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LATIN AMERICA: Argentina and pot-banging protests

Argentinians are naturally bitter about the plight of their country. Rosa de Pena blamed the dictatorships and damned Reagan and Jeanne Kirkpatrick for supporting them. Dwight Peterson, who has had years of experience in the Southern Cone, says: "I understand Rosa de Pena's strong feelings about the plight of her country, which I harbor as well. However, her anger and disappointment seem to stem from the inability of the Montoneros years ago to overthrow the democratic regime of Argentina. One of this leftist terrorist group's favorite ways to create national terror and chaos was to stage indiscriminate bombings, which killed women and children in movie theaters, restaurants, malls etc. The military stepped in to quell this guerilla uprising and then returned politics to the civilian establishment. If Ronald Reagan and Jeanne Kirkpatrick were somehow involved in this return to democracy then they are, indeed, champions of freedom".

Today, Saturday, is the day of global pan-banging, especially in New York, where the World Economic Forum is meeting. The participants are highly educated people, who recognize the plight of the Third World. The capitalist system must reform itself, and it deserves to be criticized in an intelligent, informed way, but up till now the New York protestors have been a rabble which would support someone like Hugo Chávez of Venezuela.

It is interesting to follow the opinions of Argentinians at Stanford (do they prefer to be called Argentines?). They are divided. Some warn that forcing all foreign enterprises to leave Argentina would only worsen the country's plight. It may be a coincidence that, while there is a call for pan-banging (it is not clear where on campus this would take place), a posting invites them to attend a Brazilian samba class. Protests are often accompanied by dancing in the streets, so the two could be combined.

At least one Argentina thinks capitalism in hopeless: He avers that "Argentina is the most eloquent current example of the destructive capacity of transnational capitalism, masking behind a pseudo-democratic and corrupt political system". Enron's egregious behavior is not typical of corporations, but, when there is an economic crisis, worthy corporations suffer too. In the last century, the Pullman Company was a splendid example of enlightened capitalism, but when depression hit, the company was forced to cut workers' benefits, and excellent employer-worker relations collapsed into nasty strikes. Andrew Carnegie was an enlightened capitalist, but he got caught in a similar jam. It is a factor in the present crisis at Hewlett-Packard, which boasted that it treated workers "the HP way". The children of the two founders claim that they are fighting the proposed merger with Compaq to preserve "the HP way". HP Executives say the merger is the only way to save the company, namely by cutting jobs. The Argentine situation is infinitely worse that that of the US, but it should call for distinguishing between scoundrels and honest companies. To force the latter to leave would not help the country.

Ronald Hilton - 2/2/02