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Argentina - Introduction

Argentina throughout its history has been a nation of immense potential and promise; a nation blessed with expansive fertile lands, rich natural resources, and highly skilled workers. Prior to World War II, Argentina enjoyed one of the world's highest standards of living and was reputed to have become a major economic power. However, the worsening of political and economic instability after World War II turned a promised land into a country of lost promises.

The expression “Argentine right” seems redundant to some. Argentina is usually regarded as a sort of Nazi paradise, where Peronism imposed fascist practices and the military waged genocide against its own people.

Argentina is the Latin American country that least abides by the stereotypes that many North Americans hold with respect to the countries to the south. Not mestizo (of mixed Indian-European race), nearly 90 percent of Argentina's 30.7 million inhabitants in 1985 were considered "white." Not poor, rural, and illiterate, the Argentine population was nearly 80 percent urban, 95 percent literate, and a great majority middle class. Although mountains and tropical regions are found within its borders, the greater part of Argentine territory consists of rich agricultural lowlands and is blessed with a temperate climate. Its vast endowment of resources once led citizens of the young Argentine nation to hypothesize that "God is an Argentine."

In the realm of politics, however, Argentina had been for over half a century a virtual archetype of an unstable Latin American system with a high degree of military participation. Social scientists studying Argentina in a comparative context had long been puzzled by this seeming paradox in which socioeconomic development led not to an "advanced" democratic political system but to political decay. Argentines — who tend to consider themselves superior to their "Third World" Latin American neighbors — agonized to the point of developing what some observers called a "collective neurosis" over their inability to establish a stable political order that could restore the nation's pre-1930 economic vigor.

It was not until the 1973 publication of the seminal work by Argentine political scientist Guillermo A. O'Donnell, called Modernization and Bureaucratic-Authoritarianism, that outside analysts began to consider Argentina's advanced level of socioeconomic development as a cause of its political instability and its tendency toward an authoritarian, military-dominated political system. High levels of socioeconomic development were accompanied by mounting demands from various political groups. These demands, O'Donnel reasoned, were beyond the ability of a democratic government to fulfill — given local economic resources that were limited by high levels of foreign participation — thereby forcing the assumption of political power by an authoritarian who would impose limits on the political demands of one or more interest groups. The election and inauguration of Raül AlfonsIn in 1983 marked the end of Argentina's most recent plunge into military rule. The return of democratic rule did not end the conflict within the Argentine polity, but, very importantly, it did mark the reining in of conflict to within legal boundaries.

After years of post-World War II instability, Argentina is today a fully functioning democracy. President Carlos Menem's administration (1989-99) reordered Argentina's foreign and domestic policies. His reelection in May 1995 -- in the face of hardships caused by economic restructuring and exacerbated by the Mexico peso crisis--provided a mandate for Menem's free-market economic strategy and pro-U.S. foreign policy. Menem's second term ended in December 1999; the constitution does not provide for a sitting president to succeed himself more than once. Argentina's next President, Fernando de la Rua, continued the economic and foreign policy strategies begun by Menem.

The president and a civilian minister of defense control the Argentine armed forces. The paramilitary forces under the control of the Interior Ministry are the Gendarmeria (border police) and the Prefectura Naval (coast guard). The Argentine armed forces maintain close defense cooperation and military-supply relationships with the United States. Other countries also have military relationships with the Argentine forces, principally Israel, Germany, France, Spain, and Italy.

Lack of budgetary resources is the most serious problem facing the Argentine military. Economic conditions and the government's commitment to reduce public sector spending slowed modernization and restructuring efforts. The decline of Argentine military power and a shift in priorities led some observers to say that the nation has fallen into a situation of defenselessness. An association of roughly two-thirds of the county's retired army generals created a stir in March 1997 when they released a scathing public critique of what they called the military's "grave crisis." While emphasizing their commitment to democratic government, they attributed this crisis to failures by Alfonsin and Menem to adequately provide for the national defense.

Under Presidents Menem and De la Rua, Argentina's traditionally difficult relations with its neighbors improved dramatically, and Argentine officials publicly deny seeing a potential threat from any neighboring country. Mercosur has exercised a useful role in supporting democracy in the region, intervening, for example, to discourage the Paraguayan military during an attempted coup in early 2000.

The 31 July 2014 "technical" default of Argentina’s economy had calamitous effects within the country, particularly for the Armed Forces. Failing to reach a deal with the “vulture” bondholders, the Kirchner administration found itself frozen out of international credit markets for the second time in thirteen years. The administration was forced to make tough choices as to which government programs received funding and which did not, with the Ministry of Defense initially in the later group. Of particular note were reduced funding and suspension of logistical support to Argentines abroad (in Haiti supporting MINUSTAH and Antarctica), domestic air service to remote areas of Patagonia, and counternarcotic flights along the tri-border region. Long-term budget planning seemed impossible until a resolution to the “vulture” crisis occured.

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Page last modified: 20-01-2016 18:22:45 ZULU