Today is Boxing Day (as it is termed in Britain and Commonwealth countries at least) – a name derived from the old custom of boxing up Christmas leftovers in rich households for deserving servants and the needy (a custom whose latter-day version is the distribution of Christmas hampers in many firms, although jeopardised this year by sharp economic downturn and offices vacated by quarantine). A day whose tradition mandates the care of the poor, a thought which is further reinforced by the only one of the many Christmas carols specifically dated today – “Good King Wenceslas looked out/On the Feast of Stephen” (i.e. St. Stephen’s Day, which falls on December 26). First and foremost in our minds should therefore be the poor who in this catastrophic coronavirus year have come to number fully a half of the population and two-thirds of the future electorate.
But an alternative theory has Boxing Day derived from the boxing, wrapping and general packaging of Christmas parcels – the idea is that we spend all Christmas Day enjoying our gifts as well as feasting and the next day set about clearing up all the wrapping-paper etc. This gives this editorial a further theme – what are this year’s Christmas gifts to the nation and how are they packaged?
The phrase “Christmas gift to the nation” was coined during the Civil War in the United States by the Union General William T. Sherman to describe the capture of Savannah culminating his destructive march through Georgia – some people have strange ideas of Christmas presents. Anyway, here and now in Argentina there can be no doubt that the clearest example of a “Christmas gift to the nation” was the triumphant arrival of the Sputnik vaccine against Covid-19 last Thursday.
This might well be this week’s editorial topic were it not for the fact that it was last week’s. Suffice it to reiterate here that this controversial vaccine should not be demonised since it heeds broadly similar scientific and medical parameters to its competitors but the lack of transparency in its testing procedures and the cursory approval granted by the Health Ministry and by ANMAT (Argentina’s equivalent of the US Food & Drug Administration) also justify the sceptics.
The legalisation of abortion ranks as another potential Christmas gift to the nation although still awaiting delivery – nor is even next Tuesday necessarily D-Day since any amendment would send the bill back to the lower house of Congress. A Christmas gift if it consigns to the past the dozens of women dying every year from the backstreet butcheries of clandestine abortions although the reform’s many opponents also include those (like the slum priest Father José María “Pepe” Di Paola) who point out that there would not be any Christmas in the first place if that option had been open to the teen mother of two millennia ago. Anyway at this stage we do not propose to speak either for or against the bill but rather ask why such a profound issue is not placed before the entire people in a referendum instead of being left up to a few dozen people whose integrity is not always unassailable (although some of the opinion polls here might give the bill’s advocates pause in advancing down that road).
Another Christmas gift advancing in Congress is the new mechanism for updating pensions but that complex subject probably merits fuller analysis at a more complete stage.
Rather further ahead in the future lies another Christmas gift to the nation but its packaging is already clearly underway – the Kirchnerite wing of the ruling coalition is pushing hard towards kissing goodbye to the austerity implied in a 2021 budget almost halving the fiscal deficit and in particular any serious updating of public utility and transport pricing (whose destructive effects on presidential popularity made themselves felt on both sides of the Andes last year). An electioneering which leaves the timid progress made thus far towards an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) very much up in the air.
What we have before us this Boxing Day is mainly the packaging of all this but its full impact will start making itself felt in the new year now lying immediately ahead.