Almost 80 years after the end of World War II, the world still wonders how, after 1932, Germany could have so blindly followed Adolf Hitler, an uneducated corporal turned populist dictator. The self-destructive mechanisms that a country can adopt and which can lead to national implosion are now also present in Argentina.
Argentina’s economy will face a deeper crisis than ever before in the run-up to October’s elections, due in part to a drought-induced recession and skyrocketing inflation. Argentina’s annual rate of inflation -currently at more than 114 percent- is the third highest in the world, behind only Venezuela and Lebanon.
This high inflation rate has a direct effect on poverty levels in the country. According to INDEC, Argentina’s national statistics agency, 39.2 percent of the population experienced poverty in the second half of 2022. Among children under 15, the poverty rate is even higher, at 54.2 percent. The percentage of the population considered destitute—those who cannot cover even basic needs—is over 8 percent. These percentages would be even higher without the government’s social welfare programs.
At the beginning of the 20th century, economically, Argentina was fifth among the most developed countries in the world. Today, that is a distant memory. The country’s decline seems more perplexing, since Argentina continues to boast fertile land, some of the best meat and wines in the world, and a significant production of soy and wheat. In addition to natural resources, Argentina has a highly educated population, including several Nobel Prize winners.
This prompts the question: What happened to the country? Why is Argentina in such a sorry state, economically, politically, and socially? One could argue that the military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983 destroyed the country’s democracy. But that really does not explain why Argentines consistently vote for leaders who promise everything, but deliver nothing. What is driving the country into the abyss?
Argentina’s contemporary failure cannot be understood without considering the effect of Peronism, a movement based on the ideas and legacy of Argentina’s former President Juan Perón (1946–1952, 1952–1955, 1973–1974).
Some Argentines still believe in the miraculous powers of Peronism, regardless of any given Peronist leader. They are utterly convinced that the country’s saviors will be the Peronists, a completely irrational hope, given the Peronists’ track record.
Juan Perón promoted some greatly needed social reforms that benefitted the poor. Most of his policies favoring the poor, however, are widely credited to his wife, Eva Perón. But many Argentines forget that Peron’s regime collapsed into a corrupt populist and authoritarian regime.
The economic scandals perpetrated during former President Cristina Kirchner’s government have not swayed the support of the Peronist masses for their leaders’ shortcomings. They continue to choose magical thinking over logic and therefore continue to believe in Peronist leaders, regardless of how corrupt they are.
To sustain itself in power, Cristina Kirchner’s government enlarged a vast social group that continues to depend on government handouts and lacks the impetus toward employment and critical thinking. As expected, the subsequent damage to the country’s social fabric has been immense. It is common for people to refuse employment because they claim that their salary is below their social welfare benefits.
Today, former president Cristina Kirchner serves as Argentina’s Vice President to a powerless president, Alberto Fernández, who lives under her shadow. Cristina Kirchner is using her influence over President Alberto Fernández to persecute her political adversaries and to purge the judicial system of all judges who do not have the authority — and the courage — to investigate her misdeeds.
It is tragic that Argentina has, yet again, another incompetent Peronist president, plus a vengeful vice president who is now facing several corruption charges. Ironically, some Argentines say that the worst Argentine mistake was repealing the British invasions of the country (1806-1807). Had the British won, they claim, perhaps Argentina would now be a prosperous country like Australia or New Zealand.
Instead, Argentina still faces the abyss. Nobody knows whether it will eventually be able to rise above it and resume its path as part of the group of prosperous nations. The difference between Germany post-1933 and Argentina in the 21st century is that Germany learned from its grave errors. Argentina has not.
This piece was co-authored by Alberto Luis Zuppi.