Beyond the Crisis, Routine?

Argentina Economic Crisis
Left-wing demonstrators protest in Buenos Aires, Jan. 15, 2002 (Photo: AFP).

The idea that the crisis in Argentina is the result of a corrupt government and the squandering of the nation’s wealth is not credible. Nor can the crisis be attributed to poor administration. If that were the case, most Latin American countries would have entered a crisis of legitimacy and profound institutional deterioration long ago.

The causes cannot be found in a failure to learn the “laws” of supply and demand as taught in a school of economics. We need to search elsewhere for the causes. They have political roots. Economic clichés and interpretations will only cloud the understanding of processes that date back to reforms implemented in the years of military dictatorship and that have been maintained until now by the Radical Civic Union and Justicialist Party civilian governments.

Argentina’s political crisis is a manifestation of reforms carried out during the last three decades. For this reason—and in contrast to previous crises—we find that social instability, the political vacuum, and even President Fernando de la Rúa’s resignation have not provoked rumors of a coup d’état. Few see a military uprising as a solution. Instead, everyone is talking about a problem of macroeconomic adjustment and coordination. Why is this so?

The solutions proposed for the crisis include no changes in the dynamics of privatization and reconversion that have been systematically implemented in recent decades. On the contrary, the intention is to continue with the same practices. It is thus a matter of preserving a strategic plan established under military juntas and maintained to the present. After 30 years of policies focused on re-establishing order, we can state confidently that we are witnessing the clearest manifestations of those policies.
This crisis is the result of a neo-oligarchical political project characterized by exclusion and concentration and founded on utilitarian economic principles. This crisis is a consequence of the ongoing application of neo-liberal policies. What is happening today in Argentina may happen tomorrow in Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, or Mexico.

Nevertheless, ad hoc interpretations seek to avoid this explanation, presenting the problem instead as a particular case of financial mechanisms and monetary liquidity. The focus is on increasing the confidence of foreign investors. It is a technical problem and a matter of the country’s international image. Analysts rush to give econometric explanations, without mentioning the effects of the liberal policies.

President De la Rúa’s resignation is interpreted and presented as the end of the crisis and the beginning of the solution. There is no more instability, and a new historical moment has begun. Everything will be different. In a single day, demonstrations and protests are over, and everything has returned to normal. Nothing has changed, but everything seems different. Back to the routine.

A strange way to resolve a problem. The causes are left untouched; the problems at the root of the situation are not attacked. But the discourse we hear refers to putting an end to what’s wrong in the country. There’s a promise to maintain parity between the dollar and the peso—and now with the argentino [a proposed, nonconvertible currency]. And the current moment is presented as the perfect one for regenerating the political sphere.

Everyone appears to be struggling together to save Argentina from the worst crisis in its history. But few describe this crisis—and seek the roots of this crisis—in the policies carried out during the past 30 years. It’s better to use a scapegoat, and not exactly Carlos Saúl Menem [president from 1989 to 1999]. De la Rúa is the person designated for this role.

According to the criteria of political engineering, his resignation is conceived as an act of prudence to avoid worse problems. There is no political responsibility, just a bad administration. Members of his government resign with him, and, in this way, the failure is shared. De la Rúa’s resignation is a display of political cowardice. The decision is consonant with the premise of not endangering major foreign investment and international capital, upon which an illusion of a powerful Argentina has been built.

For other countries in the region, Argentina was considered a model in implementing reforms. Privatization, dropping of trade and financial barriers, and the deregulation of the labor market are the pillars upon which a vigorous Argentina has been presented. Now that the illusion has been shattered, responsibility falls on a few incompetent and incapable individuals. No one makes the link between this crisis and neo-liberal policies.

All the changes carried out to modernize and adapt structures to the requirements of a new world order must remain intact. It is important to maintain the sense of a hopeful future. A curtain of smoke must be draped to conceal the the breakdown of the public sphere, to avoid questions about the neo-oligarchization of power.

The victims of these policies are not given any place in this new order. Civil disobedience and violence will intensify, and totalitarian regimes will be imposed to maintain governability. In Argentina we are seeing the first manifestations of this process. The crisis threatens the entire American continent. We are witnessing the collapse of the neo-liberal myth of order and progress. Perhaps we should insist that this be acknowledged. It is a necessary part of the struggle for democracy.