One victory sour for Argentina, please
Updated: Dec 13, 2022
There was no sun getting through the holes of the tangled curtain of our room’s window. Humid, densely hot and cloudy began a day in which a country woke up expectant.
Walking underneath the greens, whites and blues that colour Palermo’s streets, I find myself looking for a café to escape the capital’s heat. It just turned nine in the morning. Bartenders sweep leaves away from their doorstep, while I capture the old-roses scent of a lady passing by. Of all conversations I can hear from the people murmuring around the neighbourhood, People murmur around the neighbourhood and all I can hear of each and every chat revolves around Argentina’s chances to win today’s match. Will this be the day on which the national team qualifies for the next World Cup’s round? And then, all of a sudden, a realisation comes to me as if it was the hand of God showing me how almost everyone wears a white and blue striped t-shirt this morning., most of them with the number 10 at the back. What an electrifying day I am about to live, I tell myself.
I keep looking for a café that fulfils my morning-maniac needs, as I stumble upon a huge line of people waiting for what I first think of as a restaurant’s unreasonably early queue but ends up being a line to enter a Western Union premise. What some would immediately judge as gringos, but also people whose appearance does not suggest any origin, crowds the line. Then I remember how tremendously bad the economic situation has been in this country for a while now. A long while but when did everything start swaying in a sea of uncertainty?
When did Argentina start going through a crisis loop without hopes of getting out: annual inflation of around 100%, skyrocketed taxes on imported goods and ironic restrictions to sending foreign currency –namely dollars– abroad… The conclusion most of the people I talk to harmonically reach boils down to: “it is Argentina, that’s what we’re used to”.
A student from Córdoba I met at the hostel says he likes to define his country as el país de la locura colectiva, pointing some evidence to the past. For instance, when Carlos Menem –ex-president of the Republic during the transition to democracy in 1982– cruised 440 km with his Ferrari simply because he could do so. A moment in history when pizza was accompanied by champagne and things, overall, were going well.
It is definitely not easy to summarise Argentina’s history in a few lines, risking to represent a limited and unfair picture of reality. However, it is a reality that 2001 hallmarked the country’s evolution. A few months after the thirteen year-old Lionel Messi left the country for a promising future in a pretty well-known Catalan team, the government froze bank deposits in an attempt to avoid a financial panic. The Argentine peso was pegged to the U.S. dollar since 1991, which –without enlarging their foreign currency reserves according to the fluctuations of the peso’s supply and demand– caused a monetary crisis featured by soaring inflation and an unprecedented devaluation of the Argentine currency. Such financial calamity rapidly evolved into a multilayered social and political nightmare for the country. And of course, it made the nation explode in turmoil. Days of protest and police-led violence to futilely stop people’s discontent. De la Rua, the President at that moment, resigned leaving the Government’s room smelling like uncertainty. In less than two years, four presidents occupied the presidential seat before the official mandate of De la Rua ended, in 2003. Then, a regional leader whose face was quite unknown nation-wide, became the new Head of State. Néstor Kirchner led the Government of the country for one mandate, before his wife, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, would succeed him in 2007 and be re-elected in 2011 after Néstor’s unexpected death.
The Kirschners’ period –which despite the discontinuity posed by the election of the centre-right leader Mauricio Macri in 2015– made out of Argentina a scribble of challenges that multiplied themselves while shadowing the foreseeable future of its citizens. Not everything should be reduced to economics, which tends to be the tone taken by many critics. Accordingly, if the purpose of a country’s existence is the wellbeing of the people who compose it, such a country does luckily not only rely on good figures of economic growth to fulfil its aims. However, Argentina is a country that has gone beyond having a deep financial slump by now, witnessing a multilayered crisis that each day is harder to solve.
Two-hundred fifty thousand people left Argentina solely in 2001. In 2019, an estimate of two-hundred thousand permanent migrants were added to that number despite being an unofficial figure. Yet, mixed feelings are found when it comes to assessing the current reality. While the welfare system is one of the largest in the Global South –subsidising utilities and transportation, providing extensive social benefits, as well as public health care and education– its logic has for long been short-sighted. The reason why is a killing recipe that combines overprinting money, fiscal deficit, domestic inflation and severely high taxes on exports and foreign currency transactions. This, together with poor efforts to boost productivity and competitiveness in the economy through reforms that complement the current social programmes has prevented poverty, labour market informality, lack of quality education and gender gaps from being reduced.
However catastrophic this may look, many people do not lose hope. With a glistening magic on his eyes, Franco, a man in his thirties, who works for the Latinoamerican Art Museum of Buenos Aires, happily says it is easier to see the bad things of a country and forget the many good ones. His words make me rethink my ideas, as I cannot understand how the upsides can overturn realities such as the increasing poverty in the country and the decreasing opportunities people have at reach. In this sense, I agree with him when he says most of Argentina’s wonders tend to be overlooked since the country has virtually become a synonym of economic crisis.
Not far from such a conclusion, I realised I crossed the Andes from Chile to Argentina the day the World Cup had begun. I could see flags everywhere –even a bar’s deal offering free cups with Messi’s face for a drink. I could not help but think how senseless it was to focus on the world cup when the country is going through such a hard social, political and economic time. I kind of convinced myself to shut off my ears whenever a conversation spiraled into Argentina’s chances in the competition. I was mad about everyone being so blind. But soon it became clear I was the blind one to see how necessary the world cup is for the country right now. To be united and hopeful. By observing how kids, adults and the elder watched their team with indescribable magic in their eyes, by overhearing conversations at the other side of a bar with unique enthusiasm one rarely feels, and by seeing how everyone, no matter who that everyone was, embraced each other so passionately every time a goal was scored, I clearly saw how wrong I was.
While it is true any World Cup is temporary and does not bring an end to preexisting fatalities this country may suffer from, it is a pause from hopelessness, individual struggles to thrive, and all kinds of division it might witness daily. This year’s World Cup –as the previous Russia-hosted one– is a huge mistake and should not have been celebrated after the horrible human rights violations allowed by Qatar’s government. My reflection does not by any means aim to justify the competition. Yet, every country has a different way and reason to live it, and I had the chance to witness how the Argentinian capital does it this time.
From the Buenos Aires airport, the cheers from a crowd watching a goal on a massive screen attracted my attention. For a moment I dared to think they would miss their flight before missing their team scoring. And they did, score. Crazy celebration for the country yesterday.