La Nacion (Reprint: Corriere della Sera)
February 5, 2013
By Rocco Cotroneo
We know candidates all lie at election time. And so many governors tell lies both during and after the exercise of their functions. But then there is the case of Argentina, where exaggeration, omission and a range of lies have become an affair of state. This belongs to a die-hard tradition which has cemented itself into history and the perpetual political cycles. As if this were an entire nation that lies to the rest of the world. But of course this is not the case, and millions of serious and honest Argentines bear this out. And they are also suffering, like beaten dogs at the moment, when the government exposes itself to ridicule for the ‘nth time.
Cristina Kirchner, as did her husband Néstor before her, has been lying for years about inflation. Official data reduces this at least by two thirds: prices are in fact rising by some 25% but the government says this is 7-8%. The lie serves to embellish a whole range of other economic data. The Economist has for some time refused to publish them, an unprecedented event for a democracy. Three months ago, the head of the IMF Christine Lagarde warned her opposite number in the Government House using football language: We’re giving you a yellow card, change the stats or we’ll give you the red one. As nothing happened, we seem to be on the verge of expulsion: this is the first time the IMF has threatened one of its members in this way. Probably nothing will happen, but how long can Argentina go on like this?
The literary genius Jorge Luis Borges also asked this question, as the conscience of his country, when he was at odds with the Peronists of his time, the spiritual gurus of Cristina. “They are neither good nor bad, merely incorrigible.” And when the writer was told that the Party march was in fact plagiarized from a Scottish march, he replied calmly: “Well, this is the proof that everything in this country is made up.” There are countless historical versions of the life of Evita Peron, Cristina’s maximum myth, even her iconic biography is plagued with lies, beginning with her age. She took three years off her age, being born in 1919 not 1922 as she said. The Broadway musical then took it upon itself to glorify her humble origins (in fact she was from a stalwart middle-class family) and official propaganda has included this fiction ever since then.
The generals and murderers from the dictatorship lied long and hard to both the country and the world (the word to disappear became a euphemism for ending up assassinated), as well as the announcement of victory over Great Britain in the Malvinas war, which was ruinously lost. Carlos Menem was unable to rid himself of this vice, a blend of blustering arrogance and old-style peronism; he told some of the most bare-faced lies in Argentine history, beginning with economic reform. He made the Argentines believe that one peso was worth the same as a dollar for ten years until its tragic demise. But he did himself proud in 1996 when he boasted to a class of schoolchildren that soon one would be able to travel from Argentina to Japan or Korea in an hour and a half thanks to a system of stratospheric flights leaving the city of Cordoba. Perhaps the only true thing he ever said was in 1990 in the throes of his electoral campaign. “Not only will economic problems be solved. I will also, without a doubt, make Argentina more fun.” This was not the case for the 300,000 Italians who found themselves soon after the end of his mandate with worthless bonds instead of the tango bonds he had sold them.
And in fact, Diego Maradona wasn’t lying about his famous hand strike against England in the 1986 World Cup. He didn’t say “that’s not true” but rather that it was “the hand of God”. And thus he became, not only the top footballer of his time, but also the icon of a certain Latin cheekiness which northern peoples are unable to understand. And which does not excuse the Italians from a certain responsibility for all of this, at least genetically speaking: over 50% of the blood flowing down the River Plate is ours. Hence all the generalizations and jokes about the swaggering show-off Argentines all over Latin America. And there may be some chromosome link in the business of State lies.
“I always talk to the press”, replied a wide-eyed Cristina Kirchner just a few weeks ago to a Harvard student whose devastating question was “Why am I the only Argentine who can ask you a question?”. The “presidenta” has not given a press conference in seven years of government. A concept of reality which also embraces laws, such as the media law, which forbids foreigners from owning 30% of a news company. But when a TV channel such as Telefé is a friend to the government, its 100% Spanish ownership is charmed into being as Argentine as the “bife de chorizo”, the iconic beef steak. “I do not aspire to being an example of virtue,” said the inimitable Maradona on one occasion. “I just want to live my life in peace”. Luckily he has not stood for elections, neither in Buenos Aires nor in Naples.