A wave of supermarket raids and shop lootings in Greater Buenos Aires and other provinces of uncertain dimensions has topped the news in recent days but drawing any conclusions now would be rash, not least given everything which could happen in the many hours between this editorial being written and read. Some specific cases have proved to be fake news via the alarmist blogs of opposition zealots while others have been definitely established as the work of criminal gangs pouring their old wine into new bottles but neither come any nearer to telling the whole story than the simplistic denialism and conspiracy theories of presidential spokesperson Gabriela Cerruti.
These outbursts could almost be considered predictable, given the price surges following the post-PASO devaluation, and pickets emerge as the obvious suspects beyond the electoral blame game but there can be no rush to judgement – instead we will leave the last word with Security Minister Aníbal Fernández, previously the author of irresponsibly inflammatory “blood in the streets” warnings about the consequences of opposition victory but today the voice of prudence: “If I knew who was behind this, I would have started there. We still have no reliable data to say whether Tom, Dick or Harry were responsible.”
An often paranoid country’s attention being seized by the threat of mass lootings is understandable enough as evoking the 2001-2002 meltdown but it distracts attention from more potentially substantial developments. Such as Thursday’s entry into BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) following unanimous approval by the bloc’s Johannesburg summit – historic in itself but also the reversible work of a lame duck government and poorly timed when joining a quintet including Vladimir Putin the day after the suspicious air crash in Russia killing the leader of the Wagner Group mercenaries.
Also overshadowed (to the annoyance of the government’s presidential candidate) was Economy Minister Sergio Massa’s Washington success in clinching a remittance of US$7.5 billion from the International Monetary Fund – the gains in firepower in defence of the currency may be exaggerated but the electoral impact can also be underestimated since any improvement in stability over the turbulence in the immediate aftermath of the PASO primary could help tip the balance when less than three percent separates the three main candidates.
But this editorial opts to focus on Wednesday’s rent legislation debate in Congress (where any session in this electoral year is noteworthy) – not because of the details of the amendments tweaking a dysfunctional law in favour of shorter rental contracts and more frequent updating nor even because of the paramount importance of this crisis-stricken sector placing a roof over people’s heads when, for example, there are only several hundred flats on offer in this vast metropolis on the terms of the official legislation (although where there’s a law, there’s always a loophole).
Instead this editorial will centre on the spectacle of the libertarians voting alongside the Kirchnerites to reject these amendments as something to factor into voting decisions. Urging the outside world to watch what politicians do and not what they say was not a phrase coined by Néstor Kirchner, as sometimes believed here (exactly those words were used by Winston Churchill and members of the Richard Nixon administration among others and perhaps not original even then), but it very much applies here.
An “all or nothing” approach to politics has been repeatedly voiced in this campaign by the Juntos por el Cambio opposition presidential candidate Patricia Bullrich (and may be presumed to be electioneering rhetoric since she has behind her a team of numerous solid economists plus a coalition committed to institutional respect) but Wednesday’s Congress session shows that this philosophy is both believed and practised by her main rival Javier Milei when he voted with Kirchnerism against the “better than nothing” amendments embraced by Juntos por el Cambio once repeal of the rent law was frustrated.
Bullrich’s war-cry of “all or nothing” thus really goes much further towards describing the chainsaw surgeon Milei. The chainsaw does not discriminate between the dry rot and the branches bearing fruit on a tree – the libertarian claim that only the “caste” will pick up the bill for downsizing the state clashes with the hard facts of social spending accounting for two-thirds of the budget whereas the highest estimate of political spending (including the payrolls of all public employees) is six percent of gross domestic product. Instead of real change, a twin mirror image of the opposite extreme with the legislative branch perhaps replacing the judicial as the main target.