Continuity and Argentine Politics

Last month another high-ranking member of Buenos Aires city government left their post because of differences with Jorge Telerman, the mayor.
Por Hugo Passarello Luna

Marcelo Vensentini was the minister of environment until 19th April. Vensentini left his post because of Telerman’s recent alliance with Elisa Carrió, ARI’s presidential candidate in opposition to Kirchner’s government. Vensentini, a Kirchnerist, left the government three weeks after the alliance was agreed. The day after Vensentini’s departure, Telerman named Javier Maria Garcia Elorrio (director of the ‘Tres de Febrero’ park) to take charge of the ministry’s projects. Just as quickly, he then replaced Garcia Elorrio for Juan Manuel Velasco, a close collaborator of Carrió. With peculiar formality, the short-lived management of Garcia Elorrio, exactly one day, was acknowledged by Telerman’s speaker. At least protocol has continuity.
This is not the first case of a minister leaving the current city’s government. On 11th April the minister of public space, Lia Maria, renounced to her position for the same reason. Nobody has been named yet to take the place of Lia Maria. The city has had a headless ministry for the past two weeks. Journalist Ernesto Tenembaum described this as a ‘bleeding’ of Telerman’s government.
Tenembaum’s description could not be more accurate. Two months before the elections, the city’s government is slowly disappearing, being diluted in the electoral race. This is not new in Argentine politics but it has become increasingly common nationwide, having few executive members that remain in their position long enough to make a difference.
This lack of continuity heavily affects Argentina’s image to the world and to the day-to-day life of Argentine citizens. For example, the fire at the Cromañon nightclub in December 2004 demonstrates this instability. Aníbal Ibarra, then Buenos Aires city mayor, became one of the central targets of the victims’ family and was eventually impeached. The months leading up to and after the trial almost stopped the government’s machinery. No significant decisions were made during that period. In March last year Ibarra was removed from office and Telerman, previously deputy mayor, took over.
When Telerman got into office high ranking staff changed dramatically. The first two ministers (health and public work) left the office in June 2006. In November of the same year, the minister of economy was dismissed by Telerman.
This constant turnover of staff in key roles, more than providing ‘fresh air’ to the administration, represents a series of obstacles harmful to society. All ideas, visions and projects are put aside. Some are shelved and others are left half done. Some projects are completed, though taking more time and resources than needed. This is the case of the ‘Parque de la Memoria’, a park on the costal fringe of the Río de la Plata, in memory of the victims of the 1976-83 dictatorship. The project started in 1999 and is still far from done. Last year, the commission in charge of this project claimed that the sudden removal of Ibarra had slowed down the progress. In mid April of this year, a similar justification was given for the sluggish advancement, but this time it was the election and the uncertainty brought by it. We can see the same result in other areas of the city: recycling plans, flooding issues, traffic problems and so on.
Of course elections also have a positive result, besides being a celebration of democracy. They quickly develop ‘visible’ projects such as street pavement, monument and plazas improvement, and changes for waste management in some areas of the city. However, such hastiness has its downfalls. Calle Manuel Ugarte between Av. Del Libertador and 3 de Febrero was recently paved. Parked cars were left on the street because neighbours were not warned. As a result, the asphalt was only laid on the middle of the road. Not an ideal job, admittedly, but it’s time for elections, not for perfection.
Most newly elected governments spend a great deal of time and effort criticising their predecessors and starting from scratch. Hopefully the next administration will use its energy to start new projects, tweak the ones not working and continue the ones going well. Even a questionable administration might have done something good. As Bartolomé Mitre said: “We have to take the country as God and men made it.”