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No, Argentina is not crying for you, Mr. Cohen, by Mempo Giardinelli

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Message Claudia Chaufan

No, Argentina is not crying for you, Mr. Cohen, by Mempo Giardinelli

From flag of Argentina

In this past Thursday's edition of The New York Times, an opinion piece entitled "Cry for Me , Argentina" and signed by Roger Cohen ( click here ), who our own newspaper La Nacion refers to as a "veteran journalist", raises once again the old myth of the rich and prosperous Argentina of the past, contrasting to the current one's abominable present. 

The circumstance in which this country lives today makes it imperative to refute Mr. Cohen, who makes arguments similar to those of Mario Vargas Llosa and other renowned op-ed writers from El Pas, The Washington Post, O Globo, and other major media.   Local newspapers' correspondents tend to echo these exaggerated claims, as they reproduce them and promote them in front pages and major websites, and celebrate them as partial victories against kirshnerismo.

To make it clear to colleagues like Mr. Cohen, we first need to stress that this idea that Argentina "was more prosperous than Sweden and France a century ago" is false.   In any case, we were a peripheral country, almost a colony, with many natural resources but structurally extremely backward and governed by leaders who were opportunist, corrupt, racist, and subservient to foreign interests.

Of course it is understandable that Mr. Cohen so much dislikes Peronism, but what matters here and now is not to argue with him about Peronism, but to highlight his incapacity to free himself from prejudice that leads him to confuse the complex reality of a nation that 100 years ago not only was not better than now, but was also infinitely worse, because it was more unjust, oppressed by a cruel and selfish aristocracy, and victimized by the foreign greed that his acclaimed wealth always aroused.

It is not worth answering Mr. Cohen's cliches about statistics, exchan ge rate, and participation in capital markets, which seem borrowed from articles signed by economists here from our not-so-distant, dark past.   But it must be made clear to this gentleman that in Argentina we have no "obsession" with what he contemptuously calls a "lost little war", and instead we do have a vivid memory of historical abuse, as well as great pain for the criminal stupidity of a criminal military regime that Mr. Cohen's country pr otected and helped in an immoral fashion.   

Indeed, in this respect, we should urge Mr. Cohen to take a stance about the political morality of the great victorious wars that his country participated in at least over the last 150 years, that is, all the wars in this world in which several million people died.

We must also point out that Argentina was never more prosperous than Sweden, France, Austria, Japan, and other countries that Mr. Cohen uses as an example, because since its independence it was h arassed and plundered, and had masses of illiterate and exploited individuals, no social laws, and not enough public health or schools, and on top of it all it was led by fraudulent politicians who could only thrive at the expense of the sweat of Creoles and immigrants.

It is true that "our pampas had the most fertile land in the world", but the concentration of this land in the hands of a few families and the null land taxes on unproductive lands made of that wealth a mirage for the millions of citizens who lacked almost any rights.

So like it or not, Mr. Cohen, that colonel named Juan Domingo Peron and his wife Eve were those who began to make changes. With populist and demagogic strategies, if you will, and exaltations and a general untidiness that it would have been better to avoid. But they created the possibility of a decent life for those who until then had only suffered humiliation.

Mr. Cohen writes: "There was so much to plunder, so much wealth in grains and livestock, that strong institutions and laws - not to mention a tax system that worked - seemed a waste of time." Of course he doesn't ask who were the plunderers, the owners of grain and livestock, or those who for decades made it impossible to have "a tax system that worked." Had he asked, he would have easily found the answer: they were, and remain, more or less the same who 100 or 30 years ago, or even today when we do have  a tax system, go to the greatest lengths to evade paying their fair share.  

I'm not one to defend Peronism, but Mr. Cohen should know that due to a neutrality that neither his country nor white Europe ever forgave him for, they invented the myth of a Nazi-fascist Peron and an ambitious, prostitute wife, and in so doing they muddled the possibility of understanding and analysis. Only ignoring all this can one write that we Argentinians love that "strange blend of nationalism, romanticism, fascism, socialism, past, future, militarism, erotica, fantasy, whining, irresponsibility, and repression."

What Mr. Cohen merely shows is that he knows nothing about this country. Mere clichés, received wisdom, and the same old slogans pulled from the playbook of well-known Latin American right-wing sectors.

Finally, writing that "Brazil is in the process of being Argentina, Argentina is in the process of becoming Venezuela and Venezuela, Zimbabwe," as Mr. Cohen argues, is racist, discriminatory and offensive towards that African nation, Brazil, Venezuela, and us. But most importantly, it is false and not an innocent statement. Maybe he is annoyed at the existence of the ALCA, or does not support UNASUR or CELAC, but a competent and decent professional journalist should be aware that peoples in developing countries have serious conflicts, and that national processes are unique and non-transferable.

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Claudia Chaufan, M.D., Ph.D., is Associate Professor at the University of California, San Francisco. She is also a member of Physicians for a National Health Program-California (

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No, Argentina is not crying for you, Mr. Cohen, by Mempo Giardinelli

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