At the beginning of the 20th century, the economies of both the United States and Argentina we’re almost identical in terms of production, output and wealth of their citizenry. During the next century, the U.S., despite its many problems, would soar to become the number one economic power in the world, far ahead of number 2 which is China. The economy of Argentina, however, during this time period, went slip-sliding down to 25th place among the nations of the world. Even Columbia, a much smaller country has a more vibrant economy. How to account for such a dramatic divergence? After all, Argentina is a large nation with an abundance of natural resources and a well educated populace. Blame it on the failings of the democratic process, which I’ve written about extensively before, wherein voters made bad decisions which led to corrupt leadership, which in turn led to disastrous results. All of this came to a head last week with the murder of a high ranking government prosecutor that was made to look like a suicide. I’ll get to that in a little bit.
Argentina’s downhill momentum started to gather steam around the time of WWII. For inexplicable reasons, Argentina, as well as most South American countries, sided with the axis powers during that war, instead of with the U.S. and its allies. Perhaps it was jealousy of U.S. successes or beliefs that the U.S. was treating the rest of the Americas rather shabbily. Which it probably was. In any event, most of South America sympathized with the Nazis during WWII, and became a safe haven for Nazi war criminals to flee to after the war. Argentina was no exception, and was the country that housed Adolf Eichmann, the notorious Nazi commandant of the entire Holocaust operation. Israeli agents eventually captured Eichmann and smuggled him out of Argentina to Israel, where he was tried for crimes against humanity, found guilty, and hung. Nevertheless, bad choices in Argentina began to multiply after the war and send that country well into its downhill descent.
It started with the election of Juan Peron as president shortly after WWII ended. Peron, formerly a high ranking official in the Argentine military, began to operate his presidency by bribing the country’s elite and its peasants into supporting him. Corruption was the name of the game. He ran the country very much the way Vladimir Putin rules over Russia these days, i.e. Mafia-style, with Putin, and back then, Peron, being the boss of bosses. The god father. The generals and admirals in the Argentine military especially had to receive generous bribes in order for Juan to maintain power. A few crumbs were tossed to the mostly poverty-stricken masses in order to keep them in line. And behind Juan’s throne stood his overly ambitious wife, Eva, who thirsted for the acquisition of even greater power. Yes, the same “Evita” from Broadway musical and Hollywood movie fame who sang “don’t cry for me Argentina.” However, Eva’s dreams of succeeding her husband as president and becoming, in effect, dictator, were cut dramatically short when she developed cancer and died at an early age.
Of course, once bribery and corruption had become epidemic, the Argentine economy started to significantly falter. It got to the point that even the military couldn’t take it anymore even though they continued to receive generous handouts. Finally in the mid-1950s, Juan Peron was thrown out of office in a military coup, and fled to Spain who agreed not to toss him in the clink. But the Peronista movement continued to stay alive in Argentina, and Peron was eventually returned to the throne in the 1970s, this time with new wife Isobel. Juan died in office shortly thereafter, and Isobel took over the reins of government, and continued on with the same style of Peronista corruption. Succeeding presidents after Isobel were also mired in similar Peronista mediocrity and failure.
Now fast forward to June 1994 when 8 Iranian supported Hezbollah terrorists were allowed to infiltrate into Argentina. They made their way to Buenos Aires and proceeded to bomb a Jewish community center on a busy day. In what the New york Times called the greatest act of murder against the Jewish people since the Holocaust, 87 people were slaughtered that day with over 100 more seriously injured. Over the succeeding years, feeble attempts were made by the Argentine government to bring the perpetrators to justice; but all efforts failed abysmally. In the meantime, in a replay of the Juan and Eva Peron fiasco, the Argentine people elected another power couple to run the country, who were also devout Peronistas named Nestor and Christina Kirchner. The year was 2003 and the Argentine economy had sunk to the point where government bond holders were being stiffed when they tried to redeem their bonds. Now one might believe that if people were that stupid as to invest in Argentine bonds, they got what they deserved. Nevertheless, receiving, say, 15 or 20 cents on the dollar at bond redemption time is never a pleasant occurrence.
When Nestor was unable to run for the presidency again because of constitutional limitations, the office was merely handed over to wife Christina who remains in power to this day. Living the dream first sought after by Eva Peron. Nestor Kirchner died of a heart attack in 2010, leaving the reins of government solely in Christina’s hands. Once in power, Christina nationalized the country’s largest airline, wrested control of billions of dollars of private pension funds and put them into government coffers, and waged battle with farmers protesting huge tax increases that paralyzed agricultural exports for months. Even as the economy continued to sink. Now she has become virtual dictator so good luck with trying to remove her from office.
Meanwhile a young government prosecutor named Alberto Nisman never gave up on attempting to bring the terrorists behind the Jewish community center bombing to justice. By last week he had amassed 300 pages of evidence and testimony naming who the killers were, that he was going to present to the courts on last Monday. Except that the day before, he was found dead in his apartment of a gunshot wound to the head, with the pistol lying next to his body. The evidence was purported to show that Christina and her administration had been seriously obstructing the investigation for years, in return for price-discounted Iranian oil and an agreement that Iran would but Argentine grain. At first Kirchner claimed that the death was a suicide. This was so ludicrous that social networks like Twitter and Facebook lit up like a bonfire. Finally Christina had to walk back her statements and proclaimed that she did not believe that Alberto Nisman committed suicide. She blamed his death on unknown bad guys lurking out there somewhere.
Nisman’s evidence did make it to the courts and it does show a continual obstruction of justice by the Kirchner government. But with Christina entrenched in a virtual dictatorship, good luck with anyone being incarcerated for this deadly crime. More evidence of how the democratic process could go horribly wrong when people make really, really bad choices.