On April 6, 2017, The Global Confederation of Labor (CGT) conducted a one-day general strike in protest of the policies of the administration of President Mauricio Macri. (1959-) Inflation, high taxes, low wages and job cuts have constrained the people of Argentina into an economic vice grip as the president attempts to steer the country away from a looming economic crisis. The strike is just one in many that have taken place during the last one hundred years in one of South America’s most popular countries. In July, 2017, I had the privilege to visit Buenos Aires, the city that has been called the Paris of South America. In July of this year I will return to the nation that is home to world-famous steaks, milanesa, wine, asado and dozens of culinary delights that make the heart flutter and the mouth water. I do not know what the political climate will be like when I visit but I can be sure that the people of Buenos Aires will show me the same hospitality that they did in the past and in the process help to create memories that will remain with me for the rest of my life. My favorite Argentine presented this book to me as a gift, a gift that keeps on giving. This book is a history of the Argentine Republic during the twentieth century. And what is contained in the pages of this book is essential in understanding modern-day Argentina. James P. Brennan has translated the work of Luis Alberto Romero (1944-), who became a Professor of History at the University of Buenos Aires in 1967. The book is written as only a professor could but presents the reader with a wealth of critical knowledge that is invaluable.
The story begins towards the end of the 1800s as Argentina sees an influx of foreign immigrants, a trend that continued forming the blend of culture that became a signature to this day. Politically, the nation is still in early stages at attempts to embrace democracy. In 1916, the course of the nation changed forever with the election of Hipólito Yrigoyen (1852-1933), the “father of the poor” and co-founder of the Unión Cívica Radical. He is seen as a reformist and one of the nation’s best leaders. He was succeeded by Marcelo Torcuato de Alvear before being elected for a second time in 1928. On September 6, 1930, he was deposed in a coup by the military, a trend that would continue for decades to come and cast a dark light on the future of Argentine politics. Several military officials followed and assumed the office of the presidency. But in 1943, Argentina’s history was forever changed once again with the assumption of power by the late Juan Perón. His reign over the nation, subsequent political activity up until the time of his death and the party that bears his name, became permanently fixed in Argentine politics making it extremely hard for opponents of the party to exist as they attempt to transform society.
While the story of Argentina is complex and volatile as shown intricately in the book, there were other players involved in the development of the country. The United States and Great Britain played critical roles in Argentine society in more ways than most Americans or Brits may be aware of. Personally I learned a few things about my own government’s actions in Latin American and in particular Argentina that help explain how and why the nation still struggles with its economy. When President Barack Obama visited Argentina in February, 2016, it was crucial step in repairing relations to two nations that were once more closely aligned. Moving forward, it is hoped that both countries continue the effort and solidify a growing bond that will benefit both parties. But in order to do so, it is necessary to revisit and reconcile the past not only with America but with England as well. The conflict over the Malvinas Islands, instigated by then president Leopoldo Galtieri and the rise and fall of the export of beef, are dark moments in Argentina’s history that are examined in detail in the book.
The role of the military is not overlooked and throughout the book, its presence is continuously felt as one president after another is deposed and replaced by the next general in line. And during the rule of Galtieri, the plague of the “disappeared” during the Dirty War that resulted in the deaths of thousands of Argentines with the final number possibly as high at thirty-thousand people. The nefarious actions of the government would result in the formation of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, the organization of Argentine mothers who demanded answers into the final destinations of their children and loved ones. The group is supported by the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo. The true number may never be known but what is certain is that many lost their lives as the government enforced a crackdown on all forms of opposition. Their efforts proved to be futile as opposition parties continued to flourish as legitimate threats to the crown of the highest office. The elections of Carlos Menem and Fernando de la Rúa marked a stark change as neither candidate was a military official at the times of his election. However, each left office in controversy with the latter being forced to leave quite unceremoniously. He was succeeded by Adolfo Rodríguez Saá (1947-), Eduardo Duhalde (1941-), Néstor Kirchner (1950-2010) and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (1953-) before Macri’s successful campaign as the candidate of the Republican Proposal (PRO) party. Macri’s future is unknown at the moment but he finds himself in the position of former presidents who have struggled to maintain control of the country while attempting to balance the budget, promote economic growth and curtail the rising rate of inflation that has plagued Argentine society for several decades.
The highlight of Romero’s work is the attention paid to the economic policies that nearly crippled the economy and threatened to cause the country to self-destruct. Seemingly, the ministers of finance were replaced as often as the deposed presidents. Martinez de Hoz (1925-2013) and Domingo Cavallo (1946-) stand out in the book as pioneering reformists and also contributors to the woes of Argentines. They are two among dozens that have tried without long-lasting success to complete fix the nation’s problems. Romero’s investigation into their policies and their effects serve as a lesson in economics that can be revisited in the future by other ministers of finance.
For those wishing to understand the political history of modern-day Argentina, this is the place to start. So take a seat and follow Romero has he steps back in time revisiting the pivotal moments in the Republic’s history that has and continues to confound its citizens and those abroad.
“Argentina is amazing” – Arjun Kapoor