Saturday, April 20, 2024

OP-ED | 02-01-2021 08:34

Good riddance to 2020… ...and hello to a happier 2021?

At a stretch 2020 could almost be summarised by one single C-word – next year is a little more difficult, but the midterm elections will undoubtedly be a defining moment.

At a stretch 2020 could almost be summarised by one single C-word (that C-word being, of course, coronavirus or Covid-19 and not Cristina, as some would have it) but such reductionism would still be an oversimplification and in any case an editorial extends to a few hundred words, not one.

Nevertheless, the alphabet soup of 2020 does not go far beyond the first four letters. “A” (for abortion rather than Alberto) fittingly comes first because the historic milestone of last Wednesday’s 38-29 Senate vote is right at the top of this week’s news as the year’s climax.

“D” was also an important letter, standing for such key items as debt, default (lasting 108 days, one day less than the strict ASPO quarantine in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area), devaluation, deficit … and Diego (Maradona). Yet August’s bond swap with private overseas creditors (the biggest success of the Alberto Fernández presidency until this week at least, and supposedly the take-off point for his administration) was reduced to a footnote as from lockdown in March.

“B” is less obvious, Buenos Aires City and Province, beginning as partners as twin focal points of the pandemic but then falling out on opposite sides of the cut in the City’s federal revenue-sharing funds – a cut announced by Fernández in his 2019 presidential campaign, delayed by quarantine and jerked into implantation by the Buenos Aires provincial police mutiny in September.

A, B, C, D but no E with hardly any elections in 2020. And here the alphabet pretty much dries up with “V” perhaps the only other candidate for prominence – for vaccination and also Vicentin, the debt-riddled soy-crushing conglomerate widely seen as the thin end of the wedge for a state invasion of the vibrant cash cow of food exports with Vaca Muerta shale literally a dead cow for now. But the state expropriation bid lasted just seven weeks before the government admitted defeat in the final hours of July. 

Anyway plenty more on the annus horribilis in the rest of this newspaper. Before this year 20/20 vision was an ophthalmic term for normal eyesight but at its close, true to the Biblical Corinthians phrase, we see through a glass darkly.

Looking ahead into a year little more than 30 hours old for those who read their newspapers over breakfast is so plainly a mission impossible that it probably makes more sense to say how it should not be seen rather than how it will be. And how it should not be seen is precisely its almost universal advance billing – as an election year.

Perhaps the worst possible response to the multiple challenges facing us in 2021 would be to spend more than three-quarters of the year obsessed with elections which stand to change nothing. At no time can midterms changing just half the lower house seats and a third of the Senate be seriously expected to be a game-changer in an ultra-presidential democracy like Argentina. But the specific context of these elections seems to rule out any swing towards either the government or opposition.

A coalition government containing tactical differences and rival ambitions has too many balls in the air to be optimistic – the uncertain race between the arrival of vaccines and winter, keeping at bay the inflationary impact of the trillions of pesos printed against the lockdown’s recessive effects whose full bite might still lie ahead, among many others. 

Yet at the same time Kirchnerismo could hardly do worse than in 2017 – which are the Congress seats now at stake – when even current Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was a senatorial runner-up in her Buenos Aires Province stronghold. Moreover, despite the economic disarray all forecasts point to positive growth figures around election time amid global recovery (even if only recouping around half this year’s losses). Perhaps the opposition should not set its hopes too high.

This scenario of political standstill is no more certain than any other forecast for 2021 – the magnitude of the problems could create a massive groundswell of anger against the government or indeed all politicians. But in conclusion, 30-odd hours into 2021, we should start facing those problems now and not await October.



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