Government and Politics
Argentine politics are often contentious, with little consensus, but since the end of the 1976–1983 military dictatorship it has been fairly stable and peaceful. The major exception was the storm of political and economic protest that led to the deaths of five demonstrators in Buenos Aires’s Plaza de Mayo on December 20, 2001, and brought the resignation of President Fernando de la Rúa. The country then had three provisional presidents in two weeks before Buenos Aires Province Senator Eduardo Duhalde, who had lost the 1999 presidential election to De la Rúa, assumed the office in an extra-constitutional congressional vote.
Argentines’ lack of faith in institutions, though, has led to barrio activism through spontaneous asambleas populares (popular assemblies) and less-constructive practices such as escrache, in which groups of citizens loudly and publicly demonstrate against politicians, judges, bankers, or representatives of other institutions at their homes or work places. Escraches, which began after a series of pardons and other measures limited prosecutions of alleged torturers and murderers of the military dictatorship, often deteriorate into shouting matches.
Another questionable form of protest has been the emergence of piqueteros (pickets), who block roads and highways to pressure politicians for assistance or handouts to the unemployed. When unemployment was around 20 percent, the issue was legitimate, but picket leaders managed to dispense this assistance as patronage for their followers. Surveys show that Argentines are, overwhelmingly, fed up with picket abuses, but politicians—including the otherwise confrontational Kirchners—are loath to challenge them.
Unlike 1970s Argentina, though, early-21st-century Argentina appears to be imploding rather than exploding, and the villains are less obvious than they once were. Buenos Aires Herald analyst James Neilson has suggested that, despite vocal protests, inertia rather than genuine activism characterizes the country’s politics.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition