May 26, 2013

10 years on ~ the Kirchners in Argentina

Yesterday was yet another national holiday in Argentina, a nation that has more public holidays than most other countries, certainly many more than Canada. Revolution Day celebrates the revolt 203 years ago that ended Spanish rule.

May 25 was also the anniversary of a decade of Kirchner presidency, first by Nestor Kirchner, who died in 2010, to be followed by his partner, Christina Fernandez de Kirchner.

La Presidenta addressed several hundreds of thousands in central Buenos Aires last night, amid a festival-like atmosphere of music and celebration, of speeches and more speeches. With inflation increasingly proving to be a nasty thorn in the side of her government, she called the past ten years a victorious decade "won not by a government, but by the people."

The Kirchners began an era of what they called social inclusion, by transferring some wealth to the poor (some would say they also transferred much wealth to themselves) and bringing to justice the criminals of the "dirty war." They initiated significant state intervention into the economy to create jobs and wealth, the exact opposite of the privatisation and "anything-goes" kind of capitalism that held sway in Argentina during the 1990s. Unemployment decreased significantly, and pensions and minimum wages increased substantially over the past ten years. The government legalised abortion and same sex marriage, established a Universal Health Benefit which lifted about four million people out of desperate poverty. Over the past decade 1200 schools have been built in Argentina, compared to only 100 in the previous twenty years. Good things happened under the Kirchners.

Yet high levels of poverty persist. Income disparity remains dramatic. Transportation networks outside Buenos Aires limiting the potential for economic growth. Anti-corruption policies for government and business remain largely non-existent.

In 2007 the President's office interfered with the statistical department of the government and now no one believes the numbers coming out on inflation, unemployment or poverty. And no one includes the IMF and the World Bank and most transnational corporations, all of which Argentina needs on-side if economic growth and social inclusion policies are to continue. Inflation, since 2007, according to official figures, hasn't gone over 10 per cent per year, yet citizens see the escalation of prices, sometimes doubling in a single year. Unofficially inflation is considered to be around 30 per cent yet the government refuses to budge.

Economic uncertainty has created huge waves of resentment within Argentina. There is much at stake for this democracy and its citizens. The lavish spending on a national holiday, and its obvious self-promotion of la Presidenta and her government, had little to do with the poor of the country. Would  the cartoneros, the poorest of the poor in Argentina, have the time to look up from their work to enjoy the fireworks?

photos from AP/Clarin

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