Keep On Keepin’ On

2008.Jul.11 Friday · 3 comments

in Life

“Stay the course.”

– George W. Bush, president of the U.S.

Buenos Aires – One of the things that fascinates me about history is the way it repeats itself. Despite all those colloquial admonitions about “those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them”, it’s a common failing throughout the world. We’re seeing it here in Argentina now as various economic, trade, and political policies that have repeatedly led to disastrous results in those fields here are being implemented by the current and antecedent government (let’s face it, they’re one and the same, kind of like if Hillary would have been elected immediately after Bill). One of our guests this last weekend talked a bit about her perception as a porteña in regard to la presidenta – she pointed out that while at the time of the economic collapse, nearly seven years ago, a strong, steady, guiding hand at the helm was needed, and it’s how her husband, Nestor Kirchner, led the country in one fashion or another, out of the disaster, that given the current conditions, that approach is not warranted. Yet Cristina is basically approaching things as if it’s all in disarray and needs to be dealt with swiftly, efficiently, even borderline brutally. It doesn’t – she needs to reevaluate those policies and procedures and adapt them to conditions of today. She’s not. She’s just repeating past actions, regardless of whether they apply to what’s going on or not. — It was an interesting analysis, and rang quite true, and hey, sounds familiar, no?

Today, Argentines regularly talk about that period immediately following the 2001 crisis, bemoaning how sad it was that their country had to go through a succession of leaders rapidly, each one not suited to the task, or betrayed by one another, until finally getting to a relatively stable government. They talk about it as if it’s something historically unusual. True, five presidents in a period of less than a month was a rapid fire version – though, it could easily be pointed out that the first, de la Rúa, simply resigned as inadequate to the task at hand, the second, Ramón Puerta was merely a two day interim appointee to cover until Congress had a chance to meet, Rodríguez Saá was elected and resigned a week later, also not up to handling what was going on, Camaño was once again a couple of day interim appointee, and then Duhalde was elected by Congress and served a bit over a year until the next official election. But this is not the first time Argentina has gone through a quick succession of leaders, though it was the most rapid. From 1976 to 1983 it went through five leadership changes; from 1973 to 1976 it went through four… wait…

It makes more sense to look at when things actually worked, i.e., well, here’s the point, Argentina gained its independence in 1816, though it setup its own government starting in 1810. Since that time the only leaders who served out their entire intended terms were de Rosas from 1829-1832 and again from 1835-1851 (though, in his third term, beginning in 1851, he only lasted a few more months); he was followed immediately by de Urquiza, who stayed in power until 1860; then there were half a dozen changes until a series of three from 1868 to 1886 – Sarmiento, Avellaneda, and Roca – who each served out their terms; then another half dozen changes until Roca was re-elected in 1898 and served until 1904; then again multiple changes until Yrigoyen took over 1916-1922, followed by Torcuato de Alvear from 1922-1928; Justo from 1932-1938; and then no one until Perón served out their entire term, and he only served out his first term – 1946-1952. After Perón, not one president or leader served out their entire intended term until Menem served from 1989-1999, and then Kirchner from 2003-2007. Let’s face it, it’s been a rocky history of leadership, with long stretches where the government changed hands multiple times.

In fact, the country is pretty much built on that as a model. It was directed by a succession of, more or less, committees, the Primera Junta, Junta Grande, First Triumvirate (Argentina), and Second Triumvirate (Argentina) from 1810 to 1820 – and then actually from 1820 to 1826 ceased to exist as a separate entity, becoming a part of the United Provinces of South America. Gervasio Antonio de PosadasThe two juntas there at the beginning truly led as ever-changing committees, the two triumvirates were appointed trios of leaders, until those of the second one realized that they needed, at the very least, a figurehead, if not an official, single leader. And thus, on January 22, 1814, the Second Triumvirate picked one of their threesome (I envision a sort of rock – paper – scissors process) to be the country’s first official solo leader – Gervasio Antonio de Posadas y Dávila, the distinguished looking lawyer in the portrait – who assumed power on January 31st.

He stayed in office for less than a year, followed by Carlos María de Alvear who lasted about four months, José Rondeau for two days, José Ignacio Álvarez Thomas for a year, Antonio González de Balcarce for three months, Juan Martín de Pueyrredón for just under a year, back to Rondeau for a few months, and finally Juan Pedro Julián Aguirre y López de Anaya who managed a week before it was decided no one could remember his whole name and they simply shut the whole government down for six leaderless years starting on February 16, 1820. Six years and eight leaders (seven individuals since Rondeau served twice). Overall, 77 leadership changes in a 198 year history – an average of 2½ years per leader.

It might be time for these folks to take a look at their history and figure out which stuff doesn’t work when they keep repeating it, and what they might do about that… all this, by the way, is leading up to a little walking tour (or several) of the “Supreme Directors” as these seven were known… you know, food, wine, culture, architecture… the stuff you usually get to read about here? Next up, a little “Whatever happened to Gervasio Posadas?” walk…


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

George Woodward July 12, 2008 at 03:29

This historical sweep and assessment was no small undertaking, and I, for one, appreciated it very much. Thanks again, Dan, for not limiting your commentary to matters pertaining to food. You have a keen eye for social observation, and your insights are a treat.

Gonzalo Gil Lavedra July 12, 2008 at 14:58

Good article, you have done your homework well. But Argentine politics have become so exasperating that I stop bothering about it a while ago.

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