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Latin America: Argentina and Colombia

No news is good news; Canada seldom makes even the US press, since the country just pursues its peaceful way. Latin America, in particular Argentina and Colombia, unfortunately cannot escape the news. The front cover of The Economist (3/8/02) has a banner headline "Has Latin America lost its way?" and pictures of people weeping or shouting, a young man wrapped in bomb smoke, and Uruguayans looking sad and puzzled. A page-long leader is devoted to the topic, while the case of Argentina is taken up in a special three-page report entitled "Argentina's collapse. A decline without parallel". It is an important article, since it gives hard facts and statistics, not just accusations.

The March 02 issue of the important World Press Review, which selects articles from the world press and translates them into English, has several articles on the Argentine crisis. The French left-wing weekly Le Nouvel Onservateur, which cannot be accused of imperialist propaganda, has an article in a more accusatory mode: "A Rich Country Goes Bust Again. Those Who Ruined Argentina". "Those" are mostly the military dictators. The liberal Swedish paper Dagens Nyheter describes the "Five Myths About Argentina: 1) That the recent uprisings were a spontaneous expression of popular opinion. The violence was started by professional demonstration organizers (punteros). 2) That the foreign debt broke the economy. 3) That Argentina is a rich country; it is rich in natural resources. 4) That unfair world markets are the cause. 5)That the IMF and the behavior of the creditors brought Argentina to its knees The conservative La Nación of Buenos Aires asks "Ungovernable or Ungoverned?"; both. The left-wing Página Doce, also of Buenos Aires, in "Notes from Chaos" cannot explain what happened. Finally, the Mexican left-wing La Jornada, in "Beyond the Crisis, Routine?", charges that that "failed neo-liberal economic policies were the cause of Argentina's woes".

From all this it should be clear that there are may theories as to what caused this incredible collapse. I well remember that Argentina after World War I allegedly had a higher standard of living that France, and the Argentine press was certainly better than the French. Later my Argentine friends dismissed Brazilians as monkeys who just came down from the trees, thus angering the Brazilians, in whom Argentina now inspires pity. When, over fifty years ago,I traveled from San Francisco to Buenos Aires by land, the train crossed from Bolivia to Argentina at La Quiaca. The misery of Bolivia was transformed as if by magic into a prosperous land, Argentina.

The collapse of Argentina is unique and should be studied with extreme care. Nixon and Kissinger were insensitive to its problems, but the US cannot be blamed for the generals'´coups. Much has been made of a scandal involving a US bank, but the US cannot be blamed for the collapse of the economy. The role of globalization is unclear, so indirectly the US may have some responsibility. However, the Argentines must consider their own responsibility.

Mexicans and others, lured by "the American dream", risk death to get into the US. There was an "Argentine dream", which drew Spaniards, Italians, Paraguayans and Bolivians to Argentine. Now the magnetic pole has switched. Argentines are going north to the US, where they have become a matter of concern; to Spain, where they use Spanish ancestry to claim Spanish nationality, and likewise to Italy. Argentine Jews are even migrating in large numbers to Israel; they may be disillusioned.

The Colombian case is quite different. The Colombia I first knew, in which Bogotá viewed itself as the Athens of America, was a dream which turned into a nightmare. The Indians were not discussed, but it turns out that there are lots of them. The Colombian violence is part of the unrest which has hit all the Andean countries. There are many causes: social injustice, the drug trade, and plotting by Venezuela and Cuba. I myself harbor a long-term optimism. However, as the Spanish proverb has it "quien espera, desespera" (he who waits despairs). Don't give up hope.

Ronald Hilton - 3/7/02