Thursday, April 19, 2012

Nutty Populism In Argentina (And Perhaps Elsewhere?)

President Cristina Kirchner is the first woman elected and re-elected
president of Argentina, and the second woman to serve in that post.
The second wife of Juan Peron also served as president from 1974-76,
but was not elected. Mr. Peron's first wife Eva (widely known as "Evita")
did not serve as president, but exerted enormous influence over her
husband and Argentina politics before her premature death. All of the
Perons, husband and wives, employed demogogic populism for years to
win and keep power in this southernmost nation of South America as it
endured crisis after crisis.

Mrs. Kirchner's husband had previously been elected president of Argentina,
and Mrs. Kirchner succeeded him. She, too, has adopted the peculiar brand
of Argentine populism which utilizes both far left and far right ideologies
that stir up resentment between the economic classes in the country.

The tragedy of Argentina is that it was, circa 1900, one of the largest and
most prosperous economies in the world. Argentina has substantial land mass,
and was settled in the 19th century by a number of Europeans in addition to
the original Spanish settlers (who arrived in the 16th century). Argentina had
considerable natural resources, and a major farm economy. It was, and is,
justifiably famous for its home grown beef. In addition, a substantial culture
arose in Argentina, and this culture has contributed to world literature, music
and dance. Argentine Jorge Luis Borges was one of the greatest writers in any
language in the 20th century. The tango, the national dance, is considered a
global art form. Argentine music, fiction and poetry, painting and sculpture are
highly regarded throughout the globe.

In spite of its resources and assets, Argentine politics has allowed its early
prominence to decline into seemingly perpetual waste, demogoguery and crisis.
Its government was technically neutral in World War II, but sent aid to
the fascist Spanish government of its then dictator Francisco Franco, and was
a hotbed of Nazi activity in South America. More recently, Argentine leaders
have tried to claim The Falkland Islands (also called Islas Malvinas), long-held
territories of Great Britain, as their own. An earlier Argentine government, run
by a military junta, precipitated a war on this matter when Margaret Thatcher
was the British prime minister, a war Argentina promptly lost. Now, trying to
distract the Argentina public from domestic problems, Mrs. Kirchner has tried
to revive her government's claims to The Falkland Islands, something which has
almost no support outside Argentina. Her latest controversy, claiming to
nationalize the oil industry in her country which is owned by private Spanish
investors, has now provoked hostility in Spain (which about 200 years ago was
the colonial power ruling Argentina). Again, there is almost no international
support for the Kirchner government's claims.

Curiously, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seemed sympathetic to the Argentine
claims in The Falklands when she visited Buenos Aires a few years ago (at about
the same time she and the Obama administration took sides with an illegal
coup attempt in Honduras that was also supported by leftist South American
leaders Chavez, the Castro brothers and leaders in Bolivia and Nicaragua).
During his recent trip to Colombia (overshadowed by a Secret Service scandal),
President Obama made no comment either about the Argentine revival of its
Falkland Islands claims or its attempt to seize internationally-owned oil interests
in that country.

One of the constant themes of President Obama's term in office has been his
call for "taxing the rich" and redistributing wealth in the U.S. through increased
regulations and major new entitlement programs (most notably Obamacare).
Perhaps his reluctance to criticize the government of Mrs Kirchner reflects a
sympathy with her "populism" and an admiration for her techniques of shifting
public attention from real problems in her country to emotional issues that serve
as a political distraction.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.

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