Yes, it’s the economy. Since Argentina defaulted on $95bn of international debt nine years ago and blew off the International Monetary Fund, the economy has done remarkably well. For the years 2002-2011, using the IMF‘s projections for the end of this year, Argentina has chalked up real GDP growth of about 94%. This is the fastest economic growth in the western hemisphere – about twice that of Brazil, for example, which has also improved enormously over past performance. Since President Fernandez or her late husband Nestor Kirchner, who preceded her as president, were running the country for eight of these nine years, it shouldn’t be surprising that voters will reward her with another term.
The benefits of growth don’t always trickle down, but in this case, the Argentine government has made sure that many did. Poverty and extreme poverty have been reduced by about two thirds since their peak in 2002, and employment has increased to record levels. Social spending by the government has nearly tripled in real terms. In 2009, the government implemented a cash transfer program for children that now reaches the households of more than 3.5 million children. It is probably the largest such program, relative to national income, in Latin America.
At a cocktail party a few weeks ago, a young lady from Mississippi studying here in Buenos Aires asked: ”Where are the Padres?”
A good question. The Madres—the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo—are everywhere. With their signature white head kerchiefs, they are the mothers of youths who were tortured and killed by the terrorist military dictatorship that lasted from 1976 until 1983 and disappeared an estimated 30,000 people in Argentina. The fathers, however, have been largely invisible.
Except one: Nestor Kirchner, president of Argentina from 2003 to 2007, who passed away October 27.
Kirchner was too young, of course, to qualify as an actual father. In fact, as a youth he was a militant leftist and could easily have been disappeared himself. When he became president, 20 years after the restoration of democracy in Argentina, the dictators and their lackeys were leading the good life, protected by an amnesty. Kirchner pushed the government and the courts to shake off their laissez-faire treatment of the mass murderers who had set aside all concept of law and decency to destroy mostly young student and labor militant activists.
BUENOS AIRES – Argentines glowed with pride last week as they swarmed the streets of their grand capital to celebrate 200 years since their revolt against Spain.
Music, food, parades, visiting dignitaries, the reopening of the world class Teatro Colón opera house, and the inauguration of a gallery of Latin American heroes at the presidential palace were enjoyed by millions as the country shut down for a long four-day weekend.
Not far from the festivities, the country’s judicial system is quietly giving Argentines another source of national pride as alleged criminals of the guerra sucia, or Dirty War, are being held accountable for the ruthless kidnapping, torture, and death of up to 30,000 opponents of the 1976-83 military dictatorship.