In election years nothing else usually matters but this week has not been a case in point, despite including one of the three most decisive dates on the national electoral calendar ahead of the final voting (followed by next Saturday’s definition of the candidates and the August 13 PASO primaries). The Wednesday deadline for defining electoral alliances should in theory have dominated both that day’s news coverage and Thursday’s headlines but it was largely eclipsed by two other topics – the uproar in Chaco over the disappearance and presumed femicide of Cecilia Strzyzowski and the May inflation of 7.8 percent announced by INDEC statistics bureau.
These two developments would seem entirely unrelated but perhaps a long memory and an abstruse logic could find a link by going back to the murder of Catamarca schoolgirl María Soledad Morales in 1990. The explosion of public outrage against this wanton slaying by youthful members of leading provincial families was followed nine months later by the collapse of the Saadi feudal dynasty long running Catamarca but it was also followed nine months later (the normal period for a human birth) by convertibility. The three-digit annual inflation sustained by the May figure and the constant talk of a drastic currency reform transcending devaluation with a candidate proposing outright dollarisation running high in the opinion polls (even if abysmally low in last Sunday’s Tucumán provincial voting) do not rule out a similar sequence of events now – a provincial crime scandal followed some months later by a momentous change of economic course at national level, despite no obvious link between either.
But apart from straining coincidences, there are also differences as well as similarities between the two crimes and the two economic scenarios 33 years apart. The word “femicide” did not even exist back in 1990 with the fate of the unfortunate woman in this current case yet to be clarified. While Ramón Saadi’s political demise has been followed by his biological death four months ago, the jury is still out on the political future of Chaco Governor Jorge Capitanich, who has dominated the province since dislodging the Radicals in 2007. Nor does justice always triumph over the nepotism and impunity of provincial establishments – the Saadi dynasty was indeed destroyed while in Santiago del Estero the regime of Carlos Juárez (whose five often interrupted terms spanned over half a century between 1949 and 2001) was ended by a double dose of very similar femicide in 2004, only to be supplanted by the Radical Gerardo Zamora who has since proved more Kirchnerite than most Peronists, but last Sunday’s landslide Peronist win in Tucumán shows a remarkable capacity to surmount the brutal murder of Paulina Lebbos in 2006, which did not even dislodge three-term governor José Alperovich during his first re-election in 2007.
There is not enough space in this editorial for any full comparison of the economic scenarios of 1990 and today but just to offer a couple of differences, the value of state assets today is nowhere near the privatisation potential back then while hardly any serious economist is expecting the three-digit inflation confirmed last Wednesday to spiral into the four digits of 1989-1990.
A politically loaded femicide and the inflation dragon speak for themselves as headline material but the relative insignificance of a major electoral milestone also stems from a political vacuum incapable of producing either leadership or any comprehensive platform to provide a constructive alternative to the current model now trapped by inflation (even if this lack of political leadership also extends to countries without even one percent monthly inflation while a strong hand is not necessarily a virtue when coming from the likes of Vladimir Putin). Previous notions of authority may be impossible to maintain in this digital era with all the information available to anybody, regardless of position, educational level or professional training, but this is as likely to lead to anarchy as to true democracy – consigning leadership to the past remains a dangerous experiment for any society. Perhaps the lesson of Chaco is not so much a mandate for anti-system rage against all politicians as a call for a new leadership to replace the Capitaniches and the Emerenciano Sena picket leaders. Beyond a largely discredited political class there are models to follow such as the business unicorns of the new technology or football coaches like Lionel Scalioni winning Argentina a World Cup. If nature abhors a vacuum, democratic politics also needs new men and women to fill its leadership vacuum.