Not Again! Will Argentina Elect another Peronist?

The economic Nobelist Simon Kuznets is credited with having said:

[T]here are four kinds of countries: developed countries, underdeveloped countries, Japan, and Argentina - Slate

Yes, as anyone who has studied history over the last century has come to observe, Argentina is beyond description. It is singularly unique, requiring its own category. It refuses comparison.

Over the last twenty years, I have joined the ever-growing ranks of those who watch that antipodean republic from afar with a mixture of bemusement, wistful hope for its success, and utter astonishment at its incomparable capacity for failure: a nation that was once the fourth-richest per capita country on earth, and promised to compete with America, yet regularly descends into collapse.

For brevity's sake -- and for those unaware of Argentina -- the country is about 83% white (including both whites, and those who are almost white with a minority fraction of Indian blood), 8% Indian or mestizo, and around 9% Arab (included with the white group).  Other smaller groups are also evident.

The white ethnic mix is promisingly electic. 60-80% of the population has some degree of Spanish blood. 60% or more has some degree of Italian ancestry, which is responsible for porteños (Buenos Aireans) speaking Spanish with a relic of an Italian accent. The root ethnic stock of the country is an Italian-Spanish blend. About 17% of Argentines have some French blood, including its most famous tango star, Carlos Gardel, who was born in France, before arriving in Argentina when he was two. About 10% of Argentines have some German, Austrian, Swiss, or Germanic blood. They even have some Scandanavians. And sit down for this: even some English and Irish (about 1 million combined). Not a bad mix. Certainly better than most countries in Latin America.

However, Argentina has been mismanaged by both the left and right throughout its history. It has vacillated between ruthless elites who sold out the country's wealth to foreigners while exploiting the poor for cheap, almost slave,  labor; and socialists who spent the country into poverty, and exploited the poor for votes -- the latter's most famous example being Juan Perón.

Juan Perón himself is the very essence of Argentina's problem. He was born an illegitimate son -- quite common in Argentina -- with a mix of Scottish, Italian, Spanish, along with some Indian blood, about 3/4 or more mixed European in ancestry, a typical Argentine.

Perón took part in an officer's coup in 1943. The officers were furious that the vast wealth Argentina was receiving from grain sales during World War II was ending up in the hands of a rapacious and crooked elite, who keep much of Argentina's poor in quasi-serfdom. So they overthrow the corrupt President Castillo. The British, who were at war, saw it as some internal matter, and did not care as long as Argentina continued to sell grain to them.

The U.S. State Department saw it as a fascist coup. They had hoped the officers would declare war on Germany, but were furious when Argentina remained neutral. This lead to the amazing contradiction of British newsreels declaring Argentine coup as anti-Axis, while American newsreels described the Argentine coup as pro-Axis.

So which was it? Pro-Axis or Pro-Allied? It was neither. It was a corrupt army trying to overturn even more corrupt politicians who had gone too far. Argentina's officer class was a mix of Spanish, Italian, and German, none-too-eager to declare war on Germany and Italy or their fascist ally Spain. Probably as much out of ethnic pride as politics.

Perón used his new position as head of the inconsequential Department of Labor to ingratiate himself with the poorer classes, by setting up a series of needed wage laws and reforms, which the elite had arrogantly resisted. In doing so, Perón garnered the affection of the poor, and politically outflanked the other leaders of the coup, who had taken more prestigious ministries. He soon rose to rule the country within a year. Perón would later have a hand in overthrowing puppet presidents who were getting too close to the Allies.

By 1945, the army overthrew Perón for the first time, but labor unions demonstrated to bring him back -- a populist feat later recapitulated by Hugo Chavez in 2002. More than anyone else in world history, Perón evinced the total equivalence of socialism and fascism. He started off among a coup with minor Axis sympathies, and ended up destroying Argentina by reckless spending along leftist lines. Perón took Argentina from a statist fascist coup, to a left-wing socialist populism. Did he go from extreme right to left, or are these distinctions false? The more discerning see this as a difference without a distinction.

By 1955, Perón had spent Argentina into massive debt. For the second time, the army tried to overthrow Perón in June 1955, but they failed.  Three months later, in September 1955, after a third attempt, they succeeded and he was finally overthrown -- while still popular -- by another army coup.  But Peronism survived in the party he created: The Justicialist Party, though at times it had to go underground.

Perón returned to Argentina from exile in 1973. After his death, his third wife, Isabel Perón, took over; and the army staged yet another coup, the fourth, against Peronism in 1976 to get rid of her. Though the army, by various coups, have tried to suppress Peronism, it is a many-headed hydra which keeps coming back.

There are left-wing Peronists and right-wing Peronists -- it is a malleable philosophy, easily morphed into whatever one wants. And why not? Perón himself was all over the place. Since 1989, 24 of the last 26 years, Argentina has had a Justicialist/Peronist president. And that is the problem. Argentines have no concept of a limited constitutional republic. They want magical leaders who can fix everything for them. They keep on voting for Peronists. Often the determining elections are the preliminary primaries between various flavors of Peronists.

In June 2004 [former Peronist President] Menem announced that he had founded a new faction within the Justicialist Party, called "People's Peronism."  - Wikipedia

Modern Peronism claims it has Perón's populist ideals without his dictatorial methods. "Peronism without Perón" They fail to see that the Peronism is the problem. A friendly form of fascism/socialism is still dictatorial.

Yet, the madness persists. Evita Perón, Juan's manipulative second wife, is venerated like a saint, and her image graces iconic buildings, while her picture is everywhere.

So who just took the lead in Argentina's primaries this Monday, and is now the chief candidate for the presidential elections of 2015?

Daniel Scioli.

Scioli belongs to the Front for Victory Party, an offshoot of Justicialism (read Peronism), the party of the Kirchners, whom the Argentines called the Clintonistas.

Scioli says he is more conservative than the Kirchners. A meaningless distinction. Peronism is malleable. But in whatever form it takes, the glorious leader is exalted. One of his opponents is a dissident Peronist called Sergio Massa.

Congressman Sergio Massa, a dissident Peronist who was once Mrs. Kirchner’s cabinet chief, led another opposition group that got almost 21% of the vote. -- Wall Street Journal

It is like watching a horror movie. You see the pretty girl about to open a door behind which is the monster, and you scream from your seat: No, don't do it! So it is with Argentina. They are about to elect another Peronist, and you want to scream: No, don't do it!  Only Argentina has opened the door to the monster so many times that, like the movie, you now equate the imminent calamity as comedic. And then one thinks of Hilary, one of the original Clintonistas, our own Evita.

I would laugh, but from the grave, Perón is having the last guffaw. America and Western Europe have become so statist that they are now effectually Peronist. How the worm has turned.

Mike Konrad is the pen name of an American who is not Jewish, Latin, nor Arab. He runs a website,, where he discusses the subculture of Arabs in Latin America. He wishes his Spanish were better.