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OP-ED | 29-06-2024 04:22

When Loan is a national debt

On the nationwide clamour for the reappearance of a missing child.

In the past week the mysterious disappearance of five-year-old Loan Peña has dominated public opinion to a degree out of all proportion to its undeniable pathos. Absolutely no need to repeat any details readily available from the saturation coverage of an infinity of media and social networks with their flurries of (no-)news flashes and false alarms. Instead the case should be seen as the tip of an iceberg which is widely seen as human-trafficking but extends much further.

Firstly, the current uproar is not unique to the here and now – one would only need to mention the name of Madeleine McCann in Britain, for example, to witness similar phenomena elsewhere in the world but since this newspaper’s focus is Argentina, we will limit attention to this country. Within living memory, a long list of Alicia Muñiz (1988), María Soledad Morales (1990), Omar Carrasco (1994), José Luis Cabezas (1997), María Marta García Belsunce (2002), Alberto Nisman (2015), Santiago Maldonado (2017), Fernando Báez Sosa (2020), Lucio Dupuy (2021) and Cecilia Strzyzowski only last year spring to mind as a persistent pattern of names sparking similar obsessively explosive coverage in very different contexts – it might be added that of the above, only Lucio was a small child like Loan.

In some of these cases the subtexts underlying the saturation coverage are easier to read than others. María Soledad and Cecilia were femicides toppling feudal provincial governments, Carrasco led to the long overdue elimination of a military conscription hangover from the dictatorship, Cabezas ran afoul of crony capitalism, Nisman was investigating the worst terrorist attacks in Argentine history and Alicia Muñiz died at the hands of a world multi-champion boxer. In other cases, the choice seems more arbitrary – thus why so much uproar over the apparently accidental death of Maldonado (with Patricia Bullrich a central protagonist as security minister then as now) a dozen weeks before the 2017 midterms and so little over the Mapuche citizen Rafael Nahuel clearly shot dead by security forces a month afterwards (a rhetorical question, just in case the reader has not already grasped that)? Yet like single-issue politics, reducing the world’s complexities to a single name and face has its attractions both for lazy journalists and those yearning for a less incomprehensible universe – a common denominator in all these cases.

But let us return to Loan. While his plight can only inspire pity and terror, it must be asked why attention is being monopolised on this single child when the NGO Missing Children has 112 similar cases on its files? Could the nationwide concern reflect a residual guilt over the baby-snatching of the dictatorship? But here and now there is more than enough we owe the nation’s children, around 70 percent of whom live below the poverty line with almost that percentage skipping at least one meal daily – not to mention the neglect of their education with the previous government imposing endless pandemic lockdowns and indulging a pernicious trade unionism among teachers while the current administration ignores the issue altogether. It would be healthier if we faced up to all the ways in which we are failing all the children rather than seeking an expiatory outlet in the Loan Peña case.

Yet children even in the wider sense might not be the only issue here. More often than not these uproars serve as distractions. The economy is always the obvious suspicion but this editorial would like to pinpoint a couple of legal issues downplayed in this emotional week. Firstly, the scandalously absurd acquittal of Angelo Calcaterra by redefining his self-confessed public works bribes as voluntary electoral contributions to Kirchnerism from Mauricio Macri’s cousin no less – some might find justification as countering the Kirchnerite logic that only those paying bribes are criminals, not those extorting them, so that business victims both lose money and go to prison (by the same token social plan recipients extorted by pickets would also be guilty) but it remains a mockery of justice. And secondly, firing the official seeking to investigate the ostentatiously corrupt Peronist Martín Insaurralde for money-laundering – only explicable as part of a deal to clinch Kirchnerite Senate support for the dubious Supreme Court nominee Ariel Lijo.

But enough of analysis – in conclusion we can only join the nationwide clamour for the reappearance of a poor little kid.

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