American Diplomacy
Commentary and Analysis

October 2003

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The author is a former Argentine secretary of Foreign Commerce and vice president of the Central Bank of Argentina. This commentary follows upon his recent analysis in this journal, “Argentina: the New Kirchner Government.” The following may also be read in the original Spanish.— Ed.

The Political Crisis in Argentina

Among the officials appointed by President Kirchner, there are many militants from the Montonero Movement* of the 1970's. This concerns many people who see in that fact the possibility of a turn toward a Socialist state on the Cuban model. This fear is not justified, first because we Argentines are not inclined to accept any form of discipline, and certainly not the Communist form. A second reason is that few o£ these ex-Montoneros were true Marxistsapart from the fact that, since the fall of the Soviet Union, their economic and political system is no longer in style.

Any remaining doubt is dispelled by the positive meeting a few weeks ago between Presidents Bush and Kirchner, and afterwards, by the visit to Buenos Aires of the assistant secretary of State for InterAmerican Affairs, Roger Noriega. On August 26, that of official state to the press that “My government supports the efforts of Nestor Kirchner to solve Argentina's serious problems...,” adding that he was “impressed to discover that these are more structural and political than economic.”

Noriega's observation is correct. In the last several decades, there have been two main political parties in Argentina which have alternated in power. The Radical Party represented mainly the middle class, and the Peronist Party had its strength among wage earners. However, both parties have lost their main battle flags. Radicalism's main issue was to assure that votes were counted as cast; but after 1946, electoral fraud in Argentina ended. Peronism’s principle was to distribute the formerly high incomes of the land-owning class among the populace. However, there is nothing left to redistribute, since the wealth coming from agriculture and livestock is no longer what it once was, and the population has doubled since that policy was initiated.

In recent months, Radicalism has suffered election defeats to the point where it can be said that today there is only one political party, somewhat similar to the PRI in Mexico during seven decades. Nevertheless, there are two major differences which made the PRI an effective instrument of government and which are lacking in the Argentine Constitution. In Mexico, the president and the governors of the states could be elected only once in their lifetimes, while in Argentina, the president is under no such restriction. And in the majority of the Argentine provinces, it is becoming ever more frequent that governors are re-elected indefinitely, a fact which transforms them into feudal caudillos, uncontrollable by their parties or by the national government.

What Argentina needs is a transformation of the old parties or the creation of new ones, following the model most frequently found in the worlda center-right party which emphasizes the creation and distribution of wealth through the free working of markets; and a center-left party which promotes the need for the state to intervene in behalf of the less-favored. The transfer of power back and forth between two such parties would permit the correction of many excesses in either direction. It is therefore very probable that the time it takes to bring about this transformation will govern the speed with which the country’s problems can be solved.

Translated by J. Edgar Williams.
Translator’s Note: In Argentina during most of the decade of the 1970s, the Montoneros were one of two principal revolutionary groups of urban guerrillas. President Kirchner was active in the group at that time.

Elvio Baldinelli is a former secretary of state for foreign commerce in Argentina. Currently he is director of the Bank of Boston’s Institute for Sectoral Development of Argentine Exports.

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