Report from Buenos Aires: What a difference a new leader can make when even a slim majority of a country’s people decide they have had enough and select change.
That is what happened in the Republic last November, when Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri won as Argentina’s president. A moderate conservative, macri, is the first nonradical, democratically-elected or non-Peronista president since 1916.
Argentina is a country making a comeback. Retrieval and that remarkable resurgence provides lessons for American voters in this election year.
The Argentine Republic is the second-largest state in Latin America, and it occupies the majority of the continent’s southern area. It is a Spanish colony. In 2010, it celebrated 200 years of independence.
Breathe in Buenos Aires
It owes the first settler, Pedro de Mendoza, who, in 1536, christened it Puerto Nuestra Señora Santa María del Buen Aire, Port of our Lady Saint Mary of the Fantastic Wind that name.
But a political and brutal smog enveloped Argentina’s capital and the country for much of the past century. Argentina was a booming nation thriving after World War I with exports. A century later, it was an economic mess.
Years of corruption, military dictatorships, debt and fascism destroyed its economy and the country. People lost freedom, and controls on capital prices, and repression of the media and every part of life destroyed lives. Dictatorial leaders and murdered opponents, nationalized the opposition was, jailed by pensions, confiscated assets and caused currency crises. The government twice defaulted on billions in debts.
It was this mess that confronted President Macri when he took office.
In record time, with the help of nervous politicians at the national congress, Macri has led a turnaround that is currently producing results. He removed crippling currency controls in place using a 30% devaluation of the bloated peso. Macri abolished quotas on grain exports and brought much-needed free trade back eliminating taxes on exports of fish, beef and grain.
But with a portentous frame of mind at its center, Buenos Aires has its own world, like any city. This is the hometown not of Juan and Evita Peron, but also His Holiness, Pope Francis.
It’s a town of dining, broad boulevards, monuments and green parks. In Ricoleta, where I remained, or in San Telmo’s antique stores and street fairs or in the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Plaza de Mayo and the Casa Rosada, anyplace you will see an unusual charm, culture and an appeal unlike any other important city.
And also a place where people, after a time of darkness, are adapting to a freedom