The Zeitgeist

Buenos Aires skyline, from Calle Hipolito Yrigoyen near Plaza de Mayo
Buenos Aires skyline, from Calle Hipolito Yrigoyen near Plaza de Mayo

A few days ago, I posted my thoughts on Buenos Aires, as a place. Now, on our last night before heading to Patagonia, I’m sharing some impressions of

The People.

It is always dangerous to generalize, especially after only scratching the surface as we have over the last 3 weeks. However, the view that I am forming is of Argentina as country where some key factions hold grudges that they can’t or won’t let go.  I see this in several places…

  • The animosity the government feels towards those lenders who refused to restructure the government’s debt in 2001 is extreme, and continues to grow more than a decade later.  Argentina is adamant that they will not pay the hold-outs and is taking the matter to the US Supreme Court.  However, if they lose, it’s a sure bet that the government still won’t pay and there is little that the lenders can do.
  • The Malvinas War (or the Falklands War, if you prefer) is a festering sore here.  The incident at La Gota restaurant may or may not have been related, but this is still very much an open issue in Argentina.  Since our trip included Malvinas Day, there has been much in the papers and on the news related to the Malvinas.  “English Square” was renamed years ago, but residents of Calle Inglés were thrilled last week when the government agreed to change their address to Calle 2 de Abril.  In local bookstores, books on the Malvinas are featured near the front of the store, not buried in the history section.  This includes one that looks like an Argentine version of “An Idiot’s Guide to… the Malvinas”.  And Cristina Fernandez Kirchner announced last week that new 50 Peso bills will be issued featuring a map of Las Malvinas.
  • Even the intensity of fútbol rivalries between the BA teams (Boca Juniors, River Plate etc.) seems to me to be evidence that Argentinians want to be winners, and don’t like it at all when things go against them.

Yes, I know this is a sweeping generalization, and I also know that is wrong to equate the views of a country’s elites with those of it “ordinary citizens”. From what I can tell, the vast majority of Argentines are kind, respectful people. It is entirely plausible, even likely, that most people are just trying to live decent lives after having been pushed around by different factions for decades (I am thinking mostly of the military here, but Argentines would probably also include the IMF and other lenders, as well as the UK).

Whatever the reasons, Argentines have passively and actively allowed their country to be, essentially, destroyed. Quoted in a recent op-ed in the NY Times Javier Corrales, a political scientist at Amherst College, observed that:

Argentina is a unique case of a country that has completed the transition to underdevelopment.

Maybe part of the reason for that is too much focus on the past, and assigning blame, instead of on the future. Blame is not the solution to the debt problem, or to the Malvinas, or to inflation, or anything really. It is a strategy for bullies, and it feels to me that bullies have been, and can be, successful here. [Yesterday’s paro general, being a timely example]. Of course, this is little more than a first impression, and I could be completely wrong.

Wouldn’t that be nice?

Go to the next post: Demorado

2 thoughts on “The Zeitgeist

  1. How so much like so many people who use their past to explain their present and justify their future. BTW smiled at the photo that showed the jungle of power lines. I am always amazed at how so many can be crammed into what looks like scary wiring schemes without causing fires. I am also constantly trying to figure out how to capture photos without including the wires. 🙂 –Curt

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