Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1994-2007).
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
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
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
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.