The owner of the Stella Maris, a family dining room in a middle-class neighborhood of Buenos Aires, stands in front of the television and says: “This is a beautiful country. Handsome”. On the screen, the noon newscast reproduces the political news of Thursday: during the close of the campaign in the province of Chaco, the governor compared himself to Jesus and he asked his followers to go out and find the “lost sheep” to vote. It was stupid news – even in its capacity to scandalize – for a legislative election that, at least in the media and online accounts, seemed to have reached an inordinate level of conflict.
It is not that the conflict does not exist: it is that, seen from afar, it seems out of all proportion; a distance fueled by fears, economic problems, resentments and sectoral interests. Like the one between the official dollar and the blue dollar, the only one that an ordinary citizen can access – if they can – and which costs twice as much. The day I arrived in Argentina after three years without returning to the country, the official dollar was priced at around 105 pesos for sale and the blue was worth around 200 pesos. “We are paying 193”, they told me on WhatsApp from the “cave” where they recommended to change dollars. It was not a cave: it was a place with doors to the street and two ATMs inside, where they exchanged 150 dollars for almost 30,000 Argentine pesos, practically a minimum wage.
The effect of this gap between dollars and pesos is brutal. For those who come from abroad, who obtain Argentine banknotes at the price of the parallel dollar, the cost of everyday products and services is given away. “I am like Hugo Chávez during the boom oilman ”, I joke with my friends on the phone. But within the country, prices are becoming increasingly unaffordable for the inhabitants. According to the economic outlook report released in October by the Monetary Fund, Argentina ranks fourth in the world in countries with the highest inflation: 48.4%, according to projections for 2021. The loss of purchasing power of wages has been constant in the last three years. For Fredis Antonio, a Cabify driver who came to the country from Venezuela five years ago, that means “working and working more and more just to support himself.” For those who earn the most, the gap that moves them away from the dollar translates into a feeling of loss and confinement, as if they were hostages of the destiny of a country that they have not built: “I’m doing well, but I don’t want to have the most beautiful cabin on the Titanic ”, a public accountant from Paraná, my hometown, tells me by phone. Argentina has another record: it is the third country in the world with the most beneficiaries in companies offshore, according to the Pandora Papers leak.
Since I landed in Buenos Aires a week before the elections, every time I ask about the situation in the country, someone answers me: “This is going to explode.” With only one month to go until the 20th anniversary of the December 2001 outbreak, it is a serious sentence. But nobody knows how to explain well where it is going to explode.
Possibly “those who say that this is going to explode have no knowledge of the role that social movements have in containing social conflict, especially distributional conflict,” the Argentine journalist Estefanía Pozzo, specialized in economic and financial issues, tells me the day before. of the elections. Basically, he explains, the large social movements, those with the greatest territorial penetration, are today part of the Government, have directorates and secretariats, and are in charge of containing the most pressing social situation through the distribution of work or food plans. That does not solve the malaise or the loss of purchasing power, of course, but it cushions the impact of the crisis in the sector that suffers the most, and in which each loss increases social tension.
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The results of the legislative elections on Sunday prove him right: the government’s electoral comeback in the province of Buenos Aires, a Peronist stronghold that had turned its back on it in the primaries, has allowed the ruling party to obtain better numbers than expected and to remain as the first force in the Chamber of Deputies, despite the triumph of the opposition. The analysis is more or less linear: the transfer of money to the poorest and the lower middle classes that the government accelerated after the blow it received at the polls in the primaries was an effective strategy.
On Sunday night everyone celebrates, and it is not quite understood why. The government lost, among other things, control of the Senate – a chamber that Peronism had controlled since the return to democracy in 1983 – but called for “celebrating the triumph” in the Plaza de Mayo. The opposition front Juntos por el Cambio came out to celebrate its victory, which positions it firmly for the presidential elections of 2023, but part of its votes in the City of Buenos Aires, a district where macrism is unbeatable, ended up on the list of the extreme right headed by the economist Javier Milei, the Argentine version of the Trumpian phenomenon. A histrionic man with clown hair who has said, among other things, that Pope Francis is “The representative of the evil one on earth” and supports communism. His party, La Libertad Avanza, also celebrated a victory Sunday night: it obtained 17% of the votes in the country’s capital. During the festivities organized at Luna Park, an image soon went viral: a guard threatened to draw a weapon in the middle of the stage where they gave the speeches. The elected deputy who was speaking at the time was unfazed.
That is, apparently, the political force that has best capitalized on the malaise and indignation of the Argentines.
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