The Government They Deserve
Though I am American, I have found myself constantly fascinated by the Republic of Argentina. If ever there was a country that should have rivaled or even surpassed us Americans, it should have been Argentina. Yet, Argentina fails, and fails so massively that it never ceases to astound everyone one who observes it.
Put aside the recent assassination of Albert Nisman -- if that be possible -- and let's forget the corruption that led to it. Instead, let's reflect on the absurdities of that sad republic which has led the world to look on in deep amazement at Argentina's singular ability to screw up.
First, it is necessary to show all that Argentina has in its favor.
Argentina is one third the size of the United States, with one-eighth the population. Most of its population – about 84% -- is either white in ancestry or near white (one-quarter or less Indian). At a time in history when racial tensions are flared up by gadflies, Argentina may be the most racially homogenous nation in the Western Hemisphere, and may surpass some European nations. Less than 1% of the population is identifiably black, though there is a large and poor Indian population: around 15%.
About 98% of its population is Christian in ancestry -- the vast majority of those being Catholic. On paper, 1% of the population is Muslim, though the vast majority of those assimilate into Christianity in one or two generations, and very few practice Islam.
Its climate runs from polar in the Fuegian South to tropical in the Chacoan North. Roughly half of the country is subtropical with a climate similar to coastal South Carolina, or New Mexico in Argentina's West. Its pampas are arguably the greatest grain growing region of the planet. In spite of its small population, Argentina's beef and grain exports are enormous, often among the top five nations on the planet.
Its "whites" are primary Northern Spanish - with a heavy concentration of industrious Basques -- Italians, weighted to Northern Italians, French, Southern Germans, and Austrians. 10% of the population is Arab, but 90% of those Arabs are Christian Arabs, roughly half of whom are Maronite Catholic Lebanese. Even some Irish and English made it down there. Argentina is basically a Mediterranean Catholic Christian mix with a significant German component, and some Insular Celts.
If the definition of a nation is a common religious heritage, a common culture, and a common language, then Argentina comes closer to a being a true nation state than many European states, bilingual Canada, or possibly even us Americans.
Argentina, on paper, has far less intrinsic negatives than almost any nation on the globe; and far more positives to recommend it.
So how does it fail... and fail so miserably?
From 1998-2002, Argentina had a financial collapse. The country recovered, but then around 2013, it went into collapse again. Currently, Argentina is hampered by currency controls in which it is illegal to take more than a few dollars out of the country or import vital industrial goods without permission.
In 2013, Argentina had food riots. One of the greatest food exporters on the planet... and Argentina had food riots?!
Of course, the government is partly to blame.
The people of Argentina deserve better than [President] Kirchner. Argentinians are, by and large, extremely friendly and capable people, yet they have suffered under the most absurd dictatorial rulers for at least a generation, possibly longer. -- Natural News
Possibly longer?! Argentine governments have corrupt since the beginning. Juan Perón financed the crackpot schemes of a charlatan, Ronald Richter, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars -- at a time when that was real money. So shady was Richter that, to this day, no one is sure if he came from Germany or Austria, or if he earned a PhD or not. Richter claimed to have invented what we would today call cold fusion. No one down there is sure what happened.
Juan Perón... claimed [Argentina] had successfully produced "the controlled liberation of atomic energy," not through uranium fuel, but rather through the simplest and lightest of all elements, hydrogen. The discovery, he added, was "transcendental for the future life" of his nation and would bring "a greatness which today we cannot imagine." -- Iter.org
It is laughable today, but in 1951, despite official U.S. claims of disbelief, for a brief month both the USA and the USSR worried that maybe those Nazi refugees had catapulted Argentina to the head of the nuclear race.
Corruption is endemic in the society. Everyone is on the take. Argentina ranks consistently low on honesty, according to Transparency International.
To get a grasp of how poorly-run Argentina is, one has merely to know that Argentina has the fourth-largest fracking oil reserves on the planet, and the second-largest reserves of shale gas. The government’s nationalization of Spain's YFP's holdings, along with currency controls, have aided in inhibiting development. Everyone is afraid to invest in what would otherwise be an oil boom. Instead, Argentina is so strapped for oil that it made corrupt trade deals with Iran, which led to a cover-up of the AMIA bombing and the assassination of Prosecutor Nisman.
In 2011 the country became a net importer of energy for the first time since 1984 -- The Economist
Why not? Argentina had foot riots, why not an energy deficit?!
Even Obama could not stop our oil boom, try as he might. Argentina should be swimming in money. With one-eighth our population, Argentina should be the richest nation in history, given its natural wealth.
Old discarded shibboleths arise among those who tried to explain this disaster. Argentina is Catholic, and Catholicism produces corruption. Nonsense! Chile is heavily Catholic and a world apart from Argentina. Some claim race. Not enough Nordics are in Argentina. Again: Nonsense! Spain's Basques region roughly produces at the level of Germany. And there are far more Nordics in Argentina, by number and percentage, than in Chile.
Contrast Argentina with Chile.
Chile, while not perfect, is reasonably democratic. Its transparency is equivalent to that of America and much of Europe. Its economy is doing well. It is considered the Switzerland of South America. Chile is roughly one-fourth the size of Argentina, with less than half the population. Its people, though European in ancestry, are not as purely white. The average Chilean is only 5/8ths European.
What distinguishes Chile is that from its inception it was dedicated to the rule of law. Its founding father, Bernardo O'Higgins, was a sort of enlightened despot. O'Higgins tried to secularize and democratize Chile, invite in Protestants, and disestablish the titles and privileges of the landed aristocracy. All great reforms, but he moved too rapidly. When the elite came to overthrow him in a right-wing counter-coup, rather than drag the country into civil war, he quietly agreed to leave. He refused to bend the law to make his reforms by point of the sword. He was not in it for personal gain. Even his enemies admired his nobility and saluted him.
He ended up in Peru. By 1842, the Chilean government realized their mistake and invited O'Higgins back. He died on the return journey. O'Higgins bequeathed to Chile a tradition of honorable obedience to the law. The tradition stuck, and over its history, Chile reformed itself slowly by constitutional changes and legal methods. Eventually all of O'Higgin's reforms were implemented. He is considered their Washington, and with good reason.
The Allende/Pinochet era was a genuine aberration for Chile. Both the left and right-wing sides abandoned the constitution. Chile was a victim of a worldwide struggle which they let influence domestic policies.
Chile received far less European immigration to dilute its native stock than did Argentina, and is far more culturally Spanish than Argentina with its cosmopolitan European mix. Chile has less land, and less mineral wealth, and less than one-tenth of Argentina's shale gas.
Yet, it is Chile that succeeds, while Argentina fails.
Theodor Herzl had originally preferred Patagonia to Palestine as the Jewish homeland. The rabbis would not permit it. Can you imagine if the Jews had purchased a province -- any coastal province -- from Argentina as Herzl had wanted?! South America would rule the world today.
In the end, people get the government they deserve. There is no other explanation for Argentina, which had it been run rightly would be contending with the USA for world leadership.
Mike Konrad is an American who writes on many issues.