By: Weston Ballard, Lauren Weidenfeller, Jaideep Mangat, Jackson Rueter
This project presented Argentine politics as just another category of research regarding the nation. Once we arrived in Buenos Aires, however, it became clear that Argentine politics was more than a category. It was the lense through which every other aspect of Argentine life was experienced. Argentina has experienced a turbulent governmental history, but its people are resilient and optimistic. They know that things are not right, but they also recognize that there is promise in Argentina’s future. In our company visits, many of the answers the interviewees gave were prefaced with something along the lines of, “we’ll see what happens with the upcoming election,” as if everything could change with a new president at the helm.
While in the initial post the issues to be faced in the upcoming election were discussed, our time spent in Buenos Aires shed some light on the real concerns of the people of Argentina. Accidentally straying from the group on our way back to the hotel, we used our time effectively asking store owners and people enjoying a nice cerveza what they thought about their political system. We thought we would get a plethora of different answers, as one might expect to happen here in the States, but there was one word that every person responded with, “corrupción”. While we focused on specific issues to be faced in the election, it appeared to be that the people of Argentina believed that many of the issues (some believing that all of the issues) they faced were caused by the corruptive practices of the government that runs the country. The farmers we met with struggled due to ⅓ of their profits being taken from the government, the Museum of Latin America, Buenos Aires struggled due to the restrictions the government has on foreign art trade, and the community center for children, Fundación Nordelta, struggled due to a lack of support to provide assistance to children and families, especially those with children with certain disorders or ailments. While it is important to critically examine the economic and social actions of the government in Argentina, it is equally as critical for us to prioritize transparency and uncovering the secrets in the society of Argentina for the country to be able to grow together.
The stability of the US government is something that we take for granted. Sure, elections are a huge deal here. You throw a bumper sticker on your car, a sign in your yard, and you watch a few debates. But the reality is, regardless of who ends up in office, the government will operate the same way and life probably won’t look that much different. This isn’t the case in Argentina. A new president represents the opportunity for tremendous change, good or bad. Argentina has big problems and needs significant change. The biggest and most central of these problems is the economy. Just as quickly as the Argentine economy fell apart, a new president has the power to fix it.
Unfortunately, the reasons for the failure of the Argentine economy’s failure are deeply imbedded in the culture. Social programs and subsidies are hugely popular in Argentina. Electricity for example is one of the most subsidized commodities there. Health care is subsidized. College education is free. The reality is that without reform these programs are not sustainable. As we talked to more people, the clearer it became that taxes are seen as more or less optional in Argentina. The Argentine people have grown accustomed to this government aid, but will not stand for raising the taxes necessary to sustain them. According to one person, 40% of the Argentine economy happens under the table. This prevents tax revenue from being raised, while the president simultaneously adds new social programs to maintain popularity.
In regard to the upcoming election, Macri appears to be the frontrunner, followed closely by Scioli, and then trailed by Massa. Macri is the most conservative of the candidates, and represents the most change in terms of governmental action. Unlike in the United States, where candidates have debates, candidates in Argentina have a different relationship with voters. We didn’t see any TV ads in our time in Buenos Aires, but the streets are covered in political posters, mostly cheesy portraits and just the last name of the candidate.
In short, for the time being, Argentine politics are similar to the Argentine economy. And as dysfunctional as both are, the people of Argentina remain as resilient and optimistic as ever. Pride in Argentina keeps the Argentines optimistic. In the words of Globant’s Axel Abulafia, “Argentina is better than this,” in reference to the struggle to manage a volatile economy. When asked how Cresud has coped with the reality of doing business in Argentina despite it’s corruption and economic turbulence, the CEO described a strategy that I think is shared by most Argentines. In his words, the best way to live in Argentina is to learn to “accept and move on”. This was shown through each business that we visited, because the economic situation was mentioned directly very little overall unless we asked about it. It gave us a feeling that it was something that Argentines are used to and have accepted, to the point that it is not a conversational topic though it influences their daily lives.
Above all, there is a passion and vigor in the people of Argentina that is beyond admirable. From the empanadas, to the tango, and people’s thoughts on the politics of the nation, the hope for a better tomorrow is by no means dwindling. We’ve learned that Argentina is a country of resilience, and with a slow move towards betterment, all that is lacking is a government and a leadership that matches the desires of the people. It will take time, but we believe Argentina is on the rise towards greatness, and it’s what the people there deserve.