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Juan Carlos Torre: "Argentina chooses between a trapeze artist and an illusionist"


Highlights: Juan Carlos Torre: "Argentina chooses between a trapeze artist and an illusionist". The Argentine sociologist points out that "40 years of democracy are being challenged and democracies are saved when they are challenged" He expects the results on Sunday, but warns that the new face of the country will take time to be known, as well as the new form that Peronism will take. Torre has dedicated decades of study, condensed in essays including October 17, 1945 and The Peronist Years (2014)

The Argentine sociologist points out that "40 years of democracy are being challenged and democracies are saved when they are challenged"

Sociologist Juan Carlos Torre in a file photo. COURTESY

Argentinian sociologist Juan Carlos Torre (Bahía Blanca, 83 years old) observes with perplexity the dizzying moment in which Argentina is immersed, a few days before a decisive second round between the Peronist Sergio Massa and the ultra candidate Javier Milei. He expects the results on Sunday, but warns that the new face of the country will take time to be known, as well as the new form that Peronism will take, that "phoenix that reinvents itself every time" and to which he has dedicated decades of study, condensed in essays including October 17, 1945, recently republished, and The Peronist Years (2014).

"Of the 40 years of democracy, we have lived 27 under a Peronist government. Peronism has been defeated and has recovered from its defeats by reinventing itself," Torre said during an interview with EL PAÍS at his home in a quiet neighborhood of Buenos Aires. This sociologist, who was part of the Ministry of Economy during the first five years of Raúl Alfonsín's government, stresses that Peronism has a great ability to grasp the climate of the time and adapt to it in order to stay in power. Thus, it adopted the democratic garb after losing to Alfonsín in 1983, invented a "Peronist neoliberalism" under the leadership of Carlos Menem in the <>s and became "a Bolivarian Peronism" with the Kirchners in tune with the other leftist governments of the continent, such as Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Lula da Silva in Brazil and Evo Morales in Bolivia. Now, in an unprecedented crisis, he is looking to change his skin once again with Massa.

Question. How did Massa come to be the candidate of Peronism when he is the Minister of Economy of a government that arrives at the elections with inflation of 142% and poverty of 40%?

Answer. There are several revealing moves by Cristina [Fernández de Kirchner] that show that for years Christianism can no longer be the figurehead with which Peronism presents itself to society. In three elections, he had to step aside and appoint someone who is not from his inner circle as the head of the ticket. First, Daniel Scioli; then Alberto Fernández, who is another critic of it. Now he wanted it to be Wado de Pedro, but his candidacy lasted a day and he had to take a step back because the usual Peronism, which is the provincial governors and the unions, told him "we want to win and for that we have a boy who is a professional politician. Massa is a trapeze artist, who goes from one trapeze to another and doesn't fall.

Q. How do you not fall with the economic situation that the country is going through? It's very surprising outside of Argentina

A. I have just read in The Guardian that it is very likely that in the next election [in the UK] the Conservative party will lose because the cost of living has increased and the state of the health system is bad. With this logic, Argentina cannot understand anything. One is used to the vote being used to reward or punish, but here we have a Minister of Economy from an inflationary economy who is disputing first place and that tells us that the vote here is not about a policy preference, but a vote that mobilizes identities and here we have a very strong identity called Peronism. In addition, there is also a very well done campaign.

Q. Have you managed to divert attention to your rival, Milei?

A. Yes. He says, "Those who come are worse and they come to take everything you have. It is true that there are many difficulties, that there is still a long way to go, but I am here to protect them against a candidate who wants to destroy everything." He managed to install this idea that Milei is coming to end everything and effectively Milei says, "I'm going to end everything because this is a disaster and you are the number one responsible for this disaster." And with that speech, he activated the fervor of people who at the time voted for Peronism.

Q. What is the reason for this transfer of votes from Peronism to Milei?

A. Argentine politics was based on a slogan: Peronists will never vote for a non-Peronist candidate. Which Peronist are they going to vote for? Anyone. A Menem supporter, a Chavista supporter, a Peronist. The novelty now is that this slogan has begun to erode because there are Peronists who have voted for Milei. There are people who are very upset and vote for him because of his gesture of rebellion. Deserters from Peronism are a new phenomenon.

Q. What is Peronism?

A. Being a Peronist is a loyalty as strong as that of a religious faith or the fidelity of a football team. We're from Boca losing or winning, we're Catholics and we're going to build a wall against Pentecostals. Peronists feel like Peronists, but that feeling doesn't have the magnetism it had for many years, and now there's another music that many are susceptible to, which is that of "let them all go." Yesterday Milei held a massive rally in Rosario and what was shouted was not the sale of organs, dollarization, it was "let them all go." Milei appears to be the one who is going to open the door to a renaissance of Argentina. Today Argentina is going through an extraordinary episode: it has a candidate for president who is a Minister of Economy of the inflationary economy and his rival who invites us to take a leap into the unknown, because his merit is that he has never done anything. It's a choice between a trapeze artist and an illusionist selling the potion of happiness. But what we have ahead of us is a show, it doesn't end on Sunday.

Q. Why not?

A. We have at least two or three years to define the new political face of Argentina. Now we are in a kind of vertigo and we have to wait for it to settle, for better or worse. Néstor was elected in 2003 and it was only in 2005 that he was elected himself, it took him a while to have his own troop, discipline and get rid of the exalted presence of his godfather [Eduardo Duhalde]. Today, Massa has a Shakespearean challenge ahead of him, to get rid of his godmother [Cristina Fernández de Kirchner]. She knows that she will do it and she is alert because Massa sends signals all the time, he meets with people who are unpresentable for Christianity. And then we have the other case, a triumph of Milei. Now Macri has come to his aid, it is a historical slogan that "we have to surround him". They tell him that they can lend him a hand with the prosecutors, to put together the Cabinet and Milei, his sister Karina ask themselves: "Do these guys want to stay with us?" Milei asks Conan, who is his dead dog. Seeing a president arriving at the Casa Rosada with his four dogs is a comic opera, but there are Argentines who don't care. In the debate, one was very professional and the other not very competent, but there were people who said "Milei is very sincere, he doesn't lie, he shows his frailties".

Q. How do you see those who don't identify with any, who have been orphaned as candidates?

A. In 2003 I wrote an article that I called the orphans of party politics and I used the word orphans to refer to all those people who didn't know who to vote for. Radical voters were lost in the night until [Mauricio] Macri came along. The party made a very disciplined accompaniment, they accepted to be second-rate actors, but today they are perplexed, they feel bad about the support for a right-wing candidate and they are divided in two: those who vote blank and those who are converging on Massa.

Q. Would they be part of the government of national unity that Massa is calling for?

A. A government of national unity is a lying phrase. If there are two parties, they agree on ten policies and then they unite and go to a government of national unity. What Massa is saying is that he is going to choose the best within a rainbow. Some may be tempted to return to the government, but the party as such [the Radical Civic Union] has preferred to have a neutral position so as not to be divided because today it is crossed by these two souls, those who want to continue playing in the First Division at the price of submitting and those who prefer to stay out of the party. But I insist, this election does not define the political face of Argentina, it is the beginning.

Q. There are those who say that whoever wins, Argentina has already changed because some democratic consensus has been called into question. Do you share that diagnosis?

A. An autopsy of the phrase must be done. Argentina changed, when did it change? 20 years ago. Argentina is a poorer, more fragmented and more unequal country than in the past. It is no longer the country of social incorporation, there are multitudes who remained in those social refugee camps that are the urban peripheries. But this is a strange country because in agribusiness we are number one and we have unicorns, leading companies in the knowledge industry, it is a country that walks at two speeds. So, the country has changed before. On the subject of democratic consensus, the emphasis is on Milei saying that we should look at the dictatorship with more generous eyes. And this, in a country that lived for many years with the slogan Never Again, is disturbing. It has been allowed to say things that were not said before, things that call into question Never Again. But I have the impression that Nunca Más is still very strong, just as it seems to me that Argentina is a culturally progressive country. This is a country that has equal marriage, that accepts sexual diversity, it's a very open country and I don't think it's going to let its guard down. Have consensuses been broken? I believe that they have not been broken but weakened, but that they only need to be challenged to be activated.

Q. Is Argentina's democracy at risk?

A. 40 years of democracy are being challenged, and democracies are saved when they are challenged. It's better to challenge it because then it's going to move if you strike that chord. Here the dictatorship has been defeated, there are no countries in America that can exhibit this, Pinochet was not defeated, here yes, the military had to leave.

Q. When Donald Trump became president in the United States and then Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, it was common to hear that Peronism was a buffer that would prevent the same thing from happening in Argentina. Why didn't that?

A. I was also confident that by having Peronism we were preserved, but Peronism, after 30 years, was a franchise that began to lose grace. Massa came first in the elections, but with 36%, it was the lowest result for Peronism. Peronism has lost millions of voters. And it's not people who stay at home or abstain, it's people who vote for another candidate.

Q. How would you define Massa?

A. The other day I was talking about a Hegelian tongue-twister of thesis, antithesis, synthesis. The thesis is Menem; the antithesis, Nestor; the synthesis, Massa. Massa is a blend, but we still don't know how much of one or the other he has. We have to wait because I think he will take off his mask and say "I'm here to change the country too".

Q. If he wins, does Massa have the political capital to make the reforms he wants?

A. No, not yet. Political capital is the product of a trajectory and he has to get rid of Cristina. Then it will be another Massa. My son the other day was saying that this is a choice between a compulsive liar and a delusional. Exactly. We know that he is a great political professional, an opportunist and that he has an iron will, he gets up and re-emerges, but he needs an aura like Menem, that "follow me, I'm not going to let you down." To do so, he has to get rid of Cristina's shadow, but it's not going to be easy.

Q. What power does Cristina have left?

A. She still has power in the province of Buenos Aires and among the poorest people, who remember her as a fairy benefactor. But if Massa becomes president, it could be a platform to achieve it.

Q. If he loses, is massism over?

A. No. If he loses he's going to look for Cristina, it's just going to be the defeat of a battle, the fight continues. And if Milei loses, he's going to go after Macri. Cristina and Macri are still there, blocking the future.

Q. What do you think have been the greatest achievements and the main outstanding debt in these 40 years of democracy?

A. The greatest achievement is to have come this far and to have survived many challenges, hyperinflation, coup attempts, conflict. The democratic path was not abandoned. But democracy is not simply freedoms, it is a platform for people to live better with freedoms and there is a deficit of well-being. Even so, in these 40 years of democracy there were happy moments. Menem invented a little trick, "one dollar, one peso," with which people traveled around the country. In the time of Nestor and Cristina, people were able to aspire to a better future for their children. These moments of happiness trigger the question of "what if we go back to that?" and thus policies are proposed more of restoration than transformation. It is not possible, times have changed, but those happy moments of the past are perhaps an input that still feeds confidence in democracy.

Q. How do you feed it?

A. It is said that economic deterioration can be fatal for a young democracy, but it is a phrase that depends on the alternative. If the alternative is a dictatorship like the one we had, then democracy has room to keep going. It is a democracy by default, not because of the enthusiasm it generates but because of the horror that the alternative produces. As long as this game continues to play, democracy will perhaps generate the reflexes to face difficulties or unusual experiences such as the one we are experiencing.

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Source: elparis

All news articles on 2023-11-16

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