Its hard to know where to start with this. Even if the history and personalities involved were easy to define, the chaotic culture that has and does pervade the political scene is not. So the best I can do is try to give some background and identify the characters, and believe me, the word character doesn’t do them justice. Before I start, a disclaimer. This is my opinion, like the rest of my blog is an opinion. It is not meant to convey only facts nor is it intended to offend my gracious host, Argentina.
Argentina was first settled in 1502 by the Spanish. Buenos Aires was settled in 1580. Over the years the English would occasionally make themselves known and then leave or die from diseases their anglo constitutions couldn’t handle. Unlike Chile and Peru, with natural resources and Venezuela and Brazil that were fertile lands for farming, Argentina didn’t have a lot to offer except a coastline you had to sail along in order to get the the Pacific Ocean. So Argentina was really just a strategic outpost populated by some Jesuits and random people who must of been kind of odd.
The Colonial influence of Spain began to wan in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s as Argentines wanted to rule themselves (like a lot of the world at that time) and the Spanish were distracted by a dude named Napoleon. By 1810 they had declared their Independence and by 1816, without too much bloodshed, a democratic Argentina was born.
The Industrial Revolution was instrumental in making Argentina one of the richest economies in the world by 1900. With the advent of irrigation and new farming technology Argentina became the agricultural and livestock capital of South America. Immigration brought skilled farmers and workers to not only the rich lands of Buenos Aires Province but to all of the arable land in Argentina. Unfortunately, this came at the cost the lives of many indigenous people. (sound familiar?)
For the first half of the 20th century, the center of political power centered around the wealthy landowners (who were often military) in Buenos Aires Province. Even then, political life was dynamic and fluid. The Radicals and Conservatives exchanged power several times during this period with an occasional military leader thrown in to break up the fun.
Like releases of movies, modern fascism came late to Argentina. General Juan Peron took power in 1943 in a coup. He was elected president in 1946 with his intriguing mix of populism and fascism. During his presidency Argentina continued to experience a huge migration of workers from the country to Buenos Aires. Unions became the center of Peron’s economic plans for Argentina. The first of Peron’s 5 year plans included tons of industrialization and nationalization. His wife Eva was key to his popularity with her accessible personality and appeal to women. After her death, and economic struggles, what goes around comes around, and he was deposed in a coup in 1955.
The next 20 years were economically flat to down and as a result were politically and socially chaotic. There was the usual mix of military and civilian governments moving in and out of power. In the early 1970’s there is an increase of violence between the left and right so Juan Peron cut his holiday in Spain short and returned just long enough to appoint his wife, Isabel Vice President. Juan was old and sick and died and she took over and was a total disaster. The left/right terrorism got worse and civil liberties disappeared and it was anarchy. Military rules seemed better than nothing….
Enter the terrible military rule of 1976-1982. Or what is commonly called the Dirty War. In what started out as a effort to repress a leftist movement that had demonstrated some violent capabilities, turned into a full blown paranoiac witch hunt and exercise in terrorizing the masses in to frightened and cowering submission. It worked for awhile (with the assistance of the US, as either complicit, or at least tolerant) as mainly college kids, young adults, academicians and journalists were rounded up and held, sometimes tortured and many times (10,000 officially, 30,000 unofficially)tortured and killed.
Although the military was able to maintain civil order (at a huge cost) the economy sucked and there was a disastrous war with England over the Malvinas/Falklands (what were they thinking?). The military was defeated on all levels and there was a gradual return to civil rule by 1983 when Radical Raul Alfonsin was elected President. While he lifted many of the bans on political parties and reinstated civil liberties, Alfosin wasn’t able to turn the economy around fast enough and Menem was elected President in 1989.
Hyperinflation lead Menem to fix the peso to the US dollar. Menem, a Peronist, in very unperonist fashion, deregulated and privatized much of the Argentine economy along with lifting protectionist barriers. There was a huge influx of foreign investment. Prices stabilized and the economy chugged along until the end of the 1990’s.
It became evident that with the strong economy, local products couldn’t compete and there was a glut of imported goods. As a result unemployment was growing along with a large trade deficit. By 1998 the global economy was hit with a series of financial crisis which created significant capital outflow from Argentina which resulted in a recession. Liquidity crisis hit the banks at the end of 2001 and once again political chaos ensued. And chaos is no exaggeration. Within a two month period there were multiple presidents and bloody street riots. But to the credit of the national assembly, Duhalde was appointed as the interim president until new elections could be held. There was no military coup.
Duhalde had the dirty of job of decoupling the peso and dollar, defaulting on massive debt and overseeing increased inflation and unemployment. The government had to focus it efforts on reviving local industry and with the favorable exchange rate the economy began to stabilize with increased exports. In 2003, Peronist Nestor Kirchner was elected. Kirchner has been responsible for the hugely discounted bond payments, appealing of the protections for military personal and civilians implicated in the dirty wars crimes, distancing himself from a myriad of political scandals, aggressive price controls on key index items and promoting his wife Christina.
On October 28th, 2007, a new president (one of the many) will be elected in Argentina.