Southern Exposure

Desde as Entranhas dos Labirintos Latinos.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Last week (and twenty years) in Argentina...

This hasn't been a week on momentous events in Argentina, but there's a definite pattern of revisiting old battles, and of forces maneuvering in the current ones.

With the formal beginning of President Kirchner's mandate [if De La Rua had served his whole term], today the country is celebrating a full two decades of democratic -if some times patchy- government, a remarkable achievement by all accounts. There was never during the past twenty years any massive support to military uprisings, not even during the looting at the end of Alfonsín's presidency, a couple of minor coup attempts, or the the bizarre breakdown of the political system during and after the ousting of De La Rua. My personal, completely unscientific, unpolitely worded explanation of this phenomenon: the last military government f*cked things so badly at so many levels -the "Guerra Sucia", the "Desaparecidos", the botched attempt to recover the Falklands (known as Malvinas down here), the economic breakdown- that not only could former President Menem downsize the military and eliminate the draft with total confidence, but also leftist and student groups can safely "escrachar" (Argentine for "go to their houses, paint graffiti and loudly insult them for hours") ex-members of the regime wherever and whenever they find them. True, it's technically illegal, they are old and powerless men anyway, and I have an instinctive mistrust for any kind of group "punitive" action, but it's hard to muster in oneself sympathy for former members of so... evil a government.

Also related to the 1982 Falklands/Malvinas War, the British government finally acknowledged that some of the ships used during the conflict had carried nuclear weapons, an admission that sparked a strongly worded demand for apologies from the Argentine government, one that hasn't been met by their British counterparts, who claim that there was never any plan to actually use the weapons, and that they don't have to explain their military arrangements in any case.

It certainly gives another layer of meaning to Charly García's war-related song "No bombardeen Buenos Aires", "Don't bomb Buenos Aires" (if you can, check it out).

Now for more current battles:

Argentine media has focused on an aggravating streaks of robberies in the Buenos Aires zone of Villa Urquiza. Despite the name "Villa", it's a middle-class residential and commercial zone located in the NW of the city of Buenos Aires. Now, although the frequency of muggings and robberies to business is absolutely *not* acceptable, it's fair to point out that it's probably not that high compared to other zones of the city. But you know how it goes: by coincidence there's a couple of medium-profile hits close enough in time and space, the media catches the "story", the neighborhood people rationally seizes the opportunity to wrestle a much needed modicum of extra security from the government... And it goes on until the news cycle dies and the media can find another two-events "trend". This kind of journalism helps the specific groups covered -and God knows they often need and deserve all the help they can get- but it's not, strictly speaking, analytically solid. In any case, the security situation is perhaps the weakest front of the current administration.

The Union Industrial Argentina, which represents powerful business interests, has asked the government to deal in a firmer way with the piqueteros, who they perceive as increasingly arbitrary and violent. President Kirchner has not so far made any signal of a toughening of his stance toward this kind of protests -in fact he joined by surprise a protest in the southern town of Cutral C&oacteu;-, a political no-brainer given the fair amount of support or at least tolerance from the general populace toward the piqueteros. De La Rua's fall was in part sparked by the deaths of two young protesters during the December '01 manifestations, and Kirchner is definitely not willing to test the same waters. But if the unspoken convivence pact between the middle class and the piqueteros were to break up, and there are already some tensions, things could get bad. At the very least the government would have to chose between tolerating an unpopular, unlawful protest or engaging in violent represión - a Devil's choice for President Kirchner.

In economic terms, negotiations between the government and the privatized utilities are gearing up, in particular with the water company Aguas Argentinas. While opinions inside the government are divided about whether or not to grant a temporary rate hike "to further negotiations", there is a consensus about securing both a "social rate" for the poorest users, and the lowest possible overall rates for the general population [one can guess that's not exactly what the companies have in mind themselves]. The government has also said that it's considering the creation of a "super-entity" (you've got to love the name) to supervise and monitor the performance and services of the utilities. And german company Siemens has opened a case at the World Bank to get U$D 500 million in compensation for the rescision by De La Rua's government of a contract made by President Menem to supply the Argentine population with national IDs [note that we already _have_ national IDs -the Documento National de Identidad, or DNI- the contract was purely for the manufacture of a more sophisticated document, not the implementation of a new system].

And in unsurprising news, the country's external creditors considered unacceptable Argentina's offer of payment terms and proposed another one, which the Argentine government in turn considered unacceptable. I expect I will have to find new ways to say this during the next months to avoid becoming too repetitive.

Also unsurprisingly, Chinese and Argentinean officers predicted more trade between both countries next year, including mutual investments and technology transfer [Argentina has a surprisingly modern agricultural sector]. Arentina's national airline is even in negotiations to open a Buenos Aires-Shanghai route.



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