Argentina is a roller-coaster ride, though its citizens may be well accustomed to its loops from boom to bust. Yet the appeal of constant drama has worn thin. With President Mauricio Macri, the country is moving to the right of its longtime Kirchnerist politics. While the buzzword is recovery, the public remains more reticent than optimistic. Many protest the new austerity measures while the government attempts to curb rampant inflation. Meanwhile, Pope Francis continues his revolutionary trajectory on the world stage.
A New Beginning, a Divided People
In December, 2015 Mauricio Macri grabbed the reins of the Argentine presidency in an electoral upset, narrowly beating Cristina Kirchner's candidate to end 12 years of populist-style government. Buenos Aires' mayor since 2007, this pro-business, free-market-reform candidate was also a former president of the Boca Juniors fútbol team.
Macri dove into drastic changes: controls over foreign currencies were abolished (essentially ending the black market for US dollars) and export taxes were lowered to boost agricultural trade. Argentina hopes to encourage economic growth and bring back foreign investment while reducing its unsustainable inflation rate. The administration also plans to strengthen ties with economic powers such as Brazil and the USA. For the business sector, the time has come for Argentina to open up to the world and put an end to a long era of economic isolation.
But not all are confident. Reopening the import market has been to the detriment of national industry. Many citizens feel the cuts go too close to the bone and will disproportionately affect the vulnerable, cutting hard-won social-support systems. Between 28% and 30% of the populace live below the poverty line. Pension cuts go right to the heart of the populace. It's an about-face from the previous government, which implemented heavy state intervention and spending and made strides in individual rights.
Argentina is a divided society: la grieta, a widening gap, has opened between those who favor a stronger state with more protections for its citizens and those who believe that the way to progress lies in supporting the free market. Even families and friends find themselves on separate sides of the divide. If there is one unifying principle, it's that just about everyone is certain about corruption and cynical about politics.
Argentina has begun to find closure with the darker chapters of its past. In November, 2017 a five-year trial delivered long-overdue justice to families and friends of victims of the military dictatorship. Former military officers were indicted for torture, murder and the forced disappearances of 759 people at the ESMA naval facility, with many sentenced to life in prison. These reckonings continue the work of initial trials in 1983 in healing some deep wounds in Argentine society.
Argentine politics continues to be relentless in its drama. In December 2017 an Argentine judge charged Cristina Kirchner with treason, alleging that her government covered up evidence in the largest terrorist attack in the country's history in order to facilitate business deals with Iran. These allegations come on top of corruption charges against her administration. Kirchner has denounced the charges as an attempt to discredit her party and person by the current administration, as meetings with Iranian officials had congressional approval.
The People's Pope
After Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, was named pope in March 2013 he took the name Francis I. Not only was he the first pontiff to bear that moniker, he was also the first to hail from the Americas and the first to belong to the Jesuit order. It’s a fair bet that he’s also the first pope to have grown up drinking mate, tangoing at milongas and ardently supporting the San Lorenzo fútbol club.
Bergoglio was a humble man who had eschewed the archbishop’s palace in Olivos, remaining in his modest apartment and getting around Buenos Aires by bus and the Subte. As pope he has continued these habits, emulating his namesake and personal hero, the saint from Assisi who once renounced all worldly possessions. This humility, coupled with the very personable humanity Francis displays, has made him an extremely popular pontiff after decades of corruption and sex-abuse scandals had alienated parishioners.
Some of Francis' declarations have created controversy within the religious establishment and with political conservatives. He has criticized capitalism and consumerism, and supported action on climate change and preserving the environment. Nonetheless, his views still oppose the ordination of women, abortion and same-sex marriage, though he notably addressed homosexuality by asking, 'Who am I to judge?'
It is fascinating to see an expressive and forthright Argentine sensibility in the Vatican. By brokering diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba, speaking up for compassion, and reaching out to other religions, Pope Francis has earned a following beyond the faithful.