The inevitability of a second, or third, wave of Covid-19 appears to be a global phenomenon, with several countries even suffering fourth and fifth waves of infections and deaths. Something similar can be said about the global vaccine shortage, as World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recently noted in an op-ed in The New York Times: “Of the more than 890 million vaccine doses that have been administered globally, more than 81 percent have been given in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Low-income countries have received just 0.3 percent.”
Thus, the need to impose restrictions also becomes evident, including at some points limiting in-person school attendance, particularly in densely populated urban sprawls like Buenos Aires City and its extended metropolitan area that seeps into Buenos Aires Province. These are all things that President Alberto Fernández probably agrees with, as would City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta and Province Governor Axel Kicillof, along with the municipal leaders throughout the AMBA (Buenos Aires metropolitan region) and every governor. With the exception of coronavirus deniers like Jair Bolsonaro and Donald Trump, most public servants across the globe probably understand these are the rules of the game during this seemingly never-ending pandemic.
Also seemingly inevitably was the political use of the exponential surge in Covid-19 infections and the measures being taken to counter it. There was a glimmer of hope in the memory of coordinated action against the pandemic being led by Fernández last year, with the full support of Rodríguez Larreta and Kicillof, with Cristina Fernández de Kirchner apparently out of site, despite being well represented by her former economy minister. The political climate has been under increasing stress since the second half of last year, still in the midst of an aggressive coronavirus curve, and the crescendo of antagonism has reached a fever pitch with the latest bickering between the three leaders of the most important executive seats in the country. Reducing the argument to the electoral season would actually cut our loser political leaders some slack, since elections are the bloodline of democracy and therefore a constant variable that must be celebrated as a mechanism through which the best are chosen to govern.
In reality, we are in the presence of one more example of the failure of our democratic system in generating the conditions for coordinated actions in the face of structural or immediate and fatal problems. At the superficial level, electoral speculation could be behind some of the latest moves. The war between Rodríguez Larreta and the national and provincial administration seems like an easier problem to resolve through conversation than legal proceedings, with the national government imposing a closure of schools in the AMBA region at the behest of the Provincial government, without the collaboration of the City. The opposition’s rallying call has been open schools for a while now, and even national Education Minister Nicolás Trotta and Health Minister Carla Vizotti noted they would remain so, before being contradicted by emergency decree a few weeks back by President Alberto. Rodríguez Larreta went to court, as did unsatisfied parents, and now federal courts are duking it out with City courts as the Supreme Court scratches its head. In the end, physical school attendance will have to be limited, as has occurred across the globe, yet we are stuck in a back and forth that generates confusion, disillusionment, and further division amongst the two major political coalitions. All of this benefits those preaching to the choirs at the extremes of the ruling and opposing oppositions, embodied in this case by Kicillof and PRO party president Patricia Bullrich.
The situation with the vaccines also lays bare the low-level politicking we have been forced to accept. At the national level, President Fernández has repeatedly invited Mauricio Macri and the opposition to help him get vaccines if “you are so loved by the world.” In tandem, Cabinet Chief Santiago Cafiero noted provinces and the City can acquire their own vaccines if they so wanted, in part trying to mask their incapacity to get more vaccines in a world of scarcity. Don’t leave an inch for your adversary.
On the opposing side, Rodríguez Larreta and the Juntos por el Cambio coalition more broadly have begun to blame the Fernández-Fernández administration for their botched vaccination strategy, noting the president had promised to have tens of millions of citizens inoculated in the first trimester. Tone deaf on either side, as PAMI retirement agency chief Luana Volnovich puts on a pathetic show to accuse the City government of a deficient inoculation plan and the opposition continues to sow doubts regarding negotiations with Pfizer and the delays behind the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab.
This same type of political incongruence has made it increasingly difficult for Economy Minister Martín Guzmán to renegotiate the sovereign debt left in hands of multilateral organizations, namely the International Monetary Fund and the Paris Club. With the opposition breathing down the government’s neck, Alberto’s main man in the Economic Cabinet is under constant crossfire, with the more fundamentalist Kirchnerites putting the heat on him, some say as a response from Kicillof’s people to Guzmán initial closeness with Fernández de Kirchner. Given the upcoming electoral bout, within the ruling Frente de Todos coalitoin there is pressure to double down on its hardcore Kirchnerite base. Across the aisle, Juntos por el Cambio continues to rail against Guzmán’s supposed lack of an economic plan. From abroad, both within the IMF and the Paris Club, they are pointing at the lack of a political consensus, blocking attempts to move forward with any talk of restructuring and meaning any key decisions will be left until after the elections.
Politics is supposedly the discipline of public servants, whose role is to try and improve the welfare of members of society who, in democratic models, elect them based on merit. The system, theoretically, is the basis of the fairest system of government according to the likes of Montesquieu. Yet, when instead of focusing on justice its interpreters pursue the utilitarian goal of gaining power — supposedly in order to exert it for the betterment of society — it becomes perverted to the point where political interests overcome those of society. Alberto, Rodríguez Larreta and Kicillof are giving us a real-time lesson.