An unlikely political voice recently reminded Argentines of the economic difficulties they face due to President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s bankrupt economic policies: the president’s own 23-year-old daughter.
Florencia Kirchner told reporters on Sept. 15 at the government-sponsored Unasur International Film Festival: “I like visiting slums, and I believe everyone should have access to the same things the middle and upper class have.” The young Kirchner was at the festival to unveil her film project “La Propia Mirada” (One’s Own View), a series of short stories told from the perspective of Argentina’s poor. Her work “goes beyond politics. That's because it's social inclusion, which is the duty of every citizen," not just those in politics, she said. A tape of her remarks has been viewed almost 70,000 times on YouTube.
The firestorm that followed Florencia's statements was somewhat understandable. It is hard for many to stomach such advice from a young woman of privilege known for taking plush European vacations at a time when her mother’s government restricts Argentines’ access to foreign currency. The first daughter’s famous themed 18th birthday celebration, her taste for high-end fashion, her studies at the New York Film Academy (which she interrupted when her father died), and reports of alleged misuse of the presidential plane, Tango 10 (a case that prompted an investigation that was shelved last year), make her a questionable advocate for social inclusion.
What’s more, she didn't stray too far from home in her project: The protagonists of her short films were also members of La Campora, a youth organization that supports Fernandez de Kirchner's government and was founded by Maximo Kirchner, Florencia's brother. And today, the Web is reeling with talk that, according to news agency OPI Santa Cruz, a government source indicated Florencia's public statements were meant to measure her popularity -- in preparation for a possible political path ahead of the 2015 congressional elections.
Lorena Lalin wrote a Sept. 16 column for DiarioVeloz.com with the headline “Who will notify Florencia Kirchner that Cristina is her mother?” Taking the government to task for pervasive inequality, Lalin suggests that “Florencia Kirchner’s public declaration shouldn’t be directed at the community, but should be discussed over breakfast in her home, with her mother.” Meanwhile, Roberto Cachanosky, head of the economics news site EconomiaParaTodos.net, focused a mocking Sept. 15 tweet on the Kirchner family’s hotel holdings in the tourist town of Calafate. If the president’s daughter calls for equality, Cachanosky wrote, then “I want to own a hotel in Calafate.”
We can't exactly fault Florencia for her birth to not one but two presidents (her father was the late former president Nestor Kirchner). Such lineage naturally brought a number of advantages growing up. And it's hard to argue with her call for more inclusion for the less fortunate. If anything, she's using her position of prominence to bring attention to a very real problem in her country, an issue that her mother’s policies have arguably made worse in some instances. Paula de Luque, head of the Unasur film festival, defended the young Kirchner in an interview with the newspaper Clarin: “With this work we have no grandiose intention but to put the camera in the hands of people who have no options.…The directors that participated did so from political sympathy, Florencia Kirchner didn’t charge one cent.”
Yet just as there appears to be a disconnect between the life the young Kirchner leads as first daughter and the idealism she professes, so too does her mother appear to pursue economic policies that sustain her political support among members of a segment of the population but have harmed the long-term prospects of her country. Populist spending and more state control over the economy have proved no shortcut to long-run economic improvement for the majority of Argentina's people.
Here are some numbers that might be fitting for the big screen: Argentina's official inflation figures -- accused of being tampered with since President Nestor Kirchner replaced staff at the statistics unit Indec in 2007 -- have prices rising 10.6 percent in the 12 months ending in August of this year, far below the around 25.2 percent estimated by private analysts who often suffer government prosecution for reporting such numbers. According to various analyst estimates compiled by FocusEconomics and the La Nacion daily newspaper, inflation is expected to reach 29.1 percent in 2014, with gross domestic product growth around 2.5 percent, far below the official promises of 6.2 percent.
Looking at Florencia Kirchner's generation specifically, the figure for Argentines ages 15 to 24 who are without jobs and are not in school reaches anywhere between 10 to 15 percent. As La Nacion -- which has been critical of the Kirchner government -- put it in a Sept. 14 editorial: “These are basically the sons of poor families who cannot get out of poverty, and who in turn have more children who will also become poor.…This is a grave situation that casts doubt on the constant, official rhetoric of the authorities regarding inclusion, an increase in employment, and the reduction of poverty and homelessness.”
A Sept. 16 La Nacion editorial titled “Nefarious cocktail of more subsidies and less investment” was even more direct in denouncing Kirchner’s mandate. The newspaper broke down the government’s spending to sustain airlines plagued by losses, transportation subsidies, and subsidies for the electricity sector, especially ahead of October’s legislative elections. The government’s plan to “revert the damage only after the October elections confirms the existence of a short-sighted, corrupt and selfish view of a government that continues to insist in turning reality into fiction.”
Argentina is quickly running out of cash. Central bank reserves have fallen almost a quarter since March 2010, when Fernandez de Kirchner first decided to use them to pay off debt. The president's continued fight with bondholders, the country’s nonexistent credit overseas, dollar restrictions at home and the resulting black market for greenbacks make the country's future look bleak.
The stories of Argentina’s struggling working class are worth telling. But so is the sad tale of economic mismanagement that threatens to hold back its future generations.
(Raul Gallegos is the Latin American correspondent for the World View blog. Follow him on Twitter.)