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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 18-05-2019 11:29

Argentina’s goddess of strife

Cristina has made an already wretched economic situation even worse; a mere glimpse of her is enough to make hardened veterans of countless financial battles turn tail and run for cover.

According to Hesiod, who was an expert in these matters, the ancient Greeks had Eris, the goddess of strife, whose offspring included hardship, hunger, ruin, fake news (pseudologoi), outright murder, more excusable manslaughter, amnesia,and many other unpleasant phenomena, though not (apparently) pillaging or theft.

Present-day Argentines have Cristina Fernández de Kirchner who, like a vengeful deity, hovers above them, sporadically tossing down thunderbolts to remind people she is still up there, watching them and taking note of what they say and do. She enjoys stirring up things in the permanently chaotic Peronist movement which she heartily despises but on occasion finds useful and which she knows is there for the taking. According to the latest opinion polls, she owns more votes than all the other would-be Peronist chieftains, men like Miguel Ángel Pichetto, Juan Manuel Urtubey, Roberto Lavagna,Sergio Massa and even Juan Schiaretti put together.

But that is just for starters. Simply by being where she is, she has made an already wretched economic situation even worse; a mere glimpse of her is enough to make hardened veterans of countless financial battles turn tail and run for cover. And she has just made the Supreme Court look both treacherous and cowardly, thereby striking a hammer blow against the entire judicial system, by inducing it first to lend her a hand, and then to withdraw it. Up there on Olympus, Eris must be feeling a bit envious when she sees the harm that is being done by her presumably mortal successor.

Cristina is able to do all this because – to the bemusement of those foreigners who take an interest in Argentina’s routinely eccentric behaviour but are reluctant to think she could collectively decide to hurl herself over a cliff – much of the country remains as obsessed with Cristina Fernández de Kirchner as it once was with Evita Perón.

As was the case with Evita, almost three-quarters of a century ago, hardly any people are indifferent towards Cristina; some worship her and others would dearly like to see her end her days chained to the wall of a dank prison cell, obliged to listen over and over again to the nationwide harangues she delivered while in office.

Many who hate her were out in force the other day when they protested, successfully as it happened, against an attempt by the Peronist wing of the Supreme Court – an institution whose formal head, Chief Justice Carlos Rosenkrantz, is in a one-man minority because he is more interested in the law than in politics – to delay the first of the many trials for corruption she is facing. For their part, her admirers flocked to a political rally held at the annual Buenos Aires Book Fair where hundreds of them expressed their feelings about the press by jumping up and down, screaming insults and pawing at a young female television reporter. As the days passed, it became clear that this episode impressed people more than did the book, humorously entitled Sinceramente, Cristina wrote with the help of some friends. It immediately sold hundreds of thousands of copies, but that does not mean it will have as many readers.

It is easy to understand why Evita touched the hearts of millions of men and women accustomed to being despised by people who saw them much as czarist aristocrats saw their serfs. In contrast, Cristina’s ability to win and then retain the loyalty of their equally impoverished grandchildren is something of a mystery. It cannot be because they think she continues to be responsible for the handouts many receive.

The poorest of the poor knew Evita was one of their own and relished the thought that, like the heroines of many much-loved novels or radio programmes, she had made it to the top by getting her man and then sticking with him when things got tough. In this respect, as in many others, Cristina is different. She may have risen from what many would regard as a modest background and reached the Pink House by marrying an at-first-sight unpromising youth who, luckily for both of them, came from a province with a small population and therefore faced little competition when he went into politics, but she has never drawn attention to her humble beginnings.

What is more, her public style is distinctly middle-class. Her hectoring manner and the contemptuous way she treats her underlings bring to mind Hillary Clinton, who lost to that most deplorable of candidates, Donald Trump, in large measure because the kind of people who, if they were Argentine, would in all probability be Peronist, found her unlikeable. But it would appear that in this part of the world making it clear just who is the boss goes down far better than it does in the United States, perhaps because it is felt that many of the targets of her scornful remarks thoroughly deserve a good tongue-lashing.

In most countries, Cristina’s entourage, which consists of a motley assortment of street warriors, politicians on the make, bent bureaucrats, businessmen who rely on government contracts and a surprisingly large number of actors, actresses and “intellectuals” – some of whom talk as though they would like to see the streets littered with bourgeois corpses – would make her at best the leader of a small fringe movement. Here, it makes her a serious presidential candidate despite being plausibly accused of ripping off the equivalent of billions of dollars and stashing the loot in luxury resorts in the Caribbean or somewhere in deepest Patagonia.

Where robbery, even on a small scale, is frowned upon, Cristina would by now be a political corpse. In Argentina, people tend to be more broadminded and, in any event, many have always had a soft spot for people willing to break the rule. For them, low cunning is a much-admired virtue.

Cristina’s main reason for letting people assume she is attempting a comeback, instead of trimming roses and looking after her grandchildren, is straightforward. Unless she returns to the Pink House, she could spend most of her remaining years in jail. Though it is feasible that she and some of her supporters think they could make their version of Chavismo work, thereby repairing the damage done to the brand by the doltish Venezuelan Nicolás Maduro, after spending eight years trying to run the country Cristina must be aware that her chances of making a success of a third term would be vanishingly small.

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James Neilson

James Neilson

Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1979-1986).

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