Argentina, like most countries, began to emerge from the pandemic in a worse way than when it entered it. Contrary to the augur of various hasty thinkers, who anticipated optimistic results for the aftermath of the catastrophe, what happened in the country ended up being, in the end, the foreseeable: the pandemic left greater poverty, greater inequality, greater institutional fragility.
There is little to be surprised about in a country marked, for decades, by structural inequality that today manifests itself in economic concentration in a few, and is consolidated thanks to a constitutional structure that centralizes decision-making power in a minority ( a system of organization of power that Carlos Nino called “hyper-presidentialist”). In the paragraphs that follow, I will succinctly describe the situation that characterizes public lifestyle in the country, since the covid crisis broke out, and up to the present.
Inequality and breaking the “hegemonic tie”
I start with a brief note on inequality, because it tells us about a decisive factor to explain the past and predict what is to come. Currently, in the country, 37.3% of people are below the poverty line, and more than 8% below the indigence line. These data (which today generate a sensation of a social hotbed always on the verge of exploding) can be considered a surprise when one thinks about the country historically and trying to raise one’s eyes above the situation. A supporter of Cristina Fernandez at a protest in Buenos Aires after the attempted assassination of the vice president.
For a long time, Argentina distinguished itself from a majority of countries in the region by a situation of full employment, and egalitarian and inclusive policies, particularly in the area of health and education. From sociology, Juan Carlos Portantiero described the predominant situation towards the end of the 20th century, as one of “hegemonic tie”, where political parties, business organizations and strong unions mutually balanced their weight, without being able to impose any of them on the rest. Somehow, the last dictatorship (1976-1983) broke that deadlock, and brought with it fundamental changes (political, economic and social), which were consolidated over the years. With a dwindling working class, weaker unions and social organizations with less capacity to exercise their traditional veto power, poverty and inequality began to expand until they reached today’s serious levels. The impoverished sectors no longer find someone to defend them, and self-organized groups (typically, the so-called piqueteros) barely manage to exercise self-defense and survival maneuvers (usually, in demand of social plans).
Macrista debacle and foreign debt
Within this context of social inequality and extreme political polarization (the crack), former President Mauricio Macri, at the head of a center-right collation, concluded his government in December 2019, with a balance that the majority considered negative. Despite the attempts to rebuild the country economically, and to clean it up institutionally, the mistakes themselves – which included a wrong diagnosis; an excess of optimism; the certainty that the problems in question required little more than changes in attitude (“open up to investments”, “end unnecessary restrictions”) – and the heavy boycott that Peronism is capable of exercising from outside power, cornered the Government against the ropes.For the worse, Macri tended to reproduce, during his presidency, several of the vices that he had learned from his father (Franco, a celebrated businessman who made his fortune as a state contractor), using forms of crony-media capitalism that dishonored his best promises of republican restoration. The only way out that the Macri government found, in the face of the accumulation of internal problems, was the recourse to a new and gigantic external indebtedness, which only ended up opening the way out, adding to the disappointment of its own and others (after four years of government, the country’s gross debt went from 240,000 million dollars to 323,000 million, the latter figure from the end of 2019, when Macri ended his term).
The dictatorship brought fundamental changes: a diminished working class, weak unions and social organizations without ‘veto’ power, so that poverty and inequality expanded to the serious levels of today.
“With Cristina it’s not enough, without her you can’t”. In this scenario, and contrary to what many had thought, Peronism once again triumphed in the elections, thanks to a new mutation promoted by former president Cristina Kirchner. Monarchically, the former president chose Alberto Fernández as presidential candidate, whom she would second from the vice presidency.
The current leader of the Executive, Alberto Fernández, then defended the formula designed, famously maintaining that “with Cristina it is not enough, but without her it cannot be done.” Alberto Fernández was thus left at the head of a coalition that would be capable of including the votes of one of the extremes of political polarization (Kirchnerism maintains a high electoral floor, close to 25%, which also resembles its ceiling), to which –predictably– many of those disenchanted with the previous government would join, without fearing a repetition of the excesses and corruptions associated with Kirchnerism: a moderate would now be at the head of the government. The problem that this coalition hid from its origins is what has become evident today: the reasons for forging this political front were (hopefully) opportunistic and short-term, while the ties capable of keeping the coalition firm were too weak. (as Borges would say: they were not united by love, but by fear).