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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 27-02-2021 08:36

Kirchnerites find the race card tempting

For the Kirchnerites, “identity politics” has many attractions.

Though Kirchnerites like to see themselves as heroes bravely taking on “the Empire” (by which they mean the United States), they are always among the first to adopt political, intellectual and social fashions emanating from the overbearing superpower they say they detest. They were quick to jump on the gay-rights bandwagon and back same-sex marriages. The more enthusiastic are even striving to emulate their counterparts in English-speaking countries and purge Spanish of the many, to their minds unacceptable, sexist and patriarchal elements which infest all the Romance languages. These are so deeply rooted that their chances of getting rid of them are close to zero.

Some Kirchnerites have also taken to playing the race card, a common practice in the US and, to a growing extent, the UK, but not that frequent in this part of the world. According to Senator Oscar Parrili, a man whose devotion to Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is pretty near absolute, Lázaro Báez was sentenced to 12 years behind bars for money-laundering because he has a darkish skin. Up to then, few had noticed that Báez was what many Argentines would describe as a “negro,” that is a “black,” an epithet which here does have negative connotations and is habitually applied to poorer members of society without much regard to their physical characteristics.

It is also worth noting that for many years commentators of all political persuasions said that by replacing the traditional Peronist economic policies with market-friendly ones similar to those of richer countries, the recently deceased former president Carlos Menem had magically transformed himself into a “tall blue-eyed blond” – in other words, into a being far superior to the otherwise endowed original of Middle Eastern extraction. Strange as it may seem, neither Menem nor anyone else found this objectionable. 

Attempts by people like Parrili and the well-known Kirchnerite agitator Luis D’Elía, who is currently under house arrest, to interpret the Argentine drama in crude racial terms would make good sense to those North Americans who, with considerably success, are busily doing the same in their own country. But here what they are up to has yet to win much traction. This is not because Argentina is completely free of the racial tensions which obsess so many in the US or because many still take pride in the always implausible notion that she is the “only white country” south of Canada to be found in the Western hemisphere, but because her main problems have less to do with ethnic differences than with the abject failure of the political elite to run the economy with a minimum of efficiency.

Were Argentina as prosperous as Italy or Spain, say, difficulties arising from racial stereotypes would keep many activists well occupied, but with about half the population sunk in poverty and many others about to join them, if only for a while, the consensus is that there are more urgent things to worry about.

In the US, race is once again a hot issue thanks to the efforts of postmodernist theorists influenced by Michel Foucault who insist that, when all is said and done, what matters is power, which everywhere is underpinned by the prevailing cultural norms. The idea is that all “minorities,” whether ethnic or sexual, have long been deprived of their fair share of it by heterosexual white supremacists who cling desperately to what until not that long ago was the status quo but is now in disarray.

To get their way, the academics and others who see everything through a racial lens have managed to persuade a great many people that, whether they realise it or not, it is entirely thanks to “white privilege” that they may be doing relatively better than their darker hued compatriots and should feel properly guilty about it. Needless to say, the campaign to make all whites confess their usually unconscious sins and humbly resign themselves to whatever fate is reserved for them is certain to backfire. Instead of willingly giving up their allegedly ill-gotten gains, after doing their best to be open-minded most are likely to fight back by behaving as any other endangered minority might be expected to do and end up by embracing a variant of “white power.” According to US progressives, this is precisely what Donald Trump and his many followers did for four years, but it does not explain why in last year’s presidential elections he did much better among blacks and “Hispanics” than in 2016.

For the Kirchnerites, “identity politics” has many attractions. For painfully obvious reasons, they cannot justify the behaviour of Cristina and her late husband in legal terms because there can be little doubt that, with the help of obedient subordinates such as Báez, they really did rob the country blind. There is simply no way she and members of her family could have acquired the properties they own without handsomely supplementing whatever they earned as public employees. As for Cristina making her money by being a “successful lawyer,” as she claimed while on tour in the US, it would appear that she never won a single case or even fought one. So to defend themselves, Cristina and her cronies have to make out they are the innocent victims of vile prejudices, a pretence Alberto Fernández is happy to go along with.

After having borrowed from the Empire the idea of “lawfare” – according to which all the cases Cristina faces are illegitimate because they are politically motivated – it is not that surprising that her supporters want to make use of another import, racism, which has proved to be remarkably effective in the US where it is routinely used to deflect criticism from men and women who, were they white or Asian, would have no place in big-league politics. Could it work here? Unfortunately for Cristina and her friends, there is little reason to think so. None of them are conspicuously dark and the name given to the movement they have formed could hardly be more Germanic.

Of course, they could argue that they needed huge amounts of money because they were revolutionaries determined to destroy the established order so they could build a far better one on its ruins. After all, in his early days Stalin was a bank-robber, though once in power he was reluctant to remind people of his achievements in that line of work. However, while many Kirchnerites certainly do have a soft spot for politicised violence and pay due homage to their terrorist forebears, Cristina has always preferred a less aggressive approach, perhaps because she is well aware that it would be unhelpful to frighten her many enemies so much that they would feel they had no choice but to pre-empt a full-blown assault on the country’s institutions by bringing down the government that keeps her out of jail by any means at hand.

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James Neilson

James Neilson

Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1979-1986).

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