Tuesday, May 25, 2010

200 Years Ago in Argentina

Today in Argentina is celebrated as the 200th anniversary of ... what? It's not quite the declaration of independence, that was on July 9, 1816, but certainly the beginning of Argentina's self-rule and, to be completely accurate, fairly consistent misrule.

A group of the educated elite in Buenos Aires deposed the Spanish viceroy, arguing that Napoleon's invasion of Spain and imprisonment of King Ferdinand VII meant that the government of Spain was illegitimate. It was a thinly veiled ruse.

Upper crust young, idealistic republican egalitarians, who looked with hope to the pre-Napoleonic events of France since 1789, allied with somewhat more cynical merchants tired of the cat-and-mouse smuggling game around the Spanish colonial trade monopoly.

To what end? A minimal consensus was not reached until 1852, when at least a majority of Argentinians -- or at least those who counted for decisions of this sort -- could at last agree on what they did not want.

That consensus broke down in 1930, when demands by a new, emerging class of non-Spanish immigrants and first-generation citizens was met with the hard hand of the military, martial law and a decade of extremely public electoral fraud. This led to decades of struggle, involving the emergence of a charismatic leader named Juan Perón and the recurrent counterattacks from the gendarmes serving the heirs to the mantle of landowning oligarchs, namely the new commercial and industrial elite allied with the United States.

In 1983, once again, Argentinians were in unison about what they did not want, and since then they have experienced a series of largely corrupt, ineffective governments run by politicians elected on the shoulders of a fading memory of Perón.

Only a hundred years ago one of the top ten economies of the world, Argentina today sinks ever lower toward 100th place. A nation of 40 million that produces enough food for 300 million now has millions of hungry people.

What exactly are we celebrating again?
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