By Joseph Siess
President Fernández stood up at the UN Food and Agriculture Office (FAO) and claimed that Argentina’s poverty level is “below 5 percent, and 1 percent severe poverty.” Then on Tuesday, Argentinean Chief of Staff Aníbal Fernández got on FM Blue radio and claimed that the country was doing better than Denmark and Germany.
While the chief of staff spewed his swill across the radio waves, airplanes filled with sparkly eyed tourists and suited businessmen roared over the tin rooftops and dilapidated shanties of one of the largest slums of Buenos Aires. Behind the Retiro train station, a few kilometres north of the Jorge Newbery airport, life trudged on in the Villa 31 slum, as cartoneros (paperboard collectors) made their rounds digging through dumpsters, and the street vendors got down to their daily hustle. Straggly palms and crowded clotheslines contrasted with the sleek financial district blinking in the distance.
The scene in Villa 31, and other Argentinean slums like it, serves as the elephant in the room, demonstrating the absurdity of Kirchner’s claims. Argentina, as a Latin-American country riddled with corruption and vast economic inequalities, clearly falls short of the Kirchnerista paradise the government purports it to be.
The chief of staff pulled the “structural poverty” card to confuse and deflect: “countries like Germany are not doing well, and although they don’t want to believe it, their rate of structural poverty is at 20 percent.… You don’t have to be a genius or a German spy, all you have to do is look at the statistics that they themselves publish.”
The economic notion of “structural” poverty posits that individuals slump into a state of poverty as a result of an inherent flaw in the economic system, as opposed to personal accountability. According to the theory, while an individual may eventually find a way out of poverty, the initial flaw that caused the poverty persists as a sort of economic glitch in the system, waiting to ensnare another unfortunate soul down the line.
One does not need to be an economist to understand that a country that neglects to provide nor collect statistics on poverty, stifles economic growth via currency controls, and consistently defaults on sovereign debt, is “structurally” a hot mess.
The sprawling slums on the outskirts of the capital city should be enough of a red flag to indicate an ever-growing, uncontrolled, and unaccounted for “structural” poverty pickle; yet Kirchnerista officials choose propaganda over pragmatism.
The general consensus on the street in Argentina was of apparent unanimity that nobody believed the blatant lies of the government. A Senegalese man hustling knockoff Ray-Bans in front of the train station shook his head and laughed after being asked to provide his thoughts on the statements made by the president and her chief of staff.
A woman named Virginia said that “all they do is talk about poverty and how bad it is. They throw around all these numbers and criticize poverty, but nobody ever does anything about it.”
“If they want to actually make things better, they need to actually make a plan. Less talk and more action,” she added.
It is hard to believe that the country, in which half of the population earns less than AR$5,500 (US$458) per month, does not have a serious and intrinsic “structural” poverty problem, to use the chief of staff’s words. The central government’s latest ploy, to rouse rickety populism with misleading statistics, will only lead to its further degeneration in the eyes of both Argentineans and the world.
In fact, as of May, the Foundation for Latin American Economic Research (FIEL) has pegged the level of monthly income required for a family to avoid poverty in Argentina at AR$6,154 ARP (US$512). That suggests half of the Argentinean population are technically in poverty.
“Any person need not be a professional, or a social worker to see that the reality is a painful wound,” he said. “There are many poor people, and we are not like the president said, better off than countries in the first world.”
As Cristina continues to alienate the West by way of strengthening political and economic ties with China and Russia, as well as refuse to settle debts with the “hold out” funds, the situation is bound to slip into further atrophy.
Argentina is already economically isolated, and effectively shut out from western capital markets, placing enormous strain on the domestic economy. With the default last year and crippling currency controls, it’s only a matter of time before grinding poverty becomes so widespread and severe that Argentineans will have to rise up and confront their corrupt and deceitful ruling class.
Joseph Siess is a freelance writer and journalist based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He holds a bachelors degree in history and Arabic from the University of Kansas. Follow @JosephSiess.