Month: June 2017

mkriOn Tuesday, June 27, 2017,  Argentine President Mauricio Macri of Argentina and Michelle Bachelet of Chile met in Santiago, Chile to discuss a trade agreement between the two South American nations.  A trade agreement would be a boost to the economies of both nations and help the Argentine economy recover from years of devaluation of the peso and loans on which the country was forced to default.  In three weeks I will revisit the Argentine Republic, landing in Buenos Aires, appropriately called the “Paris of South America”.   As of today, the exchange rate between the United States Dollar and Argentine Peso is  $1=16.4ARS. The peso continues to struggle to regain its value as the Macri administration continues its mission to reform the economy.  Incredibly, between the late 1800s and 1930, Argentina was one of the richest nations on earth and boasted a high rate of exports.  Changing world markets and political instability plunged the nation in dark times as the grip of Juan Perón (1895-1974) tightened over Argentina giving birth to the Peronist party.  Even today, his influence and that of the late Evan Peron (1919-1952) continue to be felt in Argentine society.

Students of Argentine history will often ask the question, why did Argentina end up in a financial collapse in 2001?  Paul Blustein (1951- ) tackles this questions and provides answers to help us understand how and why it happened.  Blustein is former writer for the Washington Post and has written about economics for more than 35 years. It was during a post in Buenos Aires that he began the project that became this phenomenal book that tells the story of what proved to be the inevitable.   As part of his research, he interviewed dozens of individuals who were direct participants in the events in the book and others knowledgeable about what really happened.  And what he explains in the book is eye-opening and prophetic not just for Argentina but for every country across the globe that has to confront a rising deficit and possible financial collapse.

On April 1, 1991, Economy Minister Domingo Cavallo (1946- ) adopted the convertibility system which fixed the exchange rate at $1=1ARS.  The new policy initially proved to be a blessing for the Argentine economy, allowing citizens to improve their quality of life, invest, improve savings and travel abroad.  But behind the scenes the government was struggling to reign in spending and raise enough taxes to maintain the newly placed system which required banks to keep an equal amount of U.S. Dollars to Argentine Pesos. A pesos crisis in Mexico and changing world markets, set the ball in motion for what was to come in the next decade. As Argentina grappled with a looming financial disaster,  the International Monetary Fund (IMF) became a prime player in the effort to save its economy.  The Fund, created in 1944 in New Hampshire, engaged in protracted negotiations with Argentina to save the Republic even in the face of financial mismanagement and a severe inability to stimulate economic growth.  The two would eventually reach an agreement that showed signs of being the saving grace needed to save the nation.   Despite IMF intervention, a second agreement would be reached before the long feared collapsed occurred dropping the value of the peso completely.  In fact, things got so bad that President Fernando De La Rúa (1937- ) escaped by helicopter after resigning along with Cavallo, who had previously instituted a zero deficit policy and enacted the corralito, the infamous rule that capped the amount of money citizens could withdraw from their bank accounts sending the public into a rage.

With the whole world watching, Argentina sank deeper into financial distress but in recent years has enjoyed a streak of years of political stability. Its economy still has a long way to go to reach pre-2000 levels and time will tell if the Macri administration can fully rebuild the country’s bank accounts while avoiding another financial catastrophe. For those in control, the lessons of the past will need to be remembered moving forward. What I did like deeply about this book is that not only does Blustein tell us the story but he helps us understand how the IMF works and the value of currency.  And no matter where you live, your country has the potential to suffer the same fate as the Argentines if adequate controls are not placed on spending and taxation. For those seeking to understand the crisis that crippled Argentina, this is a good place to start. I highly recommend supplementing Blustein’s compendium with Luis Alberto Romero’s A History of Argentina in the Twentieth Century. Both books will give the reader tremendous insight of a country that has to be seen in person to be appreciated.

ISBN-10: 1586483811
ISBN-13: 978-1586483814

Investigative Report

1Today, sixty-four years after his death in,  Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) remains one of the most polarizing and studied figures of the 20th century.  As the leader of the Soviet Union during the Second World War,  he enforced the legendary Red Army as it fought off a German onslaught and helped the Allies put an end to Germany’s Third Reich. Following the war, tensions between the United States and the USSR escalated giving birth to the Cold War.  In 1991, the USSR collapsed and today Russia is under the control of Vladimir Putin, undoubtedly one of the world’s most controversial figures.  Stalin’s reign may seem to be in Russia’s distant past but it was less than one hundred years ago that Stalin ruled with an iron fist, striking fear into the hearts of not only his enemies but those closest to him.   Rumors have surfaced over the years regarding everything including his love life, health, mental state and bungled policies.  But who was the real Joseph Stalin?  Born Ioseb Jughashvili in Gori, Georgia on December 18, 1878 to Besarion “Beso” Jughashvili (1850-1909)  and Ketevan “Keke” Geladze (1858-1937), few could have imagined that the young child would grow up to rule an entire nation.  His life in later years became mysterious to those inside and outside of Russia.  Misconceptions and falsehoods have spread, causing even more confusion about the truth.  Stephen Kotkin has takes on the late leader’s life in a multi-part definitive biography that is simply outstanding.

Kotkin’s compendium is extensive, totaling over seven hundred pages of text.  And from what I have seen, the second volume, due to be released in November, 2017 will be slightly larger.  But contained within the pages of this book, is the incredible story of the life of Joseph Stalin from his birth until the year 1928.   The book was exhaustively researched and at times, is heavy on historical figures, places and dates.  At first it may seem challenging to keep track but as the book goes on the, the figures reappear to remind us of their importance.  The beauty in the book is that Kotkin deeply examines all situations that require explanation.  And in his writing, he is neither for or against Stalin. He simply shows us his life and who he was, based on his own statements, transcripts of Party Congresses and documents that have survived from the era.   For history lovers, this is nearly heaven on earth.   History textbooks tell some of the story of the Russian Revolution, but here we have an inside look into the movement that catapulted Stalin, Vladimir Lenin (1877-1924) and Leon “Lev” Trotsky (1879-1940) to eternal fame and later condemnation.  The subsequent Russian Polish War and escalation of tensions between Russian and it’s allies Germany and Britain following Lenin’s death, highlight the fractured foreign policy enacted employed by the Bolshevik party.

As Kotkin showcases, Stalin’s rise to power was based on fear, intimidation and deception.  Even those closest to him, never truly knew what he was thinking or how to approach him at times.  His first wife Yekaterina “Kato” Svanidze (1885-1907) died only a year into their marriage but his second wife Nadya Alliluyeva (1901-1932) witnessed first hand his unpredictable nature and abrasive moods.  And for those that were enemies, they often face exile in Siberia, where Stalin himself was once confined to during the First World War.  Trotsky,  Grigory Zionviev (1883-1936)  and Lev Kamenev (1883-1936) would find this out firsthand. His NEP  or “New Economic Policy” was supposed to be the plan that saved Russian but instead propelled it towards disorganized collectivization intended to balance the economy as Stalin moved further to the left.  But as we see in the book,  the Bolsheviks had steep learning curves in many areas. The results of their shortcomings are tragic having resulted in the deaths of over seven million people. Famine spread like a virus forcing many to eat things unmentionable and unimaginable. And throughout the crisis that arise, Stalin comes off as a cold machine unaffected by anything and  driven by ideology.  As we re-live the past through Kotkin’s words, we see the deep level of seriousness and vindictiveness that composed the former Soviet dictator.

Stalin took with him to the grave, answers to many questions that have puzzled researchers for years.  And although we have documents that have been graciously preserved, some parts of his life are lost for good.  Perhaps some day in the future, more information about him may be discovered but with Kotkin’s work, we have the first part of what could be the best biography of Stalin to date.  It is one of history greatest stories and filled with historical figures such as Pyotr Stolypin (1862-1911), Maria Spiridonova (1884-1941), Fanya Kaplan (1890-1918), Gavilro Princip (1894-1918) and Nicholas II (1868-1918) among others.   Students of Russian history have been presented with a gift in this book and I am sure it will find its way to the bookshelves of many.

Ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not let our enemies have guns, why should we let them have ideas” – Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin 

ISBN-10: 0143127861
ISBN-13: 978-0143127864

Biographies