hused in Housed in a neo-Hispanic mansion in Palermo, a posh neighborhood in the Argentine capital Buenos Aires, the Evita Perón Museum tells the story of the birth of Latin American populism as a mass movement. In the grainy newsreel, Eva and Juan Peron (pictured) addressed the crowd at Plaza de Mayo, the city’s main square. One volume shows a demonstration by workers on October 17, 1945 that secured the freedom of Colonel Perón after a brief imprisonment—events that would propel him to victory in the presidential election.
Peron promised he would “serve the real Argentine people wholeheartedly”. Eva Peron insisted: “I don’t want anything. I just want to be Peron’s shield and my people’s flag.” In her last public speech before dying of cancer at the age of 33, she declared: ” I will always do what people say.”
This is the cornerstone of populism. First, it requires charismatic leadership and absolute loyalty to that leadership. It also helps to invoke the notion of “real people” and their enemies – “oligarchies” and Peron’s America. A little drama is added to the mix; Eva is recalled as the tragic victim. Paired with this is their commitment to social justice: an eight-hour workday, wage increases, paid time off, and benefit programs.
It’s a winning formula. Perón was overthrown in a military coup in 1955. But the movements, which he called Just Doctrine and others called Peronism, have since experienced many twists and turns and dominated Argentine political life. It’s still in power, as it has been for 16 of the past 20 years. It has been replicated, with varying degrees of success, throughout Latin America.
Yet Peronism is perhaps now at its lowest ebb. The energy, poise and teamwork of Argentine footballers is not echoed in the government. Alberto Fernández has been Argentina’s president since 2019, leading a weak, divided and failing government. Known as Perón Loyalty Day on October 17 to commemorate the 1945 demonstration, there are three competing commemorations in 2022. Fernandez did not play in any of them. Vice-President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (no relation) is also the most powerful figure in Peronism since the death of her husband Nestor in 2010. Mr Fernandez and Ms Kirchner did not speak for months.
Ms. Kirchner has her own problems. On Dec. 6, a federal court convicted her of defrauding the state over a $1 billion public works contract and sentenced her to six years in prison and permanent disbarment from public office. She claimed that, like Evita, she was a victim. In her case, she claimed that the “judicial mafia,” the media and Mauricio Macri, a conservative president from 2015 to 2019, were determined to remove her from politics.
fading electric couple
Others pointed out that while she and her husband are politicians, they amassed a $10 million fortune, which she announced to anticorruption agencies in 2015 when she stepped down as president after eight years. She said she would appeal the verdict. But she also surprised her followers by saying she would not seek to run for office in the October 2023 general election. It might be a ruse. But it may also reflect her dwindling public support.
Peronism was also uninspired, as Argentina’s protracted economic crisis underscored. After 10 years of overspending by the Kirchner family, Macri has tried unsuccessfully to stabilize the economy he inherited. Mr Fernandez’s government has only half-heartedly tried.He Forcibly Approved $44 Billion in Loans International Monetary Fund That’s crucial to supporting the peso, but requires tighter monetary and fiscal policy.Ms Kirchner’s allies vote against International Monetary Fund agreement, requiring the government to rely on the opposition. She blocked moves to cut indiscriminate subsidies for electricity, gas and public transportation that added to the deficit.When the peso plummeted in July, she dubiously agreed to appoint Sergio Massa as economy minister, tasked with implementing the International Monetary Fund protocol.
Today, economies are held together by a chain of price and exchange controls. Even so, inflation is approaching 100% this year, and on the (tolerable) black market, the peso is worth less than a quarter of what it was three years ago. Government lives week after week. According to statistics, about 37% of the population is poor, up from 28% in 2011. Cedrasa think tank, uses a poverty line of 120,000 pesos a month for a family of four ($698 at the official rate, $381 at the unofficial rate).
The decline of Peronism was intertwined with the decline of the entire state. “Peronism is clearly to blame for the situation in Argentina,” said Eduardo Duarde, the movement’s former governor and president, bluntly. “Today we are at the worst possible moment.”
In 1914, Argentina was one of the ten wealthiest countries in the world, even though it was a very unequal country. In the mid-1970s, it was still a predominantly middle-class country. no longer. Over the past half-century, underlying declines have been interrupted by temporary rallies (see chart). Capital flooded in in the 1990s, when Peronist President Carlos Menem adopted free-market policies. But a fixed and overvalued exchange rate, combined with loose fiscal policy, eventually led to an economic and financial collapse in 2001. Until 2012, the commodity boom was rescued under the Kirchner regime. Then the twisting started.
The problem is that populism creates expectations it cannot meet. There are two consequences. Mr Fernandez’s government, like several of its predecessors, has financed itself in part by printing money. Long experience means that Argentines don’t trust the peso. All of this creates inflation, which the government masks with multiple exchange rates, provides cheap dollars for selected imports and discriminates against exports. The second problem is that it protects vested interests—such as uncompetitive industrialists and union tycoons—who receive unaffordable subsidies and privileges that lead to chronic fiscal deficits.
The recession changed society and forced Peronism to adapt. Peron himself was a fan of Benito Mussolini and of the British Labor Party. He has a pragmatic bent. He built Peronism out of fascism, the labor movement, the Catholic conservatism of local bosses in Argentina’s backward northern and western provinces, and the armed forces (though they later turned against him).
But Argentina today is very different. It’s more mundane. After an abusive military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983, the civilian government slashed the size and budget of the military. Unions are also weaker. Juan Luis Bour of the think-tank Fiel says nearly all of the net job creation over the past 15 years has come from the informal sector.
Peronism has survived by organizing and representing the informal economy, through social movements and building strong patronage networks in poorer urban suburbs. These Peronist social movements are now divided, with some backing Mr Fernandez, others Ms Kirchner, and some leaders closer to Pope Francis, the former head of Buenos Aires. Archbishop of Leith, had long been a sympathizer of Peronism.
But Peronism has always suffered from internal tensions.Loris Zanatta, an Italian political scientist who has studied the movement, says its consistent orthodoxy is nationalism: “It’s not an ordinary party, it’s a [instead] embodies the essence motherland (motherland). ” that religion motherland Sometimes coexisting with more left-wing forces. Mr. Fernandez, for example, describes himself as a social democrat and has pushed a law to legalize abortion. Axel Kicillof, the governor of Buenos Aires province, is the heir apparent to Ms Kirchner, who has retained some of his original left-wing ideas. Peronism, he said, “was a struggle for equality of opportunity in a very unequal country”. “The fight for dignity is very important.”
Under a strong leader, the breadth of Peronism can be the strength of a movement. But under the weak it becomes hairy. Ms Kirchner still has the power to mobilize the poor. Mr Zanatta believes she is trying to garner enough support by posing as a victim to keep her in politics. “She’s looking back at Evita and her experience of dropping the vice-presidential candidacy in 1951,” he said. But she tried to divide rather than unite Argentines. Mr Massa represents a third, more liberal branch of Peronism that came to power under Menem in the 1990s. As Kirchnerismo wanes, that force may return. But some think Peronism may splinter.
Like inflation, it’s been around for a long time
Peronism is so woven into the national fabric that it is hard to imagine it disappearing. Its religious quality emphasizes emotion and redemption. “Peronists can make mistakes, but we have to continue to be Peronists,” said Sonia Manzoni, who heads a small cooperative that produces nurseries, the Peronist Part of the socialist social movement Movimiento Evita, it is located in wealthy Palermo near the former railway bush.
In the short term, the decline of Peronism suggests that the centre-right opposition will prevail in next year’s elections if it can overcome internal divisions and manage to defeat liberal Javier Millais, who is popular with young people. Milei) competition. Some political scientists believe the opposition could win an outright majority in Congress, which would allow it to implement radical economic reforms that Mr Macri has shunned. These include addressing vested interests, in addition to spending cuts to eliminate the deficit and unify the exchange rate. Such reforms can restore confidence in the peso, attract flight capital back, and ultimately boost growth. But “there are a lot of losers from reform in the short term,” warned Eduardo Levy Yeyati, an economist who advises the opposition.
For some, this suggests the next government will have to forge a broad coalition. It might have a thing to do. “The crisis we are in has generated a consensus for change that will allow us to achieve what would have been impossible at other times,” said Buenos Aires Mayor Horacio Rodriguez La Reta He is, on paper, the opposition’s strongest presidential candidate. The long cycle of populism that began in 1945 may be coming to an end. ■