Argentina’s Tragic Malaise

Last week a train accident in Buenos Aires claimed the lives of 50 individuals.

While the event is obviously intensely mournful, much of the emotion within Argentina also includes a high level of frustration over the system and society which allowed this to happen.

Argentinian culture is known for being proud. Nationalism has been the tool of many leaders, and drove the nation to war over the Falkland Islands in the 80s.

Yet there is a general sense of malaise and indignation in a country that was one of the wealthiest in the world a century ago. Indignation is brewing over increasing lack of responsibility, economic stagnation has left the country in a listless slumber for the past few decades, and frustration is growing more vocal in a nation which collectively believes in its own potential yet daily faces a reality of crushing mediocrity.

The cause for this sentiment may best be represented by the ambiguous and deflective statements of the Transportation Secretary, Juan Pablo Schiavi when he spoke regarding the wreck. In the same statement, he said that the Government of Cristina Fernández would assume all responsibility for the tragedy, and yet he also dissolved it of any responsibility until an investigation determined what had happened.

While the train was only moving at 12 mph, the result was horrific; jumbled metal, dozens injured, passengers trapped for hours, and at least one train car was driven nearly 20 feet into the car ahead of it.

Possibly more tragic than the crash itself, is the fact that this accident, while extremely fatal, was not even the only such accident even in the past six months. In November, 2011 8 girls died in San Luis Province in addition to 40 injured; in September, 11 died and 20 were severely injured.

There is a general resentment in Argentina over a perceived lack of accountability, in addition to growing frustration about the direction of the country, all of which dovetails tragically with last week’s train wreck.

Lack of investment in infrastructure, accountability, and a national malaise all appear to have contributed to the crash.

Starting in 1945, the 10 year administration of Juan Perón began nationalizing industries and services which were previously run by private interests. Rampant inflation followed these fascist policies. Growth from the 1960s was undercut by the corrupt and disorganized economic policies during the military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983. In 2002, Argentina defaulted on its debt; no longer able to make interest payments.

Today, the economic situation is foggy at best, and there is considerable concern for personal liberties. For example, the government of Cristina Fernández nationalized print paper effectively controlling the press.

Predictably, the government has recently dredged up the Falkland Islands controversy as a way to unite the country, and distract from economic woes.

Lack of investment in infrastructure, accountability, and a national malaise all appear to have contributed to the crash.

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