The year ending today has left most people feeling stuck in a rut, despite being anything but static – starting with the weekly Covid-19 death toll still in four digits and ending with the blazing glory of Argentina’s third World Cup, it also included the trials (literally) and tribulations (in the form of a surrealistic assassination attempt by a candy floss gang) of the government’s central figure, Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, displaying all her talents as a drama queen without altering the course of events. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. There was also a widespread perception of the economy going nowhere when the 2022 growth rate could be as high as six percent – yet not so much solid growth as the pressures to spend from an inflation which neither “Precios Cuidados” in the first half of the year nor “Precios Justos” in the second could restrain from the brink of three digits.
The resignation of Economy Minister Martín Guzmán came at the exact midpoint of the year. A bland yet controversial agreement with the International Monetary Fund fully absorbed the first quarter of the year, after which the move from sovereign debt negotiations to peso bond renewal took Guzmán out of his comfort zone while lacking the political muscle to impose fiscal discipline. The new super-minister (cloning three portfolios) Sergio Massa provides both, helped by a spiralling inflation boosting revenues and eroding liabilities faster, but his juggling acts with multiple exchange rates are still up in the air (and with them his potential presidential prospects) as the year ends. Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine only eight weeks into the year presented Argentina with both crisis and opportunity in the form of worldwide inflation and soaring commodity prices but the downside proved uppermost. Throughout the year Fernández de Kirchner’s legal problems lead to a sterile obsession with the judicial sphere across its entire front, including paralysis of the Council of Magistrates and a collision course with the Supreme Court.
And yet all the indications are that this census year of 2022 will be remembered for the World Cup more than anything else.
The only forecast that we can make with any certainty for the year now only hours away is that the 40th year since the return of democracy will come with general elections towards its end (we cannot even be absolutely sure that they will be preceded by PASO primaries). In contrast to Brazil, where there was never really any doubt throughout the year as to the name of the man taking charge of our giant neighbour tomorrow, there is no way of predicting the winner of the upcoming elections nor even if these will take the form of an either/or proposition as in Brazil, despite intensely polarised politics. The two main coalitions are anything but solid with every potential for being fragmented by their internal rivalries although sheer survival instincts might equally well keep them together. Both also encounter challenges from beyond – the ruling Frente de Todos coalition from the far left and a picket movement now outnumbering the traditional trade unions, while the Juntos por el Cambio opposition face a powerful libertarian groundswell in public opinion which might sweep all before it if there is crisis but also fall back on safety first.
Nor are these elections entirely in the hands of the politicians or dependent on political factors. Acute macro-economic stability looms for 2023 alongside the electoral uncertainties. Any thought of lower inflation is limited to the official 60 percent forecast of the 2023 Budget while private experts predict levels very similar to the year now ending with some even fearing that the cost of living will rise up to 130 percent due to cost-push inflation. Several months of drought have already irreversibly ensured a bad harvest, in turn leading to less exports and hence recession (despite the presidential boast of heading three consecutive years of growth besides winning three football cups). And all this without looking beyond to a world where recession is considered inevitable by many with slower growth at best and the worst yet to come. The shadow of conflict in Ukraine looms large across the globe.
Yet there is no reason no reason not to inject the optimism of the recent World Cup with a new government marking a new beginning playing to Argentina’s strengths for once so that we can wish readers a Happy New Year.