Returning to Buenos Aires after some time away offers a series of delights (and blows) that are repeated time and again, season after season. A friend said it happens to everybody in every place in the world. Yeah OK, but this is about Buenos Aires. It’s not the weather, but the slowness or even the lack of change in the possible maturity of a nation. We don’t want to change.
Upon arrival in the big city after the Budget vote in the lower house of Congress on Wednesday last week, I saw the publication of a photo showing national deputy Andrés Larroque, formerly a leader of the La Cámpora Angry Brigade and unconditional supporter of former president Cristina Elisabet Fernández de Kirchner, trying to dismantle a security fence around the building. He should have been in the chamber, voting. For or against does not matter, the system demands the vote in an orderly constitutional fashion. Perfil’s editorial last Saturday was headlined: “Can people like this govern?”
It was a touching and commiserating heading, but it fell short of reality, if only because Argentines already know the answer. No, they should not govern, but they offer hand-outs and an easy ride for supporters and voters. They governed for the better part of 10 years, as well as in decades previous, not just under Peronism but also in all its various shades. It was a snapshot view of Argentina’s persistent failure to bring respectable order to the nation’s life and to lasting responsible action. Larroque said he was acting in representation of the people. This encompasses the disbelief among supporters of the previous government surrounding reports of corruption during its time in office. The question is not whether the supporters of the Kirchners really do not believe, for they automatically deny any veracity in the accusations of corruption, and the films of bags full of cash are dismissed simply as fabrications. Argentina’s Judiciary is traditionally of dubious behaviour and therefore it is pleading for the current government just as it curried favour with previous administrations. Or simply, we are a deeply flawed society that selects only for supporting the most backward form of political leadership that hinges on handouts and populism, which stifles most forms of progress.
By the way, the lack of responsibility is not just that of Andrés Larroque. It travels through every step in the country. And even more emphatically, it is in the skin of the country’s richest and most powerful, particularly the old land-owning establishment who see themselves as our domestic aristocracy and therefore self-proclaimed as the real nation-builders and above all evil. They are not.
Personally, I feel the failings of Argentina as a potentially organised society are to be seen everywhere. This time the infuriating deficiencies seemed more glaring than on previous returns. That is a personal view, of course. Often it is seen not just the big issues, as in the case of Congress for that matter, but in the very small matters too.
It is not easy to see in government, however high one might go, a concern for quality in the growth of the state. For a small example, we are BEING asked to save water with a view to avoiding a dry future yet the water from badly installed drains runs freely on sidewalks and streets. Cheap, poor-quality piping is used, opening the way to justified suspicion that somebody somewhere got a cut in the invoicing in exchange for less than good materials. Or low-quality tiles, half the thickness of sidewalk tiles in, say, Madrid, are put in place offering pedestrian pavements that age and break within weeks. Not enough quality above and insufficient below. The base is insufficient in a ground that is constantly moving due to natural conditions in the soil.
We can resort to collective failure as a form of discharge. In his book of 26 interviews with people who might “save the world” (published in 2012), journalist Jorge Lanata quoteED Polish philosopher Zygmunt Bauman (1925-2017) as saying: “It is a risky and difficult time. I can’t think of a single institution, or any kind of collective action, that is here to stay... Argentina has experienced exploitation first-hand some years ago. First you had a wave of incoming capital and soon after they fled and you were left to rebuild from the ruins... And all this happens because local powers, the governments, are incapable of or impotent to move freely when the time comes to control the powers that move easily over the globe. You live in the persistence of uncertainty.”
We did not rebuild much. But with statements like that we can always blame somebody else for our own failings. What are we doing to overcome the daily issues that hamper improvements to our standard of living?
For example, I sent postcards from London to friends in Argentina and a month later they have not arrived. Nothing changes. I wrote an article about the difficulties of life in Argentina 15 years ago and, asked for a quick contribution, I found an old cutting of mine on the then-state of society, removed some minor dates, tarted up the story and it ran, almost the same. No change. Different corporations advertise their improved services: just you wait in a queue in a Banco Galicia branch and wait for the staff to stop planning their weekend or vacations on your time or valuing their latest shopping. The urban bus-drivers are a miracle of survival, but their frayed nerves are rocketed at passengers later each day. Maybe other people will see improvements, but if there are some, they are the result of an extremely limited trickle-down.
But wait, I can’t cut just like that. Two of the best Argentine films of recent years are still showing in Buenos Aires. I spent Sunday midday watching the remarkable acting of Dario Grandinetti in Rojo. It is brilliant broad view of the brutality of provincial society in the 1970s, before the 1976 coup. At the end, the person with me remarked: “That social tension is still with us, unchanged.” And the other best of recent times has actors Guillermo Francella, as a gallery owner, and Luis Brandoni, as a failing artist, in Mi obra maestra. Francella is brilliant in the role of “vivo argentino,” building up a massive swindle, and getting away with it.
Ah, home again.