Hopes Hung by Hunger: Politics and Crisis in Argentina

Protestors gather on the streets of Buenos Aires via REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian

Widely regarded as ‘the granary of the world’, Argentina is within the world’s top ten producers for wheat, peanuts, corn, soy, lemons, apples, and pears, amongst others. The country produces enough food for some 440 million people: more than ten times its population figure. How, then, is it possible for several million people in the country to be unable to feed themselves? The answer lies largely in the Argentinian populist-socialist ideology of Peronism, a socio-economic philosophy that the country cannot seem to live with or without.

Juan Domingo Perón’s philosophy of centering government policies around ‘political sovereignty, economic independence and social justice’ have permeated Argentinian politics since his first term in office started in 1946. Though Peronism has been interpreted and practised in a variety of ways throughout the years, it is irrevocably the most prominent left-wing ideology, if not overall the most prominent ideology, to exist in Argentinian politics. However, its popularity on a social level is inversely proportional to its economic success, rendering Argentina a country plagued by crippling debt and inflation, as well as the country with the largest quantity of bail-outs from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), including the $57 billion dollar bail-out that the country applied for only last year (the largest bail-out programme ever launched in the history of the IMF).

The current Argentinian president, Mauricio Macri, may be the first non-Peronist president to finish his term in 70 years. Nevertheless, it is incredibly unlikely that he will win his bid for re-election in October as his time in office has been marked by economic turmoil and crisis which has evolved into strong social unrest in the form of mass protest in the last months. Why are the people protesting? Because they are hungry.

“The reality of the regime’s achievements, however, fall drastically short of all that was promised in 2015 and have resulted in a mounting hunger crisis in the country.”

Macri’s election in 2015 represented a turn away from the financially unsustainable social policies of the Kirchner-Fernandez regimes and towards a free-market and prosperous economy, in theory. The reality of the regime’s achievements, however, fall drastically short of all that was promised in 2015 and have resulted in a mounting hunger crisis in the country. Following the economic crisis of 2018, some 3 million people fell under the line of poverty in the country and one in five people were left unemployed as inflation soared upwards of 50% and the value of the currency crumbled. This has left an estimated 6.7% of the country’s population unable to afford their basic nutritional needs and is the primary reason for the recent protests outside the House of Government (‘La Casa Rosada’) in Buenos Aires.

Pressured by a brutal loss against his Peronist counterpart in the first round of election that took place in August, President Macri and his government found themselves hastily attempting to win back the popular vote by passing increasingly left-leaning policies such as capital controls and extending the Emergency Food Law until 2022. The Emergency Food Law has been in place since the economic crisis of 2002 and was due to expire this year. Initially, the proposal for extension was met with resistance from Macri’s government because it requires them to spend 50% more funds on public provision of food and nutrition but under the pressure of growing protests that have paralysed many major streets of the country’s capital and the likely defeat of Macri’s government against the Peronist coalition in late October, the congress was able to pass the law unanimously in mid-September.

An estimated 2.5–5 million people eat only once a day in Argentina. An estimated 14 million people feel uncertain that they will be able to consistently afford food for themselves or their family. More than 30% of the adult population and more than 50% of the child population live under the poverty line. It is clear that the Macri government’s departure from Peronism has not helped the country move forward and prosper economically, but it is also the burden of the heavily subsidised Peronist policies of previous regimes that have sunk Argentina so deeply into a state of crisis.

Considering the likely victory of Alberto Fernandez, the Peronist left-wing candidate running against President Macri in October, what does this mean for the future of Argentina both economically and socially? It is difficult to forecast a positive outcome in both of these areas. Given the popularity of Peronism in Argentina, it is likely that public opinion of the government will be higher under Mr Fernandez than it has been under Macri.

Economically there is no guarantee that Argentina will be able to lift itself out of this crisis without needing more help from the IMF, defaulting, or implementing subsidies for infrastructure and social programmes that will only propel inflation and diminish investor confidence. Nevertheless, this balance seems to have been the most socially successful one for Argentina since Mr Perón’s first regime, so perhaps giving the people what they want is more important than the financial stability that we, on the outside, are ever so concerned about.

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