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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 01-06-2024 05:05

When the essential is invisible

In Argentina, the urgent is forever crowding out the important.

The first day of a month is as good a time as any to launch a series of columns after a hiatus of almost half a year overcoming minor health problems such as cataracts and polyps since ‘Campaign Comments’ was cut short last December 16 by the entry of a new administration. Perhaps not quite the Glorious First of June (a sea victory 230 years ago today in 1794 when the Royal Navy put the infant French republic in its place), something more than a footnote if not quite a full page in the official history of the British Empire which still existed in my childhood (three years of which were spent in then-British East Africa) but today’s Britain whose national government is headed by Rishi Sunak (for now) and whose capital is run by Sadiq Khan is, of course, a very different country. This series may be kicking off on the Glorious First of June but will hopefully be written in a spirit of humility and not imperialistic arrogance.

Any continuation of ‘Campaign Comments’ is obviously a non-starter, at least until next year’s midterms which this country could do without in this columnist’s considered opinion – instead of the six-week campaign now underway in Britain, their Argentine equivalents last over nine months if last year is anything to go by (the period between last February’s La Pampa primaries and the November presidential run-off absorbed 40 of the 52 weeks of 2023). Newly elected governments thus have little more than a year relatively free of electoral anxieties when the current administration has yet to place anything on the statute books in almost half that period, thus making governance almost a mission impossible. Furthermore, midterms mean that half the deputies and two-thirds of the senators date back to at least two years before the previous elections, which makes them almost prehistoric in these rapidly changing times. So this columnist would be far happier if there were no midterms with no revival of ‘Campaign Comments’ next year possible.

So if not ‘Campaign Comments,’ what is to be the focus of this year’s columns? This series will rather be defined by what it is not, as hinted by the slug ‘Beyond the headlines.’ The main issues of any week will almost invariably be subjected to incisive analysis by fellow-columnists Agustino Fontevecchia and Marcelo García as well as (if not always) James Neilson, not to mention the editorials. But in Argentina the urgent is forever crowding out the important and this space will seek to counterbalance that within its limited means – if “what is essential is invisible to the eye,” according to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, this column will seek to remove the cataracts.

‘Beyond the headlines’ extends to almost anything beyond recent front pages, covering ground both great and small. It could involve such vast areas as education and health, neither of which President Javier Milei deigned to include in the 10 points announced three months ago today for undersigning by all provincial governors last weekend with the wheels coming off in the interim – if “the best-laid schemes of mice and men” oft go astray, these were not even well-laid plans. Or at the other extreme it could go fact-checking on the tiniest details. To give a recent example, agency reports differ as to whether the sexual abuse charges against La Matanza Mayor Fernando Espinoza were first lodged in mid-2021 or April 2022. Multiple tasks for this edition do not permit me the time to explore that particular point and that will be the case more often than not but questions will be asked and inconsistencies noted even when not answered or resolved.

This column’s brief does not even exclude the main issues but only from the standpoint of providing comparative historical perspective rather than direct analysis. Thus today’s maiden column is absorbed by this introductory explanation but otherwise the topic might also have been the change of Cabinet chief – yet not any discussion of the relative merits of Nicolás Posse and Guillermo Francos but a look at the history and evolution of that post to contribute background.

Fact-checking will also be central. Fake news is a huge issue these days with the accent often on the malice aforethought but more frequently it is the result of slipshod work and ignorance, which can be more dangerous. It is not always clear which of the two might be the case. One example here might be the recent Human Capital Ministry report showing nearly half of soup kitchens to be bogus, which was based on around 2,800 of some 45,000 food banks. Was this sample deliberately skewed in order to feed the conclusion that social welfare may be legitimately cut and poverty ignored in order to accelerate a fiscal surplus? Or was the report centred on the soup kitchens denounced for irregularities, thus making a high percentage of deviants entirely natural? Future columns will endeavour to devote more time to answering such questions.

Today’s column has been all over the place but in future it promises to deal with one topic at a time, whatever that might be – always beyond the headlines while trying to separate the important from the urgent.  ​

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Michael Soltys

Michael Soltys

Michael Soltys, who first entered the Buenos Aires Herald in 1983, held various editorial posts at the newspaper from 1990 and was the lead writer of the publication’s editorials from 1987 until 2017.

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