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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 26-12-2020 09:24

2020 is coming to an end, luckily

The spotlight on justice is irreversible and its consequences have defined the year, along with the coronavirus.

The spotlight on justice is irreversible and its consequences defined the year. 

It began with the anniversary of the death of late AMIA special prosecutor Alberto Nisman and the ensuing marches to demand clarification. In February, 2015, the then-president spoke out loud and clear: “The march attended by the full spectrum of opposition parties and their presidential candidates, save the leftist groupings, was in no way a tribute to a man who died in tragic circumstances, with the obvious exception of his direct family. You could directly see political leaders laughing away and also demonstrators carrying posters with offensive slogans insulting the government. It was decidedly an opposition march summoned by prosecutors and supported by judges and the entire opposition spectrum.” 

That was Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s way of presenting the “judicial party,” a concept which has had a long and successful career. The year now ending hinged on the legal hassles of the ex-president, who assesses politics from the perspective of how she is faring in courthouses. If she does well and her cases are closed, Argentina will receive economic prosperity and social peace as a reward. 

I am the Homeland. Never has a leader linked in such an extreme form their own destiny with that of their country, not even Juan Perón after 1955 when forced into exile with his party and name banned. The self-centredness of Cristina knows no limits. What happens with justice will be evaluated according to how the cases which complicate her go. From his exile, Perón did not only demand things for himself although this was an aim shared with important popular majorities. Cristina demands things for herself because times have changed and she needs not only to escape trial but also that her name be cleared of any suspicion, which is not the same thing. A short while ago somebody from the top of the pyramid told me: “There is no evidence against Cristina.” I’m still wondering why, if they wanted to defend her, they did not tell me: “Cristina has not committed any crimes.”

The year has unfolded within this judicial jigsaw puzzle. The parties, hypnotised by their weird and unexpected alliances, often designed just to win a town hall or a couple of seats, have not contemplated the difficult but indispensable task of reorganisation. Things being what they are, it is perfectly understandable that most citizens continue to take no interest in political upheavals.

The initiative has thus passed to the social movements. During the dictatorship it was the mothers and families who brandished the slogans against repression. Today it is the social movements who display in the streets the consequences of the last five years. The fronts of fringe workers, the poor, the homeless squatters obliged by need, the women clamouring for the rights which they enjoy in all the countries which our leaders profess to admire. The mobilisation of these organisations should be welcomed when the political world is hypnotised and will probably only wake up to discuss the lists of congressional candidates for next year’s midterm. That is all they promise for the year about to begin. 

Earlier this month Elisa Carrió threatened Cristina Fernández de Kirchner with impeachment for her statements against the Supreme Court, the only thing missing to ruffle the waves yet further. But all this within a seesaw 2020, a year which will figure among the cruellest for the poor, unemployed and other surplus population. Since poverty was first measured, Argentina has never had indicators like the current.

The perspectives were already disastrous when Mauricio Macri handed over the presidency to Alberto Fernández. Nor have those whose memories stretch back over recent decades known worse times except for brief weeks of hyperinflation and the 2001 crisis from which the country rapidly emerged with Eduardo Duhalde and Roberto Lavagna, immediately followed by the enterprising administration of Néstor Kirchner, which could boost the economic and social reserves which the country still conserved. We exhausted those reserves during the second half of Kirchnerism and the Macri presidency.

What only the very pessimistic were forecasting has happened. We’re at the bottom of the table of Western countries without even the saving grace of those indicators which some decades ago showed us in a distinguished place in Latin America for educational inclusion. Today half the adolescents neither study nor work – they are semi-literate and jobless.

Regress. Society has disintegrated. The contradictions do not separate us into neat blocks whose differences can be systematically ordered to tackle conflicts and propose solutions but follow jagged lines. Poverty and violence already seem completely inseparable; drug-trafficking is a living for those who do not find other means. Jobs have been lost by the tens of thousands and with them the possibility of training workers as in now remote times when factory work was a continuation of school. If you don’t believe me, ask, for example, the old workers of Córdoba who, apart from a modern skill, learned about politics and trade unionism in their auto plants.

Little remains of the inclusive and effective primary schools. The new teaching trends diminish the importance of knowledge as taught in favour of the knowledge brought by each child from their background. They have stopped thinking that children should learn what they did not know because that implies “stigmatising” their family culture and social origin. Nevertheless, those born of parents badly under-equipped for life, the teenage mothers whom many still want to save from the sin of abortion, such children arrive in school with nothing and leave it with very little because teacher training has also lost out thanks to a confused cultural populism. A century ago many teachers also came from the poorer sectors but the Escuela Normal training college was a machine which worked, as proven by the stories of distinguished teachers, the daughters of illiterate immigrants.

Argentina is a country in decadence. It is worth consulting Historia económica de la Argentina by Claudio Bellini and Juan Carlos Korol, whose latest edition has just hit the bookshops. With academic precision it shows the impact of successive failures, accentuated after the second half of the 20th century and only nuanced by brief successes such as the Austral Plan, the first years of Kirchnerism and periodic farming booms. Argentina moved in an uncertain and oscillating direction. Past decades mark our present.

The country already had nowhere to go, as Raúl Alfonsín believed with wishful thinking in 1983. Since 1930 short boom-and-bust cycles have followed. In political terms two opposite trends – the authoritarian and the populist – have failed. Democracy has not been able to remedy the consequences of those failures. There is not much reason for optimism.

That is why I was unable to answer the question put to me by Albert Hirschman, the famous social researcher of German origin and professor at Harvard. We were at a seminar and he asked me head-on: “Surely you’ll be able to tell me why Argentina, which was on a par with Canada and Australia at the start of the 20th century, is a failure today.” That was the year 1987 and the worst was yet to come.

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Beatriz Sarlo

Beatriz Sarlo

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