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OP-ED | 10-10-2020 09:41

Uncertainty amid the malaise

Burning as all these problems are, literally so in the case of the fires and metaphorically in the case of the economic and monetary crisis and the coronavirus pandemic, none of them are really being faced by a government seeking or obsessed with another agenda.

Two famous quotes from home and abroad – “We must make it through the winter,” by then-economy minister Alvaro Alsogaray, over 60 years ago and “There will be growth in the spring” from the Peter Sellers character Chauncey Gardiner in the film Being There, a mere 40 years ago – offer a readymade seasonal formula for recovery, but it’s just not clicking for Argentina this year with no relief even for the pandemic data three weeks into spring. Then again, a much-vaunted Spring Plan following this logic was launched in 1988, only to end in hyperinflation of over 3,000 percent the following year. 

A crisis of those proportions has yet to arrive but nothing seems to be working with problems on multiple fronts. If we are not simultaneously facing the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and the 10 Plagues of Egypt, this is because some of them are mutually exclusive – thus we are spared floods on top of pestilence and fire, because the latter ablaze across half the country feeds on drought, while another hyperinflation is currently impossible at these levels of recession despite the stratospheric volumes of money being printed. Other plagues of Egypt (such as the three days of darkness in the modern form of power cuts) might be yet to come while frogs or locusts (we’ve had the latter already this year) would pass almost unnoticed in the current confusion.

Burning as all these problems are, literally so in the case of the fires and metaphorically in the case of the economic and monetary crisis and the coronavirus pandemic, none of them are really being faced by a government seeking or obsessed with another agenda. Trimming export duties to up the return from 51 to 54 pesos per dollar for exporters is obviously not going to coax greenbacks with their parallel version hitting 160 pesos yesterday. There have been various relaxations of quarantine since first announced in March (the latest being the return of some school classes) but the song basically remains the same.

Deprived of any distractions from elsewhere, with neither a Lionel Messi penalty nor two Roland Garros semi-finalists sufficing to brighten the public mood, two other issues surfaced this week to change the subject from the general malaise – a counter-offensive against the Supreme Court and Tuesday’s United Nations Human Rights Council vote in Geneva extending the investigation of suspected human rights violations in Venezuela, both serving to show the Frente de Todos ruling coalition to be as much divided as united.

The request for the impeachment of Supreme Court Chief Justice Carlos Rosenkrantz is already a dead letter because Frente de Todos lacks the two-thirds Congress majority to make it happen but nor is this drive likely to win many public opinion battles. Even if the bid to depict Rosenkrantz (who cut his legal teeth at the 1985 junta trials) as an ally of state terrorism were more solid, it would still arouse suspicions for its timing just when Supreme Court acceptance of a per saltum has stalled the transfers of three of the judges trying Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner for corruption. While there is no overt dissent with this drive in coalition ranks, many Peronists (especially trade unionists) fear that giving this autistic priority to judicial issues at the expense of economic and pandemic urgencies is draining away popular support as inexorably as Central Bank reserves.

While the question is ostensibly human rights, the tensions within the government over the Venezuela vote should be seen more as pragmatism versus dogmatism. This significant shift in the government stance – abstention would have been more in line with the general tendency of President Alberto Fernández to tone down rather than reject the pressures on the Nicolás Maduro regime over its human rights record, as Ambassador to Russia Alicia Castro resigning in protest was not wrong to observe – should not be seen apart from the presence of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in town this week. With the IMF headquarters located in the same city as the White House and a Donald Trump nominee now heading the Inter-American Development Bank (BID), the government cannot afford to stay soft on Venezuela with months of key negotiations with the IMF ahead, irrespective of the result of next month’s elections in the United States.

Such is the prevailing uncertainty – let us see where next Saturday’s 75th Peronist Loyalty Day finds the government and the nation.

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