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‘We Were Left With Nothing’: Argentina’s Misery Deepens in the Pandemic

  • April 20, 2021

Peronist politicians ever after have showered aid on struggling communities and spent into oblivion, paying the bills by printing pesos. That has frequently produced runaway inflation, crisis and desperation. Reformists have intermittently taken power with mandates to restore fiscal order by cutting public spending. That has enraged the poor, laying the ground for the next Peronist upsurge.

The last president, Mauricio Macri, took office as the supposed solution to this cycle of booms and busts. International investors celebrated him as the vanguard of a new, technocratic approach to governance.

But Mr. Macri overdid it in exploiting his popularity with investors. He borrowed exuberantly, even as he antagonized the poor with cuts to government programs. His debt binge combined with another recession forced the country to submit to the ultimate humiliation — asking the I.M.F. for a hand.

In elections two years ago, voters rejected Mr. Macri and installed Mr. Fernández — a Peronist. Some suggested that Mr. Fernández might stake out an acrimonious position with creditors, including the I.M.F. But the Fernández administration has proved pragmatic, winning the confidence of the I.M.F. while maintaining relief for the poor.

“We have to avoid following the patterns of the past that did so much damage,” the economy minister, Mr. Guzmán, said in an interview. “We want to be constructive, and resolve these problems in a way that works.”

The most pernicious problem remains inflation, a reality that assails businesses and households, adding to the strain on the poor through higher food prices.

In major economies like the United States, central banks conventionally respond to inflation by lifting interest rates. But that snuffs out economic growth — not a tenable proposition in Argentina, where the central bank already maintains interest rates at the stultifying level of 38 percent.

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