In Argentina, everybody agrees at least on something: in 2019, almost six months before the next presidential election, the country is going through a serious crisis. From this follows another piece of evidence, which is only tacitly acknowledged by the main actors: the next cycle in government will be about scarcity management.
But considering that this is a different type of crisis from those which Argentina has experienced in the past (the 1983 one, the 1989 one, and the 2001 one, to mention some recent examples), we need to define its nature, temporality, impact, and possible outcomes.
What definition, diagnosis, historical adscription and exit proposals are offered will be key to the next electoral contest and hallmark the discourse and the ideological profile of the competing political projects.
According to the narrative spread by Mauricio Macri’s government, the definition of the current crisis includes some elements which are constant and some other variable. Interpreting it as an unexpected storm in the middle of the road that has forced the government to take exceptional decisions, its causes are deemed to be both arbitrary and external: turbulences on the international front, climatic problems affecting crops, fiscal deficit.
As for its impact, it is quite limited: although the government does recognize that a portion of the Argentine population is suffering the consequences of price hikes, inflation and the economic downturn, these are still bearable and must be assimilated on the way to “economic normalization”. Supporting this thesis, the current absence of mass protests would indicate the non-existence of a high degree of social dissatisfaction. And yet, social pain is getting deeper and deeper.
From the government’s point of view, the temporality of the crisis is triple: it is short term, because it refers to specific events that triggered the devaluation of the currency, the rise in rates and the inflationary spiral, with the consequent increase in poverty and the decline in economic activity; it is medium term, because its origins can be attributed to the inheritance the current government received upon taking office (that is, the economic policies of Kirchnerism), or even longer term in so far as it stems from the last "70 years of celebration", in which the State spent more than it had.
But, in addition, the crisis has a future dimension too, for it deepens, as a self-fulfilling prophecy, before the possibility of a return to Kirchnerism.
In short, according to the government, this is a strictly economic crisis – a fiscal one, to be precise. Its solution, therefore, has to be fiscal – that is, more adjustment policies and more expenditure cuts.
President Macri himself has indicated on several occasions, without euphemisms, that what the country needs is staying the course: "If we win this election, we will go in the same direction - as quickly as possible", he said recently.
Macrist discourse does not consider that there might be a political side to the current crisis.
Macrist discourse does not consider that there might be a political side to the current crisis: even though the government is the main stirrer of the social rift that has come to be known as La Grieta (The Crack), it sees this more as a stratagem to put the blame on its opponent than a comprehensive political diagnosis.
Thus the crisis is due to the low moral stature of the opponent (corrupt, dishonest and little inclined to dialogue), but it says nothing about the workings of the Argentine political system. On the contrary, from the government's point of view, despite the economic difficulties, the political system has been strengthened: not only because for the first time a non-Peronist party is going to finish its term of office, but also because of the strength of the ruling coalition and its alliances.
How does Kirchnerism, the government’s greatest political (and electoral) opponent, characterize the current crisis? In the first place, it considers that this is not only an economic crisis but, above all, a social one.
The reason why is, on the one hand, the sheer depth of its impact in terms of social damage (the hard data on poverty, inequality and economic activity are compared and contrasted with the figures of the previous term) and, on the other hand, the very nature of the actors who generated it: the government and its economic allies.
According to the diagnosis of Kirchnerism, the crisis has therefore a dual origin: the interests and specific ambitions of some concentrated sectors (agricultural and financial) which have deliberately encouraged economic decisions in their favour, and the withdrawal of the support to productive sectors adversely affected by the course of the economy.
From this perspective, the government's project (in tandem with foreign interests) has consisted in nothing more than plundering the country's resources and destroying the productive fabric in order to discipline society into accepting an imposed unpopular economic model.
This vision of the crisis relates to the continuity that Kirchnerism establishes between the current government of Cambiemos and the economic project of the military dictatorship. According to the Kirchnerist historical account, the present moment is one more link in a temporary chain beginning with the 1976 military coup, deepening in the 1990s, and exploding in 2001.
The story ties the dictatorship with the imposition of neoliberalism in Argentina, and its thread of continuity is shown by the persistence of the economic and social model and the actors carrying it forward. The Kirchnerist reading proposes a depoliticizing view of the facts, to the extent that it attributes the origins of the current crisis to the economic interests of the actors currently in charge of the government, which are identical to the interests of those who favored or propitiated the military coup.
In addition, this reading obliterates a central element of a political nature – that is, the obvious and elementary distinction between democracy and dictatorship: unlike the dictatorial regime, which suspended the National Constitution, banned political parties and assassinated and “disappeared” thousands of people, the democratic regime born in 1983 guarantees political pluralism, ensures the existence of political parties and the holding of regular elections, and protects basic political, social and human rights.
Reflecting on the political nature of the crisis entails, in the first place, rethinking democracy as the ultimate horizon.
Within the framework of its diagnosis, Kirchnerism proposes economic restoration and the restitution of rights. The Citizen Unity party, led by Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, has yet to define its electoral strategy.
It is undecided between attending the demand of some of its followers, for whom a new presidency of Cristina is the "only way out" of the crisis, and responding to the request of others to "take good care" of the leader and spare her from heading a government that will quite probably be constricted by economic scarcity and from attacks by the media and the judiciary.
The depoliticization of the crisis - either through the moralizing of the opponent or its reduction to mere economic interests - leaves aside the question of the political nature of the current situation, which far exceeds the economic one, even though the latter is its most urgent aspect.
This is the interstitial space where a third political force, led by some non-Kirchnerist Peronists, non-Macrist radicals, Socialists and progressives, is trying to locate itself. Former Economy Minister Roberto Lavagna is considered to be this coalition’s likely presidential candidate.
The possibility of such a political front is based precisely on a diagnosis of the current crisis, which is viewed not so much as an economic one, but as a breakdown of the sphere of coexistence: a stalemate division of socierty between two irreconcilable positions that leads to a zero-sum game and political paralysis - which is all the more serious considering the situation of extreme economic vulnerability the country finds itself in.
It is precisely in the hiatus drawn by La Grieta where the imaginary figure of a potential candidate emerges, one who would be able to fly over the crack and manage the crisis. Lavagna himself has proposed himself as a possible “transition president” whose task would be to reach broad inter-party agreements aimed at stabilizing the country politically - a necessary precondition for economic stabilization.
Reflecting on the political nature of the crisis entails, in the first place, rethinking democracy as the ultimate horizon. Rather than blurring the political virtues of the regime established in 1983, what we need is to recover its foundational imaginary according to which democracy is a supreme value that must be protected and valued.
In the second place, it is essential to characterize contemporary democracy and to understand its ups and downs, its dilemmas and current challenges. It is a fact that we are living through a period of strong political negativity: although La Grieta, expressed as a sharp mutual rebuttal in a polarized social context, can be thought of as a problem affecting mostly the so-called "red circle" – that is, the people interested and actively involved in politics -, the truth is that contemporary societies are crossed through by a growing sense of rejection, apathy and political distrust.
This is why the challenge of reflecting on the current crisis and its way out implies, more than ever, the repoliticization of democracy - that is, imagining new collective horizons of equality and freedom.