Argentina is preparing for a war either against Britain or Argentines. No one is sure as the country acquires military hardware that includes, jet fighters, anti-aircraft guns and specialized radar. The news came late Saturday night, just a few months before oil drilling begins in the Falkland Islands area.
Besieged by runaway inflation, corruption and inefficiency in government as well as being impotent to stop rampant crime, Argentina’s failing President, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, seems to be taking a page from history’s playbook. In January she created a new cabinet position, Secretary for the Malvinas, Argentina’s name for the Falklands.
Kirchner has set aside $750 million, a 33 percent rise, for over 30 military modernization programs. In addition to the aircraft and anti-aircraft weaponry, Kirchner is also using some of the set aside to buy medium tanks, transport aircraft as well as rocket systems, helicopters and the development of drones. Casa Rosada, “The Pink House,” announced that new commando and special forces units will also be formed.
The military hardware is in addition to 20 French Mirage fighters which Argentina bought from Spain in August 2013. The fighters, along with the new shopping list, will give the Argentina president the ability to strike Port Stanley in the Falklands with pin point accuracy.
Sources with Rockhopper Exploration, a British firm, have confirmed reports that drilling may begin very soon. The Sea Lion field in the Falklands is believed to have an oil reserve of 390 million barrels.
Kirchner’s administration has sent several hundred letters to Britain firms promising fines of up to $1.5 billion and 15-year-jail terms if drilling happens without Argentina’s consent. While the intimidation has no standing in international law, they are widely seen as examples of the efforts the president will expend in order to boost flagging domestic support.
Admiral Lord West, commanded the HMS Ardent and was at the helm when it was sunk during the Falklands War. West said a major increase in expenditure by Argentina must be looked upon with concern. Britain will not have any aircraft carriers operational until 2020. The six-year window presents plenty of opportunity for Argentina to act.
While many observers feel the military build up is in anticipation of another attack on the Falklands, others aren’t so sure. As unrest at home grows, Kirchner has announced that she stands in solidarity with the embattled Nicolas Maduro, President of riot torn Venezuela. In various pronouncements, Kirchner has already declared that she will do whatever is necessary to keep the violence from coming to Argentina.
Military Presence to be Used Against Argentines?
In Buenos Aires lately, another theory is shaping up in the coffee houses. The military buildup is to be used to keep the Argentines in line as the violence in Venezuela continues to threaten expansion.
David Gambarin, 90, still puts on a suit and goes to his office in downtown Buenos Aires. A real-estate broker, Gambarin says that the country has always had instability. “This is how we Argentines are,” he says.
A little over a decade after the last crash in 2001, Argentina is on the edge of melting down again. The peso fell in value by 23 percent in January and economists are saying that inflation and recession will follow. Kirchner is restricting access to dollars and is threatening shopkeepers with foreclosure.
Like most people here, Gambarin is resigned about the tumult. An immigrant from Russia, Gambarin was a boy when he got to Argentina and has lived through five coups. Gambarin remembers that in the 1980s, inflation rates rose so quickly that shoppers literally ran to the checkout lines to pay for their purchase before the items were marked up again.
Economists classify Argentina as an “emerging market,” but the country’s economy has been on the slide for 100 years. In 1910, Argentina was among the world’s 10 wealthiest countries, today its per capita income is not even half that of the US.
While people discuss the reason behind the military buildup, there is not any debate about the cause of Argentina’s problems. “Bad government,” says economist Marina Dal Poggetto. For decades, Argentina’s leaders have spent wildly during the good years and forgot to save for the bad ones. To keep the good times rolling, the government has borrowed heavily or just turned to the printing press to turn out more money.
The wall behind Dal Poggeto’s desk is filled with picture frames containing rows of Argentine currencies which have been used and discarded in faulty economic plans. Argentina has lopped off 13 zeroes from its bank notes since 1969. In 1991, the 10,000 austral note was replaced by the one peso note which was worth $1 (USD). Today, that same one peso note is worth 9 cents.
For the poorest of Argentines, crises mean calamity. With no access to American dollars, the poor watch as inflation eliminates the purchasing power of their salaries putting them in a position where they cannot buy food. Mobs in the thousands looted supermarkets throughout Argentina in the crises of 1989 and 2001.
Economists say that in the best case, inflation in Argentina will head to 35 percent to 40 percent and the economy will stagnate. The worst case scenario is too difficult for them to put into words.
Whether the buildup in Argentina is in anticipation of new drilling in the Falklands or preparation for violent protests, a look at Argentine history reveals something unsettling. South America’s second largest country is destined to experience a meltdown about once per decade. There isn’t much anyone can do about it.
Gambarin says he already knows what will happen. “Nothing. Nothing will happen,” he said. “We are used to this. Every few years things get wiped out. Someone else will come along promising to fix Argentina. But everything will remain the same.”
By Jerry Nelson