From Glory to Grains: Why Decades of Populist Chokehold Led to the Deterioration of Argentina’s Economy and Leadership
After juggling populism since the 1940s, the stability of Argentina’s economic output and efficacy to govern is failing its biggest test yet: Monetary recovery in the midst of a pandemic.
Prior to COVID-19’s shock to the global economy in March of 2020, Argentina was regularly receiving billion-dollar-bailouts from the IMF. Like many countries, Argentina stands deep in debt. However, what separates Argentina apart from other democracies’ attempts to fiscally recover from the pandemic is Argentine government officials’ failure to find common ground on a solution to alleviate the country’s economic stress.
While blame rightfully falls on the deficiencies of Argentina’s current president, Alberto Fernández, the country’s current economic and political struggles have a deeper root. Populist practices, such as norm breaking, displayed by President Fernández are a direct consequence of the patterns created by the Péronist movement of the 20th century. President Fernández, as a member of Argentina’s Populist party, holds the same political ideals as the party’s founder, Péron. Relying on hypotheses established in publications by Levitsky & Ziblatt and Linz, this composition analyzes the negative impact that populist patterns of norm breaking have on Argentina’s current economic yield and political stability.
At the rise of Populism, Juan Péron, then serving as Populist President, legally manipulated the language of constitutional clauses to impeach three out of five Argentine Supreme Court Justices, according to Levitsky and Ziblatt. The result of Péron’s unrestrained exploitation of “institutional prerogatives,” was the loss of a key democratic norm, mutual toleration. Using the courts as a weapon against political opponents depletes all purpose of checks and balances, according to Levitsky and Ziblatt. If norms don’t serve as a form of checks and balances in a democracy, this democracy is left to bear political obstacles without a foundation of democratic practices, vulnerable to threats.
Pélon’s breaking of democratic norms set a precedent for generations of populist Argentine Presidents in years to come. Norm breaking, while not the only factor to a democracy’s survival, proves especially important in Argentine political culture because of the differences that emerged in Argentina’s political hemisphere, despite two thirds of Argentina’s Constitution being an exact copy of the United States’ Constitution. According to Levitsky and Ziblatt, the “constitutional arrangements” present in Argentina were unable to prevent “Péron’s populist autocracy.” The failure of Argentina’s Constitutional standards, or official, codified set of rules for a democracy, puts greater pressure on the country’s unofficial, non-codified, rules and norms.
Following the rise of Populism in Argentina, Péronist leaders continued to break democratic norms throughout Péronism’s development, further damaging the country’s economic and political stability. The repeated habit of norm breaking appeared in President Fernández’ actions this month, after losing support of Máximo Kirchner, the Peronist (Populist) Party’s lower house bloc.
In an attempt to gain support surrounding his outline deal with the IMF, President Fernández is actively employing lobbying tactics and other desperate measures to retain support and authoritative command. President Fernández’s actions mirror those of Péron’s decades before, and exemplify the pattern of democratic norm breaking alive within the Peronist movement.
While President Fernández continues to advocate for the Congressional approval for the passage of his deal with the IMF, tensions stir within the National Congress of Argentina, and riots explode on streets across the nation. As argued by Linz and Levitsky & Ziblatt, a “divided government can easily bring deadlock, dysfunction, and constitutional crisis.” President Fernández has declined pleas from members of Congress to reconsider his deal, and has refused negotiation, further dividing the House. Likely to result from the President’s actions are forms of “deadlock, dysfunction, and constitutional crisis,” rooted in the “hardball” approach that Levitsky and Ziblatt accredit to Argentina’s Peronist presidents.