WEEK 2 - DEMOCRACY COURSE (Derek, Jessica, Sohmer)

Buenos Aires Travel Blog

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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?

This information was initially posted on D-Rock´s Blogs.

Argentina’s chances of a military coup in the next 5 years are very slim.  We have discussed in class the country’s position as an outlier concerning democracy and economic development.  This status of high economic development mixed with a low level of democracy makes any prediction difficult.  Political Science is not quite the hard science that it wants to be which makes any forecast made based on other countries’ examples difficult.  Latin American politics, specifically Argentina, is greatly shaped by people, and leaders continue to alter and shape a country’s direction.  Although anything is possible in Argentina, many factors help support the idea that a coup in the near future is unlikely.

Currently the trend of military coups has taken a modern form of left wing governments.  Democratic alternatives used to elect more socialist leaning politicians have provided for an outlet that used to fuel coups.  Instead of military coups, we now see extreme left parties in power by elections…  most recently with Chile’s Bachelet, Venezuela’s Chavex, and Bolivia’s Morales.

Such alternatives were previously not possible thanks to U.S. foreign relations strategies.  What the U.S. once did to stunt the growth of leftist leaders and their parties is no longer happening in such an extreme form.  The Cold War was the threat used to keep socialist groups from forming.   This led to pseudo-democracies in the form of dictatorships. Higher transparency of U.S. relations in Latin America has stopped this involvement that once ran the region.  Now that these leaders are elected and staying in power, the coups that they pushed to form before, are no longer necessary.  Their political thoughts can be expressed in the form of free governments instead of forcefully military takeovers.

Human rights violations that are so common in military coups are not so easy to get away with anymore.  International protocols make for very difficult dirty wars.  The U.S. seems to be the only country that is able to get away with blatantly ignoring protocols.  All other countries to not have the power to violate such rules, and even though they do, they risk the chances of being held accountable.

In the case of Argentina, we don’t even know if a military coup would be possible if they wanted one.  Since the Falkland war, the presidents in charge have continuously weakened the military.  Alfonsin drastically weakened the military after the end of the military dictatorship by limiting the military’s responsibilities and drastically cutting their budget.  Menem wasn’t as harsh, and played more of an accommodationist role.

Kirchner has continued with weakening the military in repealing two acts protecting military personnel from the dictatorship.  He has also stripped power from heads of military, by giving the positions to his staff members.  Historically in Latin America this is what leads to coups.  Former colonels that are dismissed by the government off heads of military force them to return in the form of a takeover. 

If such a military takeover were to occur though, that would have already happened in 2001.  With the financial crisis, many factors could have lead to a coup.  Historically when the economy is in danger, the military has been known to take action.  Because we are entering in this new stage of democracy though, where the government is stable enough to handles such crisis, coups are less likely to happen.

Some of these thoughts were reiterated by our local yokel Douglas Williams… he said that during the previous military coups, the military acted the way that they did because they didn’t know how to handle the economic situation.  There is no chance of having another coup (according to Douglas) because the memories of the pain that came from the previous ones are still fresh and now the governments now know how to handle their economic situations better.  Assuming that Kirshner is re-elected, shows the support of the peoples towards someone who is continuously keeping the military in check and making them still pay for previous wrongs.  He has done this as a president in three ways… (1) Previously there were government run military secondary schools throughout the country.  These are now prohibited. (2) The military no longer has the authorization to decide military strategy autonomously.  (3) Recently three top leaders of the military were arrested, due to an impromptu day of remembrance for fallen soldiers.  This day occurred without permission from the government on May 25th almost as a resistance to Kirschner’s memorial towards the Disappeared.  At this time he also announced a continued weakening of military power.  This is seen as a silent protest by the military to the direction that the current government is taking.
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Argentina's GDP has grown, on average, 0.4% per year during 1975 unitl 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 growht is sustainable int he next five years, building your arguments from what you have read, learned, and talked about Argentina's path to development.

This information was initially posted on D-Rock's Blogs.

How will Argentina’s economy fair in the next 5 years?  Much has to do with who takes power in elections next year.  Kirchner is currently so popular, that we are going to analyze Argentina’s possibilities for sustaining growth over the next 5 years assuming that the current political and economic policies are continued. 

To get some perspective on this subject, we talked with Adel (for people back home - a local Argentine student).  We asked her, “Is Argentina’s current massive growth sustainable?”  The reply:  “Not likely.”  Not being a supporter of Kirchner, she views the government’s recent moves to block exports of beef and wheat as damaging for the economy in the long run.  She said the tight government control over the economy is not a bad thing, but she found it difficult to accept decisions that so directly negatively affect a sector of the population.  She commented on how hard the decisions are to make, pointing out that while high beef and bread prices are a bad thing for the Argentine people, not allowing them to export is a harsh punishment to certain sectors.  She also noted that these economic decisions are being made by people who are not experts in the industries they are limiting.  For example, limiting exports of wheat will not necessarily significantly lower the price of wheat because there are so many other components that make up the price, but the government officials see it more or less as a one-to-one ratio of limiting wheat exports to lowering the price of bread.  As an example of how difficult these decisions are, she said that the price of Buenos Aires public transportation could be raised because it is currently so cheap, but that the people of Buenos Aires would never allow it.  She concluded that both the people and the government are short-sighted, that the government will not make the tough calls that would hurt a little bit now, but be better for the future.  The best way to sustain growth would be to make tough decisions now that would slow growth somewhat, but would ultimately keep the highest level of growth for Argentina - "Ten years is nothing in the life of a country.” 

Our group agrees with Adel.  Kirchner is a very populist president, maintaining a large base of support through his popularity with the people.  This popularity has helped him consolidate power in his hodge-podge party and become a very powerful, effective president (the reduction of factionalism may even lead to a stronger party system).  But it also means that he is very sensitive to public opinion, not going against it often (a brilliant example:  the Papeleras conflict).  It contributes to a short-sightedness in decision-making required to win over the people and maintain support, evidenced in Kirchner’s administration through many (borderline pork) projects that are more or less quick fixes for social or economic problems, such as plan jefe and jefe de hogar (gov’t handouts of money and food), and halting exports of wheat and beef.  But how long can they be maintained? 

A system conducive to populist presidents is reinforced and exacerbated by the current culture in Argentina of the pueblo to turn to the government when it has problems.  In the United States, there is a culture of self-sufficiency - if you want your wages increased, take it up with your employer or change jobs.  Our pluralistic system of government works through lobbying and lobbyists and interest groups and writing letters to your senator - avenues of political participation that are docile and not very visible.  The unions are so powerful here in BA and so many people work for the state that protests or strikes staged to influence the government to do something in their favor are ubiquitous.  A populist president encourages this type of political participation, while at the same time this type of participation forces (or at least makes it very easy for) the president to be populist, to gain his power directly from answering people’s very outspoken demands.  A vicious cycle that perpetuates this Argentine situation! 

An issue related to rule-by-Populism:  many Argentines (such as JB’s family in Buenos Aires) believe that Democracy is still non-existent in their country.  A government with firmly established institutions and who is not governing through populism would be better able to make the tough calls that would be unpopular at the time, but would be viewed down the road as astute. 

Kirchner’s policies are not putting Argentina in nearly as bad a situation as Menem’s - most importantly because Kirchner is avoiding massive debt, especially IMF loans.  But Argentina’s economy is being artificially propped up right now through heavy-handed government intervention, and though we do not expect it to crash as it did after Menem’s term, we do expect the economy to slow down a bit once these short-sighted controls are forced to end. 

On the brighter side, trade in Latin America looks poised to go nowhere but up and the trade situation in particular for Argentina is promising.  The expansion of Mercosur, combined with the spread of Anti-US feelings and rejection of Western intervention, will lead to an increased economic integration of Latin America.  This means more open markets (within the continent), more specialization, and reduction of tariffs (again, within the continent). 

Furthermore, Argentina, with its weak currency, has booming exports with a myriad of countries.  If another economic recession were to hit Brazil or another major trading partner, it would not be as devastating for Argentina - Argentina doesn’t have all its eggs in one basket, persay.

If Uruguay wins the Papeleras fight and its economy begins to boom, this will add a successful country to fuel Mercosur, in turn fueling Argentina’s growth and providing another trading partner.

On a bigger level, historical trends are in Argentina’s favor - boom, bust, boom, bust.  The cycles last much more than 5 years, and Argentina is still right in the middle of an upswing that should take it well beyond 5 years, hopefully stabilizing and leaving the cycle.

One thing that I want to note separately is that I talked with an Argentine friend (Douglas Williams) and he said...Before 2 months ago thge government was not allowed to export meat.  Now they are authorized to export 40% of the meat to other countries.  This is to elevate the local market because the meat will have lower prices.  You must have the taxes ont he exports of meat, soy, crops to be so great to support the public administration.  But, you need industrial investment to keep going and continue to grow at the rate Argentina is now growing.  This is because if you have one bad year then you won't have the taxes needed for the public.  It is also difficult to maintain this growth becasue of inflation.  Also, if there is a crisis it will not be the same as in 2001 because the IMF is paid off. 

On our five day holiday I had such a great vacation outside the city of BsAs.  On Friday I took the Tren de la Costa (the tourist train) from BsAs to El Tigre.  We made a few stops along the way.  First we stopped in a place called Barancha.  In this small town there were little booths set up, like in the market, along one of the sides of the train station.  There was almost no traffic once you stepped off the train station and you could tell that the place made their income off of tourists.  There was a small area of aobut 10 boutiques that you walked through as you approached the water.  This water mass I believe was part of a river, but you had to trudge through s marshy area and poorly built bridge to get out there.  Right along the coast it looked almost like any other beach town would.  You could rent almost anything to do any kind of water sports and there were the typical beach eating areas.  There were also some soccer field, both covered and outdoors, and many climbing towers.  It was an interesting tourist spot that I would have never thought to be in that area.  Then we continued on our trip to a town called San Isidro.  This town was a wealthier town, and I had heard about it from my Argentine friends before.  It was strange to see such a plethora of wealth in the middle of no where.  Almost all the school kids were running around with private school uniforms on.  There were cobblestone streets with cafes everywhere, and virtually clean sidewalks.  The church was something you would see out of a European city except you could tell it was new.  This city appeared to be like the wealthy cities in the Atlanta suburbs such as Cobb and Alpharetta.  If I had an apartment in the city, this is where I might want my weekend home.  Next we went to El Tigre.  I was very disappointed.  On the day before we visited it it was a national holiday so the town was lively.  Everyone had to go back to work the day we went so almost nothing was open and the great market and port areas were nonexistent.  However I was able to visit this area during a weekend when it was hopping.  I loved it!  The mix of people, the rowing clubs, and some of the best market areas I have ever seen.  Definitely a note to self to realize Argentines lifestyles better so I don’t wind up some place again and have it be a ghost town.  The markets are usually only open on the weekends and holidays when people don’t have their other jobs to go to.  The markets are seen as almost a weekend activity only, where as we have nothing like that in the US.  The malls do not compare.  On our way back, and due to time constraints, we took the El Mitre train straight through the country.  This was an enlightening experience.  I saw some of the poorer areas of the city, and also saw the carteneros train heading out of the city as I talked about in one of my blogs from the first week.  I love city life, but it was nice to get away for a little while to the country where there was more fresh air and different scenery. 


On Saturday I visited on of my friends family’s Estancia out in the country near Lima, Argentina with some of my Argentine friends.  It was truly both a history lesson and an incredible site to be seen.  I also got to see the other side of the Peronist story from the people that didn’t like Peronism so much.  The Estancia belonged to Urquiza, and one of my Argentine friends was a descendant of him.  Urquiza was the General for the people other than the Porteños when there was a civil war between the people of the city and the others.  This farm had sports areas, cattle, chickens, horses, and an area for breading fish.  It also had a large above ground cement pool that was separated so that women could swim on one side and men on the other.  This shows the class status and societal expectations of that time.  The house was burned down after a war, but was later rebuilt to smaller form.  There are still gauchos and servants that run this place.  I wish our class had time to go visit this place just because of all of the history involved in it, and that you can truly see the changes that Argentina went through as history progressed in all aspects of this Estancia.


On Sunday I visited Thomas Jofre, Mercedes, and Luhan.  This was great to see both a gaucho town and their markets, and other smaller country towns that still had the traditional central square and religious and governmental areas.  It was like a smaller BsAs, but cleaner.  It was interesting to see how theses small towns existed in the country and still had the beautiful cobblestone streets and big icons of churches and government buildings.  This was basically a scenery tour, but again it was unusual to see such large symbols in the middle of nowhere.   

I walk to school almost every day, and occasionally walk home too.  The scenery of my walk changes as I go through different areas or neighborhoods.  My walk consists of going from the location of my residencia near Plaza Italia, which is in between Palermo and Palermo Viejo, down Paraguay, and then up Larrea which goes through Once.  Palermo is a very nice area of town where as Once is a little more unique.  My Argentine friends do not particularly like the location of my school.  I don’t believe it to be a bad, hostile neighborhood, so it may be that their opinions are coming from their social class status.  However, my opinions about this area, as in many areas of the city, night change.  This caution during the hours when it is dark applies with any big city.


Palermo is a very nice, wealthier are of the city, where as Once is a little different.  As I walk along the streets of Palermo I see nice bakeries, occasional boutiques, small markets and fruit stands, and many stands for people to buy their daily paper and read it as they drink their coffee in a café before going off to work.  Once is seen as the Jewish Buenos Aires where in the early 1900s Russian, Moroccan, and Syrian Jews mingled as they fled their home lands from persecution to seek a better life without poverty and tyrants.  Its official name is Balvanera, but it is known as Once or Eleven because of the neighborhood train station known as Sarmiento or 11 de Sarmiento.  Once used to be a hub for Jewish life, but it is now also the residence to many Koreans and Catholic Argentines as the Jewish community uprooted and moved to more attractive barrios. 


Once is not a fashionable area of town like Palermo or Recoleta, but it has its qwerks.  Currently, Once is known as BsAs’s garment district among many things.  Ever kind of fabric in any color can be found.  Not only is there fabric, but there are many other add-ons to go with it like buttons, ribbons, and threads.  All of this stuff can usually be obtained at great process since the amount of stores and competition is almost the size of the barrio.


There are inexpensive stores all around this area.  There are also clothing stores, and lingerie stores, other forms of textiles, stores that sell only mannequins and stores that sell inexpensive kids toys.  Most of these stores are all located in the same area.  This could be done to increase competition among similar commodities.  Some of the stores I find scary, personally, because I wouldn’t want to buy underwear in an area like that, and it is never normal just to have a store of mannequins.  Again, this could be due to social class.  This area usually does have a varying quality level of its shops.  The fancier shops have attractive window displays, where as others give off a market feeling with much of their merchandise spewing out onto the sidewalk.      


One other important thing I realized about this area is watch your back pack and purse!  It is heavily congested, and you never really know what is going on.  I now have locks on anything I carry with me, and have not become a victim of pick pocketing as others have (knock on wood).

Besides the dog crap on the streets, money is one of the most frustrating things to me in Argentina.  I am sure it won’t get any better in Brazil.  You have to be very careful when pulling money out of the atm, because if you give it in multiples of 100 you will almost always get the money back in multiples of 100 pesos bills.  This is a nightmare usually.  The 100 pesos bills work great for going out to nice dinners, but we doing the average things of life, like breakfast, lunch, transportation, newspapers, etc., it is just a hassle.  Almost nobody wants to take these bills, and they won’t make prices work out so that they keep your business.  I have found two places that are always willing to use my bills, and I believe it is because I frequent them often.  One is the kiosk next door where I buy phone cards at 10 pesos a pop, so usually I only buy one and he gives me 90 pesos back in smaller bills.  The other place is the ice cream store down the street.  I pay for a 4 pesos cone, and he has changed in a 100 pesos bill for me at least 3 times.  One of the worst people to deal with is the taxi drivers.  I have actually had a situation happen to a friend where the taxi driver didn’t have change for a 20 peso bill, so he dropped my friend off on the side of the road many blocks from where he was supposed to end up.  This is a horrible situation.  Everyone wants exact change for everything.  Most places and people want exact change down to event the centavos.  This is absurd since the bank’s atms won’t give you anything lower than 100 bill denominations unless you’re careful, and it is almost impossible to find change.  For BsAs wanting to become such a great tourist town they need to get their butt in order and make it easier for people to purchase things. 


Just as a side note I went to Colonia, Uruguay this past weekend and had for the most part no money issues.  I had troubles pulling money out of the bank atm using my Wachovia debit/check card, but this wasn’t too big of issue since I had some Argentine and US money.  The people in Colonia were also very considerate about lowering some prices if needed due to the fact that they might not have exact change.  I ran out of small bills of Argentine money quickly and I was left with only two 100 peso bills.  The places I went were more than welcome to find the change to keep my business.  This may not seem lick such a big deal, but it is important to remember the exchange rates of most currencies around the world.  One US dollar is about 23 Uruguayan pesos, one US dollar is about 3 Argentine pesos, and one Argentine peso is about 7 Uruguayan pesos.  I know the math doesn’t exactly work out, but this is how it is.     

Family relations in Argentina are in general, I believe, closer nit than in the United Status.  First of all, relationships between people and the rest of their first line family are extremely close, where as this is not always so in the US.  I see this as being for the most part a positive.  Students, even through university (college), stay at their parent’s house if this is feasible.  If this is not feasible they get an apartment closer to their schooling that is small and simple, but go home to their parents on the weekend.  After college, they usually stay at their parent’s until they are married.  Marriage usually occurs later in life in Argentina, compared to the US, among the middle and higher class groups due to the fact that they wait until their jobs are stabilized and they have enough money saved up to buy a place.  It is usually viewed as not appropriate to live with your boyfriend before marriage. From this living situation before marriage family members are usually closer to their first line relatives.  I have a friend who has up around 100 first line relatives, and they all get together on a semiannual basis.  For the most part they all know each others stories and life.  This creates a greater bond between larger numbers of people than almost ever occurs in the States.  I see all the above as a positive aspect of life, however I like my apartment I share with my best friend and I don’t believe it affects my relationship with my parents any.  My apartment might actually make my relationship with my parents better, but this can be due to the ever changing family relations within the US. 


Jobs are an important feature of Argentine life, as in any country.  In the US most people have some sort of small medial job through out college and even into lower grades.  However, in Argentina I have noticed that more people have jobs that require a greater amount of responsibility during college.  I wish this aspect would come to the US because it might make a greater population of the college community come to a quicker realization of the importance of schooling and responsibility.  In these jobs, that require more responsibility than the typical waitressing or retail stores, most men dress in suits and a tie.  The women dress to a similar level of dress code.  Just recently, some workplaces have instituted a casual Friday.  Most of the workers like this dress code since they don’t have to figure out what to wear every day; however I feel I would get bored with it.   


Once married a couple lives together in usually a small apartment since property is very expensive in and around the city.  Due to the economic swings Argentina has gone through some younger people are finding it hard to save money to purchase a place because of trying to make the ends meet.  Also, their lifestyle is a little different.  They have typical sleeping hours as working people in the US do.  There is not a lot of late nights out anymore.  


If the couples have any children they usually try to live around one of the parent’s family.  Most children do not go to daycare before and after school, but they go to their grandparent’s house.  I love this because it creates a greater sense of family relations, but I would be worried about the lack of interaction with other children their age from not being in a day care facility that provides that.  There is usually no such thing as baby sitters either.  It is usually grandparents or uncles and aunts that provide that care.         


One other important thing I noticed was the patriotism within the porteño community.  They are to the most extreme side that they are the greatest thing in the world, and there is nothing better than Argentina.  Some of my friends joke about this matter, and others strongly believe it.  I find it surprising that this country is so patriotic with all of the downfalls it has gone through recently.  Many people from the US are very patriotic, however if almost everyone were to have flags outside their homes and offices as the porteños do then we would be viewed as cocky by the rest of the world.  This may be due to the fact that we are the current hegemon.  However, I believe this pride is both good and bad.  It can create national strength during hard times, but it can also create someone being close minded about international issues.   

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