Argentina in the Horizon?

Luis Rubio

Argentina began the twentieth century with the highest GDP per capita in Latin America, very similar to that of the United States at that time; a century later, the South American nation is in the 53rd place. As an Argentine friend says, “whoever says things cannot get any worse, does not know Argentina,” a nation that seems to have dedicated itself, in a systematic way, to undermining its possibilities of developing, decade after decade. There are many hypotheses about the causes of the decline, but one evident has been the polarization that, since the government of Juan Domingo Perón in the 1950’s, became the norm and, to a large extent, the essence of its permanent political confrontation. I wonder if Mexico does not run the risk of falling into a similar vicious circle.

Perón was a genius communicator, which he used as a means to incite the population to confront, express their resentments and seek enemies of the people. The existence of a unique truth that explained history and everyday reality allowed the South American caudillo to polarize society and build a deep and lasting base of support. However, the consequence of his strategy was the permanent polarization of his society and, economically, its systematic impoverishment. Argentina has everything to be one of the richest nations in the world -a European society transplanted to one of the regions with more natural resources in the world- but has had the misfortune of living in permanent conflict. Three-quarters of a century from Perón’s time, Argentina remains a nation of constant ups and downs.

The great risk of López Obrador’s strategy lies in its potential to turn Mexico into a permanent loser. I am certain that this is not his purpose or his vision; on the contrary, his point of departure is that Mexico missed the boat in recent decades and that it must correct the course in order to build a new and better future. In this, his vision could not be more different from the one Chávez followed; however, his strategy of confrontation, which is an essential part of his political vision, entails the risk of paralyzing the country and reversing the things that do work, a scheme more similar to the post-Peron Argentina than to anything that Chávez ever tried.

AMLO believes in confrontation as a strategy in an era radically different from that of Perón. Héctor Aguilar Camín describes him this way: “He does not negotiate, he fights, but to negotiate on his terms. He does not have aversion but is rather attracted to conflict, but in order to make a pact… He feeds on confrontation, to attract adherents and agreements. But he has his own, unmistakable, voice that creates political realities… He is, by nature, a politician of protest and confrontation…”

A similar strategy led Argentina to an era of crisis that has been going on for more than half a century, with the enormous difference that the economy of that nation in the middle of the 20th century was protected from the outside and there was nothing like the context of globalization that today characterizes the world. The protected Latin American economies of the middle of the last century, dedicated essentially to the substitution of imports, had both economic and political characteristics that gave their governments enormous latitude of action.

To begin with, these were economic schemes that sought to minimize trade with the rest of the world and, in general, rejected foreign investment or limited it to certain sectors. Second, there were no instant communications like the ones that are now prototypical. Entrepreneurs could produce expensive and shoddy goods and the consumers had no alternative to satisfy their needs. In this context, politicians could impose laws and regulations as they pleased, knowing that society had no options. The government was in charge and determined the well-being, if any, of the population.

The reality of today is exactly the opposite. Today the consumer has infinite options, the prices of the most essential goods have decreased in real terms, after inflation; companies have to compete with their peers in Mexico with those from the rest of the world; and the government, If it wants to achieve high growth rates, would have to dedicate itself to attracting investments from both inside and outside. A strategy of confrontation in this environment creates uncertainty and leads to the alienation of the investor and, therefore, to the recession of the economy.

The nodal characteristic of nations that grow and are successful is social cohesion and consensus, which makes it possible to attack the ills that afflict Mexico, such as poverty, economic stagnation and violence. Wherever one looks, what stands out in nations like Chile, Colombia, Spain, Taiwan or Singapore is a clear vision for the future. Their politicians go out of their way to project a successful nation and seek the broadest support of the citizenry.

The strategy of confrontation involves the enormous risk of leaving a legacy of resentment, polarization, restlessness and crisis, decades after the end of the current governmental period, a scenario that neither the president nor any Mexican could welcome.