Report from Buenos Aires: What a difference a new leader can make when even a slim majority of a nation’s people decide they have had enough and select change.
That’s what happened in the Argentine Republic last November, when Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri narrowly won as Argentina’s president. Macri, a moderate conservative, is the first democratically-elected, nonradical or non-Peronista president since 1916.
With the invaluable assistance of a Spanish-speaking friend, I saw this great metropolis through the eyes of a local who loves and loves this city where fútbol (football ) is an obsession, they dance the sexy tango in the streets and you meet friendly and gorgeous porteños (Buenos Aires locals).
Argentina is a country making a stunning comeback. That remarkable national resurgence and retrieval provides lessons for voters in this election year.
The Argentine Republic is the second-largest state in Latin America, and it occupies most of the continent’s area. Like most countries in the area, it is a former Spanish colony. It celebrated 200 years of independence.
Breathe in Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires in Spanish translates as “Good Airs.” It owes the first settler, Pedro de Mendoza, who, in 1536, christened it Puerto Nuestra Señora Santa María del Buen Aire that name.
But a barbarous and political smog enveloped Argentina’s capital and the entire country for much of the past century. Argentina was a prosperous, debt-free nation thriving with exports following World War I. A century later, it was an economic wreck.
Years of financial fascism, corruption, debt and military dictatorships ruined its economy and the country. People lost freedom, and controls on prices, capital, and repression of the media and every part of life ruined lives. Dictatorial leaders kidnapped and murdered opponents, nationalized pensions, confiscated assets that were private, jailed the opposition and caused currency crises. The government defaulted on billions.
It was this mess that confronted President Macri when he took office.
In record time, with the grudging help of politicians in the congress, Macri has led a turnaround that’s producing results that were stunning, with an rush. He eliminated unsuccessful currency controls in place using a 30% devaluation of the peso that was bloated. Macri abolished quotas on grain exports and brought back free trade to Argentina, removing taxes on exports of fish, beef and grain.
The local saying is that”Buenos Aires is Argentina,” and, with its national dominance, that is accurate.
But Buenos Aires has its own universe. This is His Holiness, Pope Francis, but also the hometown not only of Juan and Evita Peron.
It’s a city of dining that is good, broad boulevards, monuments and lush green parks. In Ricoleta, where I stayed, or at San Telmo’s antique shops and street fairs or in the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Plaza de Mayo and the Casa Rosada, everywhere you will see an odd charm, culture and a charm unlike any other important city.
And a place where individuals, after a time of darkness, are adapting to a freedom that is renewed