Monday, April 15, 2024

OP-ED | 31-10-2020 10:48

Witching hours, from Guernica to Washington DC

Viewing current affairs at home and abroad from this perspective of witches and saints seems as good an approach as any right now.

Today is Halloween with witches the dominant image alongside “trick or treat” and apple-bobbing, but it should not be forgotten that Halloween (a contraction of All Hallows’ Evening) originated as the eve of All Saints’ Day and thus linked to sanctity. Viewing current affairs at home and abroad from this perspective of witches and saints seems as good an approach as any.

In many eyes the prime candidate for witch this week might be yet again Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (a figure also virtually canonised by a large minority of the electorate) after her extraordinary boycott of the 10th anniversary of her own husband’s death and the equally odd letter accompanying it – her most unexpected move since naming Alberto Fernández for the presidential candidacy almost 18 months ago but perhaps not in the same league as a game-changer.

A rival witch of the week might be Dolores Etchevehere – the black sheep of her Entre Ríos ranching family or the saintly benefactor of the homeless in transferring her inheritance to squatters (if indeed an inheritance as against family company shares bound by a board majority on which she may already have collected)? Ditto dualism for her mentor Juan Grabois – the friend of Pope Francis or “a real problem for the country,” according to Mauricio Macri’s running-mate Miguel Pichetto, as a would-be reincarnation of Che Guevara at his most disruptive? Or should the Halloween spotlight fall on the squatters themselves nationwide – the last nails in the coffin of Argentina’s socio-economic fabric or the martyrs of social injustice and an acute housing shortage, not to mention Thursday’s evictions in Guernica and Entre Ríos?

Last but very far from least, the United States electorate must decide three days after Halloween who is the trick and who the treat between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

Starting with Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s eccentric letter, it raised eyebrows at various points, not least the critiques of her own government, but perhaps especially when proposing an omni-sector agreement to end Argentina’s dollar dependence, embracing her pet hates of big business, the opposition and the media, plus admitting that her own presidency had shared the problem. Yet this is less novel than it seems – the whole idea behind nominating Alberto Fernández (apart from clinching the election by netting swing voters) was to make him a latter-day Eduardo Duhalde doing the dirty work to exit crisis, thus permitting a return to spendthrift populism under her son Máximo, so that this proposal merely adapts that strategy to the pandemic and accelerated economic decline. Inviting the opposition is thus perfectly sincere – if they could replace her as presidential allies in doing the dirty work and ending the crisis with all parties to the agreement (from which she excludes herself as fully represented by the President) destroying themselves in the process much like Jorge Batlle’s previously dominant Colorado Party in Uruguay early this century, that would be the ideal outcome.

The squatter issue merits an entire editorial, not a paragraph, but very briefly the Buenos Aires provincial government has exaggerated both the carrot and the stick – after futilely stretching out negotiations for over three months when a hard core of Guernica squatters was more interested in flagging the problem than finding a solution (as highlighted by a provincial minister, La Cámpora’s Andrés Larroque), it then tried to buy out the squatters with an outrageous 50,000-peso subsidy (as against basic pay of 44,000 pesos for Buenos Aires provincial policemen laying their lives on the line against rising crime), inviting massive blackmail, before sending in the police to do their worst.

Finally, the US election. It is easy to find countless reasons to consider Trump a witch (although he might prefer “warlock” in keeping with his “Macho Man” campaign song) with torpedoing globalisation through his isolationism even ahead of the coronavirus pandemic which he also mishandled perhaps taking pride of place. Harder to find even one Christian virtue embodied by this idol of the Christian conservatives to make him a saint but ask them and they reply: “Isiah 49,” referring to the totally heathen Persian king Cyrus who nevertheless did God’s work in freeing the Chosen People from Babylon. Biden’s main virtue lies quite simply in not being Trump but this lack of identity also breeds fears he might be a US version of Alberto Fernández as a puppet for more radical ideologies. But with some of the “There will be blood” talk on both sides, our main hope today must be for a clear and peaceful decision come Tuesday.


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