You may have heard it already. I have. It is a statement stuck amid the other local expressions of despair: “If Cristina/Mauricio win re-election, I’m leaving the country.”
I have even received a couple of emails asking if I could assist the letter-writers in their resettlement, presumably somewhere with nicer beaches and longer vacations. But friends and others say they have also heard expressed feelings of failure, betrayal and outright and endless lying. They are people who think there is no hope here – and that the only way is out.
We failed to shake off the horrors, political and economic, of the recent past, so an acceptable rule of play is to try or at least talk about some possible if unlikely ways of escape from the resulting and growing mess we live in. The easiest is to fantasise that the simple solution is “The road to Ezeiza… just look at how many Argentines have made brilliant careers in the US or in Europe.”
As is obvious, many of us have all heard that pseudo-affirmation before, “If soand-so wins, I’m leaving the country.” When elections are over and the winner is known, people who wanted to leave reassure themselves that, as fate is inevitable, they might as well stay on a while and see what happens.
I can remember only one of my acquaintances who announced that he would not stay in Argentina if Carlos Saúl Menem won the 1989 elections. Menem won, my friend left. He had lived in Buenos Aires for a long time, but he upped and went. He made it look easy. He was a Uruguayan, a brilliant journalist and admired film expert who ‘discovered’ the filmmaker Ingmar Bergman (1919-2007). The friend was the first critic outside Sweden to write about Bergman. That was after seeing his films at the 1952 Festival in Punta del Este. The Uruguayan friend, Homero Alsina Thevenet (1922-2005), who was known by his initials “Mr HAT,” lived and worked in Buenos Aires up to 1976. He then decided that life would be safer in Barcelona. HAT returned to Argentina in 1983 at the end of the dictatorship but, as stated, left again in 1989. He got a job in Montevideo immediately, of course, and I don’t think he crossed the river again after that.
A more dramatic season of departure, this time not escaping military rule but not entirely voluntary either, personally necessary for many, happened after Menem, and the presidency (1999-2001) of Fernando de la Rúa was ended.
The crisis followed the financial collapse of November 2001 and the ensuing hardship of 2002. It was pitiful to see the long queues stretching for at least a block and more at the Italian Consulate and Labour Office (which in those days was down at the bottom of Viamonte street, it is now on Reconquista street). The hopes of those waiting on the sidewalk were pinned on their immigrant ancestors whose birth certificates helped beyond the grave and were needed as a reference to justify a working visa for Europe. That piece of paper assisted a return trip by an Argentine-born generation along the route originally travelled by parents or grandparents, or from even further back to the River Plate territory, thought to be of huge wealth.
The same desperate waiting lines were to be found at the Spanish Consulate. So if you hear the complaint that once again some of Argentina feels there is nowhere better than out, be assured that it has been stated and heard many times before. In most of the crises of the past you couldn’t help but feel sorry for people who have fallen to that level of desperation. But must it be heeded in all cases? A remark heard somewhere abroad, and not just in a single case, was a statement of feeling or even a third party opinion, “You can find work abroad, but in Argentina you can live.” The equation is not simple but common to some emigrants in different countries. It reflects the stated dissatisfaction inevitable for an immigrant society such as still prevails in Argentina, whether three or more generations down the line.
And what cannot be easily dismissed is that collective moan which addresses or refers to politicians, the quality of work and politics and, inevitably, the assurance that a sentiment of patriotism is better expressed from outside.
What we have before us, with the two candidates whom we think currently lead the field, is that Mauricio Macri failed to bring in the reform that he promised quite lightly. Perhaps his main failing is that he lied by omission. Instead of telling the nation what he found wrong with the leadership of 12 years and its bookkeeping policy, Macri concentrated his grumble on individual theft. That was offered instead of launching a clear campaign of recovery as part of a policy. He has wasted an awfully long time complaining about individual twists in the old regime.
On the other side Mrs Kirchner and husband, he who upset long-term family plans by committing the mistake of dying at the wrong time, established lying as a co-mission and part of policy. Mr K had forewarned that he could not practise politics successfully without adequate funding. Argentines thought that was a good idea. And Mrs K demonstrated that she knew her following in her speech at the Book Fair two weeks ago.
Most of the time, we Argentines love a successful thief but only when we can suspect how rich he or she has become and as long as he or she does not flaunt the gains in big headlines. And while there is a really big star at home, why think of leaving? If there is something big happening here, we might even learn how to grab a part of what others have amassed.
So, if you are told by some friends that they plan to
leave the country if he/she/whoever wins the October
27 elections, take it calmly. We’ll all be thinking in
terms of the squillions of dollars coming in from soybean exports, even now with deflated prices.