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ARGENTINA
“Kirchnerism divided society into ‘K’ and ‘anti-K’”
Paolo Moiola
12/3/2015
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Interview with journalist and writer Alba Piotto

Since 1995 Alba Piotto, an Argentine journalist and writer, has been editor of the daily Clarín, which covers police, judicial and social issues. Since 2003, she writes for Viva, the Sunday magazine of the newspaper. The winner of several journalism awards, in 2012 Piotto published, with medical psychiatrist, Adrián Helien, the book Cuerpos equivocados. Hacia la comprensión de la diversidad sexual (Mistaken bodies. Towards understanding of sexual diversity).

Paolo Moiola, a Latinamerica Press collaborator, spoke with Piotto about themes covering the second round of elections on Nov. 22, her evaluation of the 12 years of kirchnerism — the years in which Argentina has been governed by Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) and his wife Cristina Fernández (2007-2015) —, the economic situation, women presidents in Latin America and Pope Francis.

What explains the defeat of the governing party’s candidate, Daniel Scioli?
The only certainty is that the people grew tired of kirchnerism. And it was all or nothing in the [recent] campaign which created fear in the minds of the voters. Our reality is changeable. This region is changeable. The world became more unpredictable than before. [President-elect] Mauricio Macri is not going to have the support of Congress the way [President] Cristina Fernández had, which is positive, above all in a democracy concentrated in the presidency as ours.

During these 12 years of government by the Kirchner family, how did the country change? Did it change for the better?
After a decade of neoliberalism [in the 1990s with President Carlos Menem (1989-1999)], of course there was change in the country. Above all in the social policies implemented by kirchnerism at the beginning of their government [in 2003 with President Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007)], which confronted a national reality in which half of the population lived in poverty with a high-level of unemployment produced by neoliberal exclusion. We can discuss the social policies implemented as emergency measures — and therefore necessary — and then sustained over time, became tools of the existing political clientelism.

On the other hand, the government stopped calculating poverty indicators. There are no official statistics. What is accepted as reliable data are the social measurements calculated by the Observatory of Social Debt of the Argentinian Catholic University — an institution close to Pope Francis — which at the end of last year published a poverty rate measured by income, of between 18 percent and 26 percent of the population. An alarming data is that 40 percent of families do not have any member that works in the formal sector with social security benefits. With this we can conclude that structural poverty has not been effectively resolved, after 12 years of growth and improvements in social rights.

Latin America, in spite of its machismo, has three women presidents: the Argentinian Cristina Fernández, the Chilean Michelle Bachelet and the Brazilian Dilma Rousseff. What is your opinion about them?
A machismo culture is very ingrained in the social fabric of the region. But I ask, except for the Scandinavian countries with very interesting laws on gender, what other society and continent is free of machismo? We could give a political interpretation on the matter about how capitalist societies are structured in function of production and productivity, where to be a man or woman determines, for example, who occupies management positions. Also, we could put forward questions about religion in some continents. Machismo is not only an issue in Latin America.

In Argentina, there is a femicide every 30 hours, and this is only the very worst expression of machismo, and reveals the tip of the iceberg. There are more subtle forms of gender violence being debated in the world of labor, politics, etc. In other words, about the place that women occupy in the public sphere.

We could think that the fact that the region has three women in strong leadership roles in the last decade is a contradiction. However, except for Michelle Bachelet, Dilma Rousseff as well as Cristina Fernández came to power in the hands of powerful men [former presidents] Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011) and Néstor Kirchner. This does not delegitimize their own power construction, but it is a detail. Also, one must take into account that it occurred within a current of progressivism in the region. We must ask ourselves if conceding political power to women also they had decision on economic power. I believe that this remained in the hands of men and this is where the real power is. But this is my very personal opinion.

The economic situation of Argentina always seems ambiguous and uncertain. There was a war against vulture funds. There was a war against poverty. This gives the impression that the country is always at the limit. Is this so?
The word “war” is very tough. But it is what the kirchnerism choose for its network of power: confrontation, creating enemies outside and inside the country, dividing the society between “K” and “anti-K” [kirchneristas and anti-kirchneristas]. In the latter category enter all who have different opinions or moderately different opinions; kirchnerism did not accept ambiguity. This was a time of enormous growth in Argentina due to the cultivation of soy beans. The problem lies in how they distributed the millions of dollars that entered the country, and if this wealth was reflected in the common good. On the other hand, there exists a high level of corruption measured by international organizations. In recent years, inflation devours, literally, the pockets of the workers. The comfortable social classes were the most favored because the increasing inflation always affects those who have the least.

The economic cycles that occur in the country periodically, with blows that jolt us from time to time, are part of our history and help create the idea that we are bordering on the abyss every so often.

What is happening with the dollar? Is there a lack of confidence in the peso or is there an excessive love of the US dollar?
It is not love of the dollar. It is the search for a strong currency to protect savings. Facing the prospect of devaluations, those with savings see in the dollar a way to protect them. Since the 1970s to the present, we have lived through severe devaluations of the peso. But I insist that only a family group with large or very large incomes can save in dollars.

Although the government denies it, there is a restraint to the dollar. Nobody, not even the tourists, can change money in an exchange office, which has been closed, or in a bank. If they don’t change money at the Ezeiza airport upon disembarking, they will have to visit the “caves” and exchange parallel dollars or blue dollars at a higher rate. And it is illegal.

The Catholic Church has elected an Argentinian Pope. Are Argentinians proud or indifferent?
How could we not be proud of Francisco! Skillful, political, [Mons. Jorge Mario] Bergoglio has had a big influence in local politics, strongly opposing kirchnerism up until he assumed the papacy, and then, the government had no choice but to get behind him. And as it is known, since he himself has said it, the Vatican has become a parade of politicians that go in search of his support, for the photo. But he has not said no especially to his old friends and Peronist leaders. I am not saying that the Pope is one. —Latinamerica Press.


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Alba Piotto (Photo: Paolo Moiola)
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