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OP-ED | 30-09-2023 05:00

The poverty of politics

One can only tremble at what levels poverty might reach for the second half of this year after last month’s double-digit inflation.

As they say in India, actions speak louder than words but silence speaks loudest – for most of this month the main line of the Juntos por el Cambio opposition campaign floundering in the face of a virulent libertarian challenge (despite an impressive string of provincial victories by their inland Radical allies finding its climax last Sunday in Mendoza) has been to allege an unholy alliance between the two main rivals of their presidential candidate Patricia Bullrich, the “libertarian lion” Javier Milei and Economy Minister Sergio Massa. 

This intriguing notion would seem to be stretching paradox beyond its limits and the many words expended on its behalf can all be questioned. One thing Massa and Milei do have in common is a desire to face each other in any run-off rather than Bullrich, that much is true, but any pact would seem to end there – Milei does not mince any words about Massa being an absolute disaster as an economy minister ruining the country and if he does not say so with any great frequency, this is precisely because Massa is seen as the ideal run-off rival. Another item of evidence presented is the number of Massa acolytes surfacing in La Libertad Avanza lists but they could so easily be opportunists switching from a past to a future winner. It seems beyond argument that Massa is the supreme opportunist in Argentine politics, a quality as much admired by his supporters as reviled by his critics, especially when reworded as “pragmatist” – why should his people not follow suit? Finally, Milei’s tirades against the “caste” are dismissed as hypocrisy when he meets up with such an ultimate specimen of “caste” as the notorious trade unionist Luis Barrionuevo, but he can always argue that a future president is obliged to talk to all sectors.

No words backing this argument or others that can stop Milei (any more than petitions signed by intellectuals), not even his own words since what would be a gaffe in any traditional politician is hailed for being politically incorrect – the biggest objection to him today lies rather in his silence. Silence over that extraordinary scandal arising in an ATM in the Buenos Aires provincial capital of La Plata three weeks ago when one of the many homeless people who sleep in that vicinity spotted a man using four dozen debit cards and notified an ordinary policeman on the beat. At a much higher level two appeals court judges were quick to nix the case as police harassment, freeing the man, but failed to abort a scandal which represents not so much a political crisis as politics in crisis – a scandal over which the vast majority of politicians have not even tried to fudge the issue but observed a blanket silence, including and especially Milei.

The potential scandal goes straight to the heart of political misspending by a corrupt “caste” which lies at the core of the Milei campaign and therefore should be Christmas coming early for him – why has there not been a constant rampage from him on this conclusive evidence of a rotten state over the past three weeks? The debit cards all purported to belong to Buenos Aires provincial legislature employees, of whom around a third have insisted that they had no idea that they were collecting a salary while most of the others have admitted to trading in all or most of the money to political masters with social coverage and a pension as their main benefits. This accidentally discovered case is the tip of an iceberg with the multi-million-dollar question arising of just how big a chunk that iceberg might be of the 62-billion-peso budget of a gridlocked provincial legislature with only one session this year. Why is not all this grist for the Milei mill?

Another tip of an even more serious iceberg and scandal is the homeless man denouncing this misallocation of public funds as just one of 9.3 percent of the population destitute with 40.1 percent below the poverty line at midyear, as announced by INDEC national statistics bureau on Wednesday afternoon. One can only tremble at what levels poverty might reach for the second half of this year after last month’s double-digit inflation.

The ATM middleman in La Plata is nicknamed “Chocolate” and the Spanish equivalent of “You don’t say!” when confronted with a statement of the obvious is “Chocolate por la noticia!” Let us hope that this is not the general public’s reaction in the face of this latest eruption of corruption.  

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