Argentina: Democracy and the Probablity of a Coup

Buenos Aires Travel Blog

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II)                  Blog for course on Democratization – INTA 4241


Between 1930 and 1976 Argentina suffered 7 coups d’etat, which overthrew elected presidents, forbid political parties and suppressed civil and political rights. Since 1983 Argentina has not had an institutional breakdown and its political democracy has been able to overcome serious economic crises.

Which are the main reasons for such a change and what are the chances of a new coup in the next five years?


In the past two decades Argentina has been a strong democratic country and has been able to withstand its high level of democracy even though it experienced a severe economic crisis in 2001. However for most of the 20th century Argentina experienced multiple coup d´etats resulting in weak and chaotic leadership. In 1983 Raul Alfonsin was elected and he was determined to return Argentina to the rule of law and since then the turmoil that plagued Argentina since the 1930s has slowly disappeared.

When researching the question above it becomes increasingly apparent that there is overwhelming evidence to support the opinion that Argentina
will not be able to withstand its current level of democracy. To begin with,
Argentina’s previous history of coups indicates that the country can easily
fall into political chaos.  Argentina is an outlier in the fact that it is the only
country that has reached a high level of democracy and still had repeated
coups. “Part of the problem is that the fate of "democracy" (whether in its social, liberal and republican definition) is in the hands of those who neither care for nor understand the importance of the
core institutions of democracy: the rule of law, separation of powers (including, crucially, an independent judiciary), accountability of government, freedom of the press, and a culture of compromise and tolerance. These are dismissed by Peronists and populists alike (the categories of course overlap) as "rightwing concerns": not what "the people" need or demand, but what "the enemies of the people" use to conceal their evil intentions.”

When you combine the Peronist approach with the countries current international standing, the effect is devastating. By just analyzing a few national comparisons, the Gini coefficient, type of political system, and transparency to name a few, one encounters the heart of the problem.


Not only has Argentina experienced atypical coups, it also has a relatively high Gini coefficient. It is assumed that once a country with a high income level reaches a stable democracy it is highly unlikely for that country to ever experience an institutional collapse.   Currently Argentina has a Gini coefficient of 52.2, indicating that there is a high level of inequality among citizens.  As the level of inequality increases the chances of having a coup d´etat or an institutional breakdown increase as well.

The two modern systems of government that have the most influence over society are the Parliamentary system and the Presidential system. The Presidential system is not favorable for maintaining a strong democracy because it concentrates power in a single individual not allowing for the diversity of opinion that the populous holds. Instead, it is a ´winner take all´ system that only rewards the highest percentage rather than reflecting the distribution of beliefs.  For example, if the vote turn out between three parties was 30% A, 20% B, and 50% C then in a presidential system the entire nation would be upholding a C vote. However, in a Parliamentary system the split would be recognized with 30% of the vote getting 30% of the seats, 20% getting 20% of the seats, etc; power is shared among the actors.


Within a Presidential system, criticism can be found in how offices are relinquished. Fixed office systems make for difficult transitions as party regimes and sharply pulled in and out. They make it difficult for popular presidents to stay longer, and unpopular presidents to be removed. In the United States, the impeachment process has only been enacted a two times.  An obvious solution to fixed terms is to allow the populace to vote for new representation when confidence in their abilities becomes low. This allows for buffers in transition between elected officials as they are forced to represent every facet of the entire population or they are removed from office.


President Kirchner is widely known for being a Peronist. “True to the definition of the post-1945 populist leader Juan Perón himself, Kirchner conceives politics as "the art of leading men". Yet this "art" is conceived in military and authoritarian rather than democratic or relational terms: it is all about the personification of power, strict discipline and obedience to the "leader", accumulation of power and hegemonic dominance.” None of the previous qualities support the view that democracy

However, with that being said, there is compelling evidence that Argentina will
in fact still be a democratic nation in five years. The past decade has lent itself to strong support of a future stability. Most impressive is the maintenance of democracy during the most devastating economic crisis in the history of the country. This, in addition to the ideology of transparency and acknowledgement of global actors makes proving our opinion, that the country will fall out of a democracy in the next five years, even more difficult.


It is globally recognized that in certain nations ”Citizens rarely understand how government decisions are made. …Lack of transparency prevents the public from actively participating in government and from raising questions or protesting unfair or ill-advised decisions. A lack of transparency can conceal” corruption and preferential behavior. Argentina is widely known for having active participation among citizens; non-violent demonstrations and protests are common in the streets on a daily basis. Newspapers, like the Buenos Aires Herald and the Clarin, print bold political statements and scandals that are popular reading choices of the porteños.


External actors play a large role in the maintenance of a strong democracy. Currently, the most influential external actor is the United States which claims to uphold democracy at any cost. Formally, the United States heavily weighs the democratic positions of its business partners before proceeding with trade in any industry. If this remains true, then the United States as well as other internationally bodies, such as the United Nations and the IMF, will place heavy burdens on Argentina if it decides to fall out of democratic order. For many nations around the worlds, this “democratic bullying” proves to be too difficult to surpass and they remain a democracy for trades sake.


The previous ideas are very good criticisms but our rebuttal is simple: the government of the United States promotes trade as a first priority, and if the nation of Argentina can publicly feign a democracy with an increase in trade then the United States will back them. Just as Juan and Evita feigned a democracy, so too can Kitchner; similarly, the United States backed Iraq when it was obviously not a democracy, but it held our other interests. As too transparency, this too can be a façade. In fact, it is in the interest of any monarch to allow the people peaceful demonstrations of their will so that they have the feeling of power and a voice. The phenomenal ability of the country to heal from the economic collapse in December of 2001 may convince some scholars that Argentina has the capacity and will to uphold a stable democracy in the next five years. However, Kirchner´s presidency is not so believable; simply stated it is authoritarian and its decadent sense of democracy is fading under a low Gini coefficient, a presidential system, a fixed office system, and running history of frequent coups.


Works Cited:

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I) Blog for course on Economy and Regional Integration - INTA 4340

Argentina's GDP has grown, on average, 0.4% per year during 1975-2002, year when it fell into its last economic crisis. Since 2003 the economy has rebounded reaching a GDP growth of nearly 10% in 2005.

You should discuss if this economic growth is sustainable in the next five years, building your arguments from what you have read, learned and talked about Argentina's path to development.  

The unimaginable and remarkable turnaround of Argentina´s economy in just the past five years has not been without skepticism. Drastic economic flucatations have been the norm in Argentina for decades, and with this, one can only be curious of what is in store for the Argentine economy.  Just five years ago, in 2001 Argentina suffered one of its worst economic collapses in its history. A three year recession persisted, completely wiping out the high growth of the 90s. Although this particular economic and political collapse sent the entire country into complete chaos, the numbers show that there may be hope for the Argentine economy.

The figures show that since 2003 the economy has rebounded reaching a GDP growth rate of nearly 10% by 2005. Although this economic growth seems substaintial and promising on the superficial level, one must not forget that significant economic problems still remain.  Risks of hyperinflation, high unemployement, poverty, and massive domestic and national debts, to name a few.

The volatile and unpredictable nature of the Argentine governement is again furthered when determining the effects of the devaluation of the currency in 2002. Annual inflation seems to have steadied over the years, avearaging less than 5% per year, however consumer prices seem to not be steadying. Relative costs on many goods are still being adjusted, leading to fluctuating and rising consumer prices. Although the effects of the devaluation of the currency is mostly out of the hands of the government, much still can be done to prevent the upward drive of inflation.

In order for Argentina to safegaurd, and reduce its vulnerability of another chaotic economic collapse it is crucial that the government agressively reduce its domestic and national debts. This entails reducing government speding, tax reforms designed to increase government revenues, and policies to stimulate export growth over the long run. Unfortunately the trends show contrary to this, which makes one believe that the recent 10% increase in GDP is not sustainable in the next five years.

A recent article in the Economists mentions a notable 22% increase in federal government spending in the run-up to last October´s legislative elections. ( Kirchner´s desire to keep the peso cheap in order to maintain competitive advantage has further fueled, and will continue to fuel inflation. To maintain this competitive advantage for exports and domestic imports the central bank has been forced to print more pesos inorder to buy American dollars. Although Kirchner has claimed to make inflation his primary concern for 2006, his strategies have mostly been short-term, such as price-freezing methods.

In addition to keeping the value of the peso down, Kirchner´s meathods for keeping inflation down are far from democatic. A recent article by the Economist revealed scandelously that Kitchner was using “mob-type” meathods, specifically threatening large corperations with taxes amd agreeing o negotiate labor union quarrels, to coerce companies into freezing their prices. This is contrary to the idea of democracy and free market. Just as the Peso fell when previous regimes tried  to fool the market, so too an economic plague sound throughout the coutry because of an attempted market disguise.

Finally, Kirchner´s and his Peronist party will not support an increase in interest rates, which have been declining and are now at an all time low. For the business world and Argentine financial district this translates into companies invested in the Argentine economy, invested in some part of the future economic growth of the coutry, looking else where to do business. Prices, even interest rates that are not carried by the market are quick to fall. Although Kirchner has been able to convince many investors to remain, it is our belief that at any moment a domino effect will occur with one large company deciding it can make more profit in another country and then the rest of the investors will follow in kind leave, once again, the shell of a once powerful nation.

Although this is a very sensitive topic, and there is much ambiguity on the future of the Argentine government, we feel that due to the policies of Kirchner’s cabinet and minister´s of finance, the economy will not yeild sustainable growth in the near future.