Nobel laureate Simon Kuznets once said “there are four categories of countries: developed, underdeveloped, Japan (that should be poor but it is rich) and Argentina (that should be rich but it is poor).
Recently The Economist magazine wrote at length on “A century of decline ” and « The Tragedy of Argentina” warning other developing countries about the risks of falling in the same populist trap.
For decades, the Argentine periodic economic crises (including the 2001 almost total implosion and collapse) have puzzled foreign observers and frustrated Argentinians, which simply cannot reconcile the sophistication of its society with the appalling governance that prevents them from ever materializing their (by now much diminished) potential.
It is difficult to find another country that has been so badly governed for a century; and impossible to find another example of a country moving from the richest elite to a mediocre present where almost 30% of its people linger in structural poverty.
There are many internal and external reasons for this decline but, like in Venezuela and other Latin American countries, populism is certainly at the top of the list.
Since Peron was elected as president in 1946, after having initially arrived in government as part of a military coup, power have been divided in Argentina between various versions of Peronists, the Military and the centrist Radical Party.
Of course all share some responsibilities, but it is interesting to note that, over the last 70 years, Peron´s party has been in power most of the time, for 37 years, more than the Military (17 years) and the Radicals (16 years) put together…we let you decide who is mainly to blame.
At a time of change, of elections and the beginning of an era when Argentina will be governed, for the first time in a century, by an engineer and former businessman who is neither from the traditional parties (populist Peronists or ineffective Radicals) nor from the undemocratic elites together with the military, it is an interesting moment to explore the streets of Buenos Aires trying to capture a troubled but dynamic society.
Buenos Aires is loved by visitors for its architecture, creativity, cultural life and very warm people. Many come here just to dance or simply enjoy Tango, a sensual dance that epitomizes “porteños” contradictions, sensual and tragic, machist and poetic…but always irresistible.
Such contradictions can only lead to deep introspection…and to psychoanalysis to flourish to an extent that it even influences the way people think and talk.
A city were rules are openly and happily ignored…
and where national dramas, even war heroes, are quickly forgotten.
While Argentinians enjoy an “asado” made with the best meat in the world.
And yet, and extraordinarily lively and friendly city, with an amazing cultural life, a vibrant nightlife, and a sophisticated society that reflects the melting pot that Argentina was a century ago.
Will these elections signal a turning point? Have Argentinians learned the harsh lessons of their history? Or will they be just another cycle in their never ending downward journey? One can only hope…
Will Argentina look towards the future, finally overcoming her troubled Peronist/anti-Peronist self destructive dichotomy?
Is there light at the end of a long tunnel?
The solution is to embrace real democracy, accept pluralism, discard once and for all populist solutions and economic shortcuts and stop blaming the rest of the world for domestic shortcomings and follies.
After so many decades of “magical realism” in politics and economics the solution will not come from God or miracles, but rather from all Argentinians working together towards recreating a “normal” country. It is possible.
YES, WE CAN!…
NOW LET´S CHANGE!