medicine to manufacturing. Workers are spurning government help and deciding to run companies themselves. People are beginning to realise the inevitable shortcomings of the state – especially in a country so huge and diverse

Some European crisis-hit countries are following the Argentinean example, occupying ailing factories and running themselves and running popular assemblies modelled on those founded by Argentineans a decade earlier. Surely here the New Internationalistas betray a hint of hippy optimism?

Farah, of course, is preaching to the converted. Most fans of Foreign Policy magazine don’t want to hear the truth. They’d prefer to have their prejudices not so much confirmed as rammed back down their own gullets.

At least the New Internationalist tries to present a balanced view, one which recognises the difficulties of any government in cobbling together a fair economic policy in the face of fierce international pressures, and which recognises the agency and dynamism of ordinary people.

Argentina my be neither saviour nor scoundrel. Its government may have its faults, but let’s not condemn yet another entire country as rogue.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. guabin permalink
    June 19, 2013 5:09 pm

    Nicely done. But stock up on the supplies of ink for the inkwell. You’ll be at it tomorrow and tomorrow. Yes,Chávez was a terrible ‘dictator’ and ‘strongman’ (esp., NYT and WaPo), who, with some help from China, managed to allow countries like Argentina get the ‘breathing room’ to be less vulnerable to IMF and US ‘economic interests’, totally anti-US behaviour. Of course, Domingo Cavallo, IMF Poster Boy and Acolyte of the Washington Consensus was heroic in guiding Argentina along the path of truly enviable massive increases in poverty and destitution in a once solidly middle- and upper-middle class society.

    There is still that impertinent, imperial assumption that countries of Latin America and the Caribbean are all US dependencies, colonies. When in 2013 John Kerry can describe Latin America as the backyard of the US, well… And, yes, Kerry of that Heinz, formerly of Venezuela.

    What Argentina urgently needs to join the group of civilised nations is a US-crafted democracy like that of Honduras, and some US bases to go with that. Then and only then will it be as first world as Honduras with Gini coefficient and GDP per capita to match, and in very short order. Hiring some US lobbyists should hasten suchresults, with nice press coverage.

    Reminder: Fact-based irrefutable repudiation of utter drivel is no guarantee of success against irrational ideologues. Keep extra quills handy.

    • June 19, 2013 10:27 pm

      Thanks Guabin. Yes, trying to repudiate bullshit is a sisyphean task. It’s fun, though, and you might as well have a crack. Maybe i’m naive but I never cease to be struck by the chasm between the right-wing US media and reality. I don’t think most people realise quite how distorted is most foreign coverage.

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