The coronavirus outbreak and its impact on the economy prompted spirited debate this week as the BBC World Service quizzed a panel of experts on the issues facing Argentina.
The British broadcaster was set to record the latest edition of its popular ‘World Questions’ show in Buenos Aires at the Teatro Picadero on Tuesday night, as it sought to shine a light on Argentina’s ongoing turmoil and the challenges facing the Alberto Fernández administration. However, the coronavirus pandemic quickly put those plans in doubt.
Nevertheless, the show’s producers resolved to go ahead, emailing those set to attend and asking them to send in their questions to the experts as they normally would, so as to ensure their voice was heard.
Making up the panel was CTEP leader and member of Pope Francis’ pontifical council, Juan Grabois; lawmaker and member of the Finance Commission, Fernanda Vallejos; lawmaker and President of PRO Youth, Camila Crescembeni; and Iván Petrella, a writer on politics and religion and ex-Culture Ministry secretary of federal integration and international cooperation.
As the recording got underway, it didn’t take long for the sparks to fly. Vallejos said the Covid-19 crisis was “changing moment by moment” and called on both the “government and the opposition to work together on prevention,” though Grabois countered that poverty and hunger were far bigger priorities for the government.
The social leader also paid tribute to Argentina’s healthcare system, though he said it was facing a crisis as a result of the “neoliberal policies of former president [Mauricio] Macri.”
Tensions also rose when one listener asked why economic policies had “failed repeatedly over the last seven decades.”
Grabois pointed the finger again at Macri and other right-leaning administrations, including Carlos Menem’s, saying that they had "destroyed the public sector" and "taken on debt in huge amounts." Petralla, however, railed against that, saying he thought that “blaming Macri’s government for the current state of the economy is absolutely ridiculous.”
Crescembeni, for her part, said she rejected the idea that Argentina "is condemned to failure," adding later on that the country should think of more than restructuring debt and look at "how we increase productivity."
Other subjects tackled in the show, which was presented by BBC Royal Correspondent Jonny Dymond, included debt talks, the credit-line from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), UK-Argentine relations, corruption and poverty.
Speaking prior to the recording, Stephen Titherington, BBC World Service senior commissioning editor, described it as a “a vital moment for both national and global issues,” and said he was delighted to be in Buenos Aires as “an important time.”
The show will be broadcast to the BBC World Service’s global audience of some 97 million people.
The full BBC World Questions debate on Argentina will be broadcast today (Saturday, March 14) at 4pm Buenos Aires time on the BBC World Service. If you miss out, don’t worry – it will be available online at www.bbc.com/worldserviceradio.