Bartolomé Mitre once complained that, far from looking like “a party of government,” an early version of the Radical Civic Union (UCR) seemed to be against the idea that anyone at all was entitled to govern. Had he lived long enough, he would have noted that, while the Peronists have always been more than happy to wield power, they too belong to what by nature is an opposition force that is permanently on the lookout for sinister enemies with which to do battle, even if these turn out to be their own leaders. Like Pogo, they can say “we have met the enemy and he is us.”
As the Peronists reminded us last Tuesday when, in their different ways, they paid ritual homage to the “loyalty” that supposedly holds them together, many are more interested in thwarting Sergio Massa’s efforts to postpone the total collapse of Argentina’s economy until someone else is entrusted with the task of running it than in propping up what, much as they may dislike the idea, is their very own government. Whether or not their attempts to bring him to heel benefit the country’s inhabitants is something few if any are willing to take into account.
To justify their behaviour, the movement’s leading lights, who these days happen to be Máximo Kirchner and Pablo Moyano, talk as though they believed the country’s real government was not the one that in theory is led by the increasingly ectoplasmic Alberto Fernández and, from a distance, by Máximo’s mother, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, but a colonial administration put in place by the Bulgarian lady Kristalina Georgieva who heads the International Monetary Fund. This settled, by ranting against whatever the de facto President Georgieva’s pawn Massa does, they are fulfilling their patriotic duty and anyone who disagrees with them is a traitor.
Like Máximo who, had it not been for his parents’ successful political endeavours, would in all probability be working in a garage or, like so many other people, relying on handouts to get by, Pablo Moyano owes his prominence entirely to his dad, truckers union boss Hugo Moyano whose model is the late Jimmy Hoffa, whose murdered body is presumably lying somewhere under a concrete slab. In any event, the rise of two such unprepossessing individuals tells us all we need to know about the depths into which the Peronist wing of the nation’s political class has sunk. The trade unionist Luis Barrionuevo, who is a well-known authority on the peculiarities of the movement to which he and his kind belong, says it reminds him of a heap of excrement.
As a result of the Peronists’ collective failure to give her a functioning government, Argentina has degenerated into a “kakistocracy,” a land in which political power is now in the hands of the worst people to be found. No doubt this will change when elections are finally held as, for excellent reasons, Máximo and Pablo are among the country’s least popular politicians, but because of the rigid US-style presidential system that is enshrined in the constitution, more than a year may have to go by before the Peronist coalition can at last be given permission to depart. Though they could call it quits at any time, Alberto evidently fears being blamed for his inability to become a proper president, Cristina is uncomfortably aware that, deprived of the political power she has used to keep her accusers at bay, she could end up in jail, and the tens of thousands of party faithful who owe their public-sector jobs and the incomes they provide to their leaders’ political clout, have no desire to have to find another way of earning a living.
In many countries, those unfortunate enough to be in office at a time when prospects look bleak are doing their best to stop spending going through the roof, while their adversaries insist, as they have been doing for years, that they are deliberately depriving people of what they should have because they are in thrall to some crude pro-business ideology. This is happening in France, where massive strikes are being staged to protest against steep rises in the cost of living, and to a lesser extent in the United Kingdom, with opposition Labourites demanding that the hapless Tory government do much more to help people get through the lean months ahead. While austerity is always painful for low earners, it can be a generous source of political capital for individuals who pretend that there is far more money available than government statisticians would have them believe; when they themselves take charge, for a time they can get away with blaming their predecessors for the lack of funds but, unless they are utterly irresponsible, they then start doing much the same as their predecessors.
After an unconscionable delay, this is what Argentina’s official government is now trying to do, but the coalition that Cristina assembled in order to beat Mauricio Macri is so fragile that important bits, among them the bellicose faction that answers to her, have swung into opposition. Presumably, the idea is that behaving in this way the Peronists will be able to retain the votes of those who feel that, were it not for greedy businessmen, prices would remain stable, wages would quickly increase and a grateful populace would thank its benefactors for saving it from neoliberal fanatics like Macri who are bent on impoverishing common folk.
Meanwhile, inflation steamrollers onwards, flattening the incomes of millions of families that not so long ago thought they were fairly well-off, crushing small business concerns and making enterprising young people seek a better future abroad. Driving inflation are politicians, among them Cristina’s guru, the former economy minister and current Buenos Aires Province governor Axel Kiciloff, who managed to convince themselves that it is basically a “structural” problem so encouraging consumption by printing huge amounts of unbacked banknotes would have a positive effect. It is already nearing 100 percent a year and, though sober economists say another bout of hyperinflation is most unlikely, they or their equivalents said much the same when the Radical leader Raúl Alfonsín was president and, as he later confessed, did not know what to do to stop it and, even if he had wanted to take the unpleasant measures he was told the circumstances demanded, he would have lacked the political power needed to make them work. By now Alberto, who once said he admired Alfonsín, must surely understand what he was on about.