Buenos Aires Times

Santiago Maldonado and the politics of emotion

No-one will have dedicated time to debating the different parties’ political platforms.

Saturday 21 October, 2017
There is no respect for these in the frenzy of “grieta” polarisation.
There is no respect for these in the frenzy of “grieta” polarisation. Foto:Cedoc.

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As we approach a make-it-orbreak- it moment for our young democracy, with midterm elections that could solidify President Mauricio Macri’s hold on power, we are once again reminded of the all-too- Argentine presence of a dead body tangled up in the political spiderweb. Heading into the voting booths, citizens will have spent the last several weeks speaking of the disappearance of Santiago Maldonado and the last-minute discovery of a body in the Chubut River where he was last seen. They will also have heard a lot about the Gendarmerie’s new autopsy of special prosecutor Alberto Nisman — which indicates he was murdered by two individuals, negating previous forensic evidence which ruled out third-party intervention — and, of course, the never-ending trials regarding the dual terrorist attacks on the Israeli Embassy and the AMIA Jewish community centre in 1992 and 1994 respectively.

No-one will have dedicated time to debating the different parties’ political platforms. In a barrage of interviews — unseen during the eight years she presided over the country — Cristina Fernández de Kirchner spent her time on trivialities, while lambasting Macri and his ruling Cambiemos coalition’s “ajuste.” Not once did she mention the bankrupt state she left behind with runaway inflation and a stalled economy. All too quickly did she brush off accusations of corruption, going so far as to pin the blame of the Odebrecht corruption scandal on Macri’s buddies (who, it must be said, are quite close to the matter), forgetting it was her administration that was in charge. With her Federal Planning minister Julio De Vido, who this week was indicted for corruption, at the forefront.

Esteban Bullrich, the government’s candidate in the Buenos Aires Province facing off against CFK, disappeared from the scene. He has been practically invisible the whole campaign, except for a few blunders where he actually said what he thinks about abortion and crime. In other words, Bullrich, who is expected to win on Sunday, is absolutely irrelevant.  

With Cristina giving interviews left, right and centre, it was the government’s white knight, BA Province Governor María Eugenia Vidal, and Elisa Carrió, National Deputy candidate for the City of Buenos Aires, who took the stage. What most pundits wanted to talk about, though, was the Maldonado case. Carrió was pathetic enough to suggest there was a 20-percent chance Santiago was in Chile last week, before going on to compare the potentially preservative qualities of the Patagonian cold to Walt Disney’s desire to be cryogenically frozen, as divers were pulling a body with Maldonado’s ID and clothes out of the water.

In the heat of the campaign, if we could call it heat, Macri decided to focus his time and energy on winning. Ahead of taking control of the presidency of the G20 and hosting the world’s most important leaders in Buenos Aires in 2018, Macri skipped the UN General Assembly at a time of extreme geopolitical upheaval in order to help with campaigning. Yet, at press time, we are still waiting for his first official words on Santiago Maldonado.

Sadly, we can say that politics won. As has been the case with the dual AMIA and Israeli Embassy bombings, it’s been 25 years and we are nowhere nearer to uncovering the truth. Even worse, we now have a dead prosecutor who accused Cristina, her Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, and a network of political operators of signing an impunity pact with Iran in exchange for oil. It must be said that when our mother publication, Perfil, broke the story of the Iran Memorandum in 2011, Nisman laughed at us. As the sands of time continue their endless movement, we drift farther away from finding those responsible for all these deaths.

The brilliant Jaime Duran Barba, Macri’s star political strategist, appears to know us better than we know ourselves. Duran Barba, an Ecuadorean, postulates that in the 21st century voters are tired of policy proposals and ideological slogans. Direct contact with citizens, through social media, town hall meetings or door-todoor conversations with candidates, have overtaken public speaking. And what matters here is emotion. As British empiricist David Hume put it, “reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” Cambiemos’ digital campaign ads read, “vote with your heart.”

If we can learn anything from this electoral cycle is that we remain stuck in the quicksand. The government of change embraced a strategy of polarisation, deepening the social divide, while the candidate of the past hypocritically grasps at straws to remain relevant. Un manotazo de ahogado. Meanwhile, their political bases try to gain as much leverage from the disappearance of Maldonado, and the media plays along. And the clock keeps ticking.

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