Democracy not such a great merit of politicians. BY GUILLERMO HÁSKEL. Buenos Aires Herald.

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Eduardo Duhalde 2002 -2003 (Appointed by Legislative Assembly)

‘Democracy not such a great merit of politicians’

Duhalde: ‘Child mortality is the worst violation of human rights 


Former president Eduardo Duhalde says that the cure to Argentina’s crisis is to copy the policies implemented in post -war Europe: a basic subsistence income, and, in the productive field, emulate the Brazilian example.

In an interview with the Herald he says that in the 1990s the Menem administration was to blame for having chosen the worst alternative amid a wide range of possible models.

In the social field, discipline has been slipping and must be recovered.

Also, he adds, South America should abandon a hyperpresidential democracy, which he describes as the most perverse system.

What have been the main achievements of democracy over these last 25years?

The greatest achievement is to have recovered the democratic system and managed to overcome critical times in late 1989 and late 2001. We had never had 25 years of democracy since 1930.

However, truly speaking, this is not such a great achievement by parties and Argentine politics because similar circumstances were prevailing in all South American countries after the 1980s dictatorships in the area. Beyond that, we the Argentines dot not have much to boast of.

There have been a series of regressions. Today, there is a prevailing kind of very permissive attitudes in society and government. All social discipline has been relaxed. Solidarity links have been weakening.

The structures that are the pillars of a functional society such as family, churches and schools no longer have the importance they had in the past.

There is a great disorientation, confusion, among the new generations regarding the future.

How much manoeuvring room do Latin American nations have, because they go in cycles from democracies to dictatorships, neo-conservatism…

The whole neo-conservative era, the Consensus of Washington, actually allowed nations a wide range of models to choose from. Not all fared the same. It is not the same to speak about neo-conservatism in Argentina as in Brazil and Chile. Although there is such talk everywhere, it is evident that those industrialized countries who were financing and managing leading international organizations had the intention to prevent us from competing with them.

However there were niches and models that allowed a continuation of growth, such as Brazil or Chile. It is our fault to have chosen the least convenient of that range of models. So much so that in the 1990s, according to UN data, Argentina accounted for 40 percent of the world’s privatizations.

There is a wide room for manoeuvre. AlI Latin American economies are growing today. And to the extent that it is understood that in the world, putting aside ideologies such as Communists countries – for instance China – European countries, the United States, Brazil and Chile, have developed strategies formed by structures seeking to develop the potential of their countries. We have been left behind. While we criticize neo-conservatism, we adopt a first-generation neo-conservative practice, laíssez faire, laíssez passer. That is, that economic activity develops by itself. But whenever we are able to place stumbling-blocks, we do that. What countries are doing are well-prepared policies, with agile structures mixing science, technology, business, state, with different incentives which often only require the amendment of legislation. And that leaves us at a disadvantage vis-a-vis Brazil and other countries.

There are possibilities within this model. Countries such as ours, that have enormous possibilities of possibilities of producing food, can have in the future a leading role in their development.

Should we fear a new 2001?

No, no, there may be ups and downs, but I don’t think they can be so serious as to cause a new 2001.

What differentiates Argentina from countries such as Brazil and Chile?

Leadership. A few days ago I said that having been president of the Mercosur trade bloc allowed me to participate and understand and see how the leadership works in each country; and I said that the Brazilian leadership is by far the best -prepared, with Chile’s coming close, followed by Uruguay’s and then those of Argentina and Paraguay.

To my surprise, the Paraguayans complained. I am speaking about superstructural leadership. We have good intermediate leadership. But our superstructural leadership is far from those of those countries.

There are no plans. No programmes. No agenda. Everything is wishful thinking, impulse. There is no structure to support Argentina’s immense potential

Do countries have the leadership they deserve or the ones that resemble them?

Truly speaking, politicians emerge from societies with given capabilities, they are the reflection of society at a given time. We must realize that what we went through didn’t happen in any other South American country, that is, an economic depression, with all that means. The clearest example is that of the US in 1930. When the country was leaving the crisis behind, there was a tremendously conflictive society; with an non-existent or very low public morale that you can see in the films of the era. Until the film is over, you don’t know whether the gang chief is a judge, a senator or the police chief. Depressions have a very strong impact on societies. Save yourself who can. It took many years to overcome that, and they did so on the basis of growth that went solving problems.

But Brazil and Chile went through similar economic troubles…

None of them suffered a depression. The only economic depression in South America occurred in Argentina. The other countries went through serious problems, inflation, or more or less acute recessive processes, but none of them a depression. We were the only ones who suffered a depression, with all that entails.

You often say that Argentina is doomed to succeed. Where does that leave the present?

Already in 19831 was saying that we had a manifest destiny of progress. Later on, I picked (Brazilian scientist Helio) Jaguaribe’s phrase that Brazil and Argentina are doomed to success because we have what the world will be demanding in the future, that is, food. There are few areas in the world able to produce food in the amount and quality and at the price that we can produce.

We are plunged in an unprecedented wave of violence, corruption and drug-trafficking…

You are depicting the situation prevailing in Spain in the 1980s. I remember that during those years we went with my wife to Spain. We were not used to be unable to go to a cinema at night. The cinema was two blocks from the hotel and an armed guard had to accompany us There were kidnappings for ransom, crimes every day, hold-ups, you could not go to the Cibeles because you were threatened with a hypodermic needle. We are going now through the process that Spain suffered in the 1980s.

What must be done to come out from this?

Developing the nation, producing more. And recovering something that has been lost in Argentina during this depression, that confounds it all, that is the non-anarchistic resolution of issues. Here kids are the bosses at schools, parents beat up teachers when teachers give their children low marks, etc. AlI this is wrong in society. Recovery of values is not a quick issue. It will surely take time.

Productive development is indispensable as well as doing what Europe did after the war. Britain was the country teaching humanity the best way to solve these problems. Already in 1601, amid a wave of starvation and crime, the British passed a law to help the destitute. There were new falls over centuries and then World War II came, with its 50 million deaths. A tremendous situation, no jobs, crime, etc. Britain was the first in 1947 to propose the need for a basic subsistence income. Later on, all Europe adopted this. Spain carne in late because it joined the European community years after its creation. AlI this, together with development, contributed to foster a pacific social development. We have to copy post-war Europe. I have been insisting on this permanently. We don’t have to invent anything. It has already been invented. We have to do what Europe did, a basic survival income. People didn’t like it too much but it proved in all countries to be tremendously efficient. Britain’s example is opposed to that of the US. The two models are successfuI. The US, with the money they have, build a cell for each hypothetical criminal they may have, and send criminals to jail. Europe implements preventive policies. Jails are half-empty and their society functions much better. In the productive field, we have to emulate BraziI. We must defend what is ours, the same they do with theirs. We must develop structures to help an immense amount of value chains. During my government we had identified 79 value chains that could develop with different incentives, which are not always necessarily economic ones. Also, we must realize that in a country like ours, where there are four or five million people destitute, it is highly risky to live.

How do you see the role of the media?

Media reflect what journalists understand there is going on. They have the same opinions as people do, a percentage may think as La Nación, or Clarín, Página/12, you or Ambito Financiero. You reflect reality from the point of view of a public that are your clients. Media have no influence.

What were the main achievements of your government?

To have implemented the three things that the days it took office, I said I was going to do.

I said only three in the time I had.  To maintain institutions, which were seriously compromised, to pacify the country and to change the economic modeI. Those three things were achieved very quickly. That was the merit. I knew what had to be done and I did it.

How do you see human rights policies?

There is a great confusion. We were working for human rights when the kidnapped were still alive. But now there is a confusion between crimes against humanity and human rights. Of course I agree that those who committed crimes against humanity must be prosecuted and punished. But human rights start with breakfast, they are very different, they have to do with child mortality, which is the worst violation of human rights.

True human rights also include health, clothing, education and housing.

What is your view about so-called garantismo (a permissive approach to crime)?

I don’t agree too much with that or with appeals to a progressive approach. The law is there to be enforced. In general, people do not agree with those who commit crimes enjoying benefits regarding the rest of society that is trapped in their homes. Policies must be fair.

How do you see the country’s standing on the international arena?

Very, very bad. Of course in the 1990s we were better off because at that time the government followed the recipes of the international agencies and the whole world was congratulating us. Sometimes it is not so good to be congratulated.

We are coping very badly with our neighbours. We have no prestige. Many times because of substantial issues, at other times, because of formal issues.

Should we adopt a parliamentary system?

A month after taking office, I proposed to discuss a parliamentary democracy for Argentina and the whole of South America. A hyperpresidential democracy is the most perverse of systems. It works in the US because it was tailor-made for 150 years. But it has nothing to do with us. In Latin America, when a president is very successful, he/ she overrides the other powers. When he/ she is not successful, he/ she is toppled. It is a very bad system.

We have to go to a parliamentary system as in Europe, where our roots are and where it has borne very good fruit.

Presidential overcentralization has not yet become a thing of the past, but it is only too evident that it is working really badly. It depends on luck. Brazil is at a lucky stage because it has had two or three presidents doing well, the same as Chile but, in general terms, presidential democracy is a system that depends on luck.

It is so strong that that it depends on the official winning election not changing the trend and going backwards.

Besides, presidential democracy is insecure regarding international relations. When a decision is made by the whole Congress, the agreement and the decision are so much firmer.