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Political Culture and Society in Argentina Report (Assessment)


Abstract

Argentina is the second largest country in South America and is located in the southernmost part of the continent. Argentina faced intermittent political history in the 20th century. The country was under a series of civilian and military rule. This lack of stability infringed on the democratic space of the people.

Despite of its enormous wealth, Argentina suffered a severe democratic breakdown in the late 2001.Since 2001 the social, political and economic conditions in Argentina have improved considerably.

However, the country is still experiencing a number of challenges and these includes corruption in government departments, human rights violation, escalation of illegal drugs, immigration among others. The focus of this study is to explore the political culture and socialization, interest groups and political parties, and governance and policy making in Argentina.

Introduction

Argentina is the second largest country in South America and is located in the southernmost part of the continent. In terms of the population, the country is ranked the third biggest with over 40 million inhabitants. Argentina borders Chile, Bolivia, Brazil, Uruguay and Atlantic Ocean (Acuna, 1995, p. 17). Argentina was considered among the worlds less democratic nations in the 70s and 80s.

Despite of its enormous wealth, Argentina suffered a severe democratic breakdown in the late 2001. The country was dominated by abuse of power and wanton corruption in previous regime. However, Argentina has transformed substantially and has begun to follow the footsteps of the better institutionalized neighboring countries like Chile and Uruguay (Etchemendy, 2001, p. 3; Tedesco, 2002. P. 469).

The first elected democratic president in Argentina was Raul Alfonsin in 1983, following the end of the military rule. President resigned in the late 80s and Carlos Menem took over in 1989.Argentine democracy developed in different and seemingly incongruous manner in the 90s. The country’s first government after the amendment of the constitution was formed in 1994 led by President Carlos Menem.

Menem’s government operated in a highly unilateral manner which was against the spirit of the constitution. For example, this government pushed for the expansion of the Supreme Court and stacked it with his allies against the will of the people. Even when the government acted within the law it failed to seek for consensus even for matters pertaining to the constitution (Smith, 1990, p.10-11; Helleiner, 2003, p. 687).

Following the significant work by President O’Donnell to build democracy in Argentina, Argentina still experienced what is called democracy in turmoil in the 90s. A number of political pundits even raised concern that President was not willing to relinquish power.

However, in terms of fundamental aspects of democracy, Argentina was still way ahead of most of its Latin American neighbors such Chile and Brazil. The government ability to conduct fair and democratic election was unquestionable, the government protected vital civil and political rights and unswerving protection of press freedom (Smith, 1990, p.12).

Though there were a number of threats journalists experienced in Menem’s government. Argentina was considered the most strict, autonomous, and urbane state in Latin America. The democratic strides made in Argentina began to wear down in 2001 when popular revolutions began overthrowing popularly elected governments. The main aim of this study is to explore political culture and political socialization in Argentina.

Study examines the role of the interest groups and political parties in the political process. Last but the least, this paper also investigates governance and policy making in Argentina (Smith, 1990, p.12; Johnson, 2003, p. 88).

Political Culture and Political Socialization in Argentina

The link between democratic political culture and democratic regimes has dominated the current political literatures. The democratic values and beliefs in society are significant in supporting attitudes and behaviors that strengthens democratic institutions.

Studies carried out in Spain and Germany confirmed the mere effort to replace non-democratic system of government with democratic institutions promotes change in people’s beliefs (Johnson, 2003, p. 96; Peruzzotti, 2001, p.155)..

Political transition increases people’s social contact with the new regime by accepting the latest system as part of the transition process rather than the precondition of the process.

These are the basis for the population change of attitude in Argentina following political transitions. The transition to democracy in Argentina was characterized by dictatorial procedures and disbandment of political activities in general (Weyland, 2004, p. 136).

President Raul Alfonsin, the first Argentine constitutional president, voiced his awareness on how cultural transformation facilitates and strengthen democratic structures. To safeguard the cultural bases of the political system, novel democratic structures should operate with context of cultural heritage complimenting democracy and the economic realities in the country (Tomassi, 2002, p. 20; Weyland, 2004, p. 136).

Studies carried out in Argentina reveals a strong correlation between education level and democratic attitudes. The research studies correlates anti-libertarian attitude to social and economic conditions of the people in Argentina. According to these researches, peoples’ attitude also becomes more frequent with decline in socio-economic conditions.

The level of formal education in many cases is correlated with socio-economic status and democratic attitudes. Therefore, the elite segment of the Argentine population is strongly in support of democratic values than non-elite who tend to be very conservative (Weyland, 2004, p. 140; Peruzzotti, 2001, p.156).

Argentina displays a highly consensual pattern and sustainable dispositions regarding participative elements of democracy during, and even before the transition phase. These attitudes are deeply rooted in Argentine political culture since they have not evolved considerably, and have strong connection to different sectors of the society.

On the contrary, political values associated with broadmindedness and pluralism received less support during the transition because of high degree of discontent in the population. However, this trend has improved significantly, with least support coming from lowest and non-elite social class (Tedesco, 2002, p. 470; Johnson, 2003, p. 96).

The upheaval experienced in Argentina in the recent past is attributed to historical political development. This country enjoyed over seventy years of stability that enhanced speedy economic development, and made Argentina one of the richest countries in the global scale. Argentina was ranked 7th globally in the 20s.

Political stability was experienced despite of numerous military coups, twenty five presidents, over twenty years of military rule and thirteen years of Juan Peron rule (Pearson, 2003, p. 215).

In 1943, Argentina under military rule dominated by a colonel by the name Juan Peron. Peron built a strong political base through the support of the labor movement. In 1946, Peron was elected as the president of Argentina through Argentina Labor Party which later became Peronist Party.

During his reign, Peron awarded numerous benefits to the working class such increase in wages, fringe benefits, and the establishment of social security system. Peron also focused on rapid industrialization by setting up state-owned industries protected from trade barriers. Peron’s mobilization of the working class had a long term effect on the country’s political system for over forty years (Helleiner, 2003, p. 689).

Even after Peron was ousted through a military coup, his ideology survived for a long time despite of the different regimes efforts to defeat it. After Peron was ousted, a sequence of military and civilian government ruled Argentina until 1973 when he was re-elected again.

This time Peron did not last for more than a year. He died and is second wife Isabel took over the throne. Isabel’s regime was dominated with confusion, political violence and hyperinflation. This forced the military to take over again in 1976 and ruled up to 1983 (Pearson, 2003, p.216; Weyland, 2004, p. 137).

In 1983, Argentina went back to the civilian democratic rule with Raul Alfonsin being elected as the president through Radical Civil Union party. President Alfonsin was recognized for restoring the democratic institutions but failed to stabilize the economy.

This led total chaos, labor unrest and hyperinflation. Alfonsin resigned before his term ended and was succeeded by Carlos Menem of Justicialista Party (formerly Peronist Party). Menem succeeded to stabilize the economy through privatization of state run industries and introduction of free market (Pearson, 2003, p.214).

In 1991, Menem’s government pegged the Argentine currency to the US dollar, a monetary policy which helped to avert inflation, but later on became one of the main factors for the recent financial havoc in Argentina.

Menem’s started to shine started when he broke with the Peronist protectionist policies favored by the working class and labor organizations. Even though, Menem attracted began to attract middle class votes, increase in corruption and high unemployment in his second term led to his defeat (Peruzzotti, 2001, p. 133-134; Tedesco, 2002. P. 470).

Economic time bomb created by Menem’s government brewed trouble to the successive government in 2001. In 2001, President de la Rua government faced a deeply-rooted economic crisis. The crisis led to the decline of financial support from the donors and international financial institutions because the country could not produce balanced budget.

Argentine citizens started withdrawing dollars from the banks in panic until the government set a limit of a thousand dollar per month. These austerity measures led to countrywide unrest and consequently a revolution which forced the incumbent to resign. Adolfo Rodriguez took over as an interim president for 90 days before the general election held but also resigned amid more violence and protest.

Religion has considerable influence in Argentine politics while ethnicity has little impact on politics. Ethnic groups in Argentina are less diverse and therefore politics is not influenced by ethnicity. Churches are represented in politics by Democratic Christian federation. This party drives the agenda of the church and works to safeguard the interest of its members (Pearson, 2003, p. 215; Tedesco, 2002. P. 471).

Interest Groups and Political Parties

Activities of political parties in Argentina have been intermittent, given that some periods were under military rule and party activities were banned. Yet, parties were reformed in 80s and have been active since then. Conventionally, the alignment of political parties in Argentina is based on social and economic issues and to some extent religious lines.

Religious leaders, conservative lower class and land owners have in several times formed alliances to protect the church and their status. Currently, the most active parties represent the working class, peasant farmers, and the elites (Helleiner, 2003, p. 235).

In the 20th century, main parties were either governing parties or main opposition parties. These parties were devoted to intensifying Argentine politics to include the middle and lower class and to transform the socio-economic fabric of the country. The nucleus of these parties was the middle class but they also included the lower class and the upper class.

Argentine politics is dominated by conservatives and socialists. The conservatives dominated the political arena in the early 20th century when they were referred as the National Democrats. The conservatives were, mainly concerned with land issues in which they drew a lot of support (Persson & Guido, 2000, p. 35).

During the military rule the activity of these parties were limited because military rulers were against partisan politics. In the present, there are number of right wing parties, the largest of them all being Union of the Democratic Center.

Even though left wing parties trace their roots from the early 20th century, these parties suffered a lot in the 70s and 80s when the military regime tried very hard to exterminate them. This included incarceration, and extermination of their leaders. Additionally, Peronism obstructed the ideology of these parties as well as their traditions (Pearson, 2003, p. 220).

Peronism, which disregards political cataloging, is the most active ideology in Argentina today. Peronism subsided for nearly two decades following the military coups. Some of the Peronist political parties include Popular Union Party, Populist Party, and Labor Party.

Peronist parties have fielded candidates such as Juan Peron, Isabel Peron, and Carlos Menem among others. The most recent President under Peronist Party was Carlos Menem who won the election in 1995 under Justicialist Party with a landslide win (Pearson, 2003, p. 221).

Argentina Political Parties have been very competitive in the past decade, with some parties forming a coalition to defeat the rivals. One distinguished exception can be traced back to early 80s when main political parties form a coalition to claim support of over 80 percent voters so as to dispose the military rule.

These parties were Democratic Christian federation, the Movement for Integration and Development, FREJULI, the UCR, and the Intransigent Party (Weyland, 2004, p. 137).

Country for Solidarity Party was formed in 1994. This party won the majority of the middle class voters by devoting its energy to fighting corruption in Menem’s government. Country for Solidarity Party defeated UCR for the second place in 1995 parliamentary elections. In 1999 UCR joined FRESPO to create a coalition to elect its candidate Fernando de la Rua.

De la Rua won the election with 43 percent of the votes and succeeded Menem as the president of Argentina. This alliance only lasted for a short period of time when De la Rua resigned following civil unrest in Argentina in 2001(Johnson, 2003, p. 99; Weyland, 2004, p. 138).

Despite of the Political and economic crisis in 2001, Peronista and Radical political parties in Argentina still goes strong. Peronista dominates the politics of Argentina today. Death of De la Rua marked the decline of Radical Party.

During the 2003 election Peronist won by more than 50% of the votes while Radical Party only managed to garner 30% of the votes. The subsequent presidents in Argentina have come from the Peronista party, exhibiting the strength and domination of Peronists in Argentine politics (Johnson, 2003, p. 100).

Governance and Policy making in Argentina

The first national constitution was promulgated in 1853. This constitution was then amended by Peron’s administration. This constitution was abolished in 1993 when the new constitution was approved. Currently, the federalist law of Argentina recognizes three branches of governance. These include the executive, Legislature/ Parliament, and the judiciary.

The president and his/her vice are elected directly by the people. They are only allowed to hold the office for a maximum of 8 years; four years per term. The parliament has two chambers, house of the senate and the house of the deputies. Lastly, Judiciary is divided into Supreme Court and Lower Courts.

The power of provincial administration is minimized by the central government’s ability to control country’s resources from the national level to the provincial level (Tomassi, 2002, p. 6).

The legislature makes the law and acts as the voice of the people. The executive that includes the president and the Cabinet implements the constitution. The judiciary interprets the law the law and enforces the law. Argentina is ruled through a presidential system of governance based on the federal structure.

The country is divided into 24 provinces depicting the central system of governance. However, these provinces are granted some degree of independence and are in charge of the collection of taxes, security, justice, health and education (Tomassi, 2002, p. 6).

Studies show that the level of public confidence in the public administration and judiciary is still wanting. Lack of properly operating judicial system is blamed for most of the institutional and social rot in Argentina over the recent past. The general public in Argentina is very doubtful on the ability of the police to enforce the law. This is because of the increase in crime over the last decades and wanton corruption in the judiciary.

The greatest concern is police brutality and corruption. There are a number of reported cases of extrajudicial killings by the police and therefore people are not willing to grant police more power to fight the crime. Escalation in insecurity is attributed to high rate of unemployment, socio-economic and government corruption.

The current regime is working very hard to reform all the sector branches of the government and sectors of the economy which lacks public support and confidence especially the police (Etchemendy, 2001, p.20).

The legislature just passed a law that is aimed at restructuring the police force and streamlining its operations. The country’s president has also been on the forefront in the quest to reform the judiciary and to restore its long lost glory. However, the greatest challenge for the current regime is the restoration of stability in the economy.

They are moving in the right direction but the present global economic crisis is slowing down the progress of their economic plans and strategies. The rate of unemployment and poverty is still high in the country and requires urgent intervention. Other problems include escalation of illegal drugs and immigration (Etchemendy, 2001, p.22).

Conclusion

Argentina’s politics has been alternating within civilian and military rule. Military interventions were as a result of socio-economic unrest or coups. Military rules tried very hard to frustrate democracy. This was evident in their efforts to ban political parties and incarcerate political leaders. During the military rule the activity of some of these parties were limited because military rulers were against partisan politics.

However, despite of all these hurdles, political parties in Argentina remained strong and dominate the political arena today. Peronist ideology is still popular in Argentina and is the reason why Peronista Party has won majority of the political sits up to now. Argentina is ruled by the presidential system and most decision comes from the central government.

The major challenge of this system is the devolution of power and distribution of national resources. High level of corruption and lawlessness among the security officers is also rampant in the government. There are a number of reported cases of extrajudicial killings by the police and therefore people are not willing to grant police more power to fight the crime.

Escalation in insecurity is attributed to high rate of unemployment, socio-economic challenges and government corruption. Nevertheless, the government is working very hard to bring necessary reforms in the political, social and economic domain.

References

Acuna, C. H. (1995). Politics and Economics in the Argentina of the Nineties’, in Smith, W. C. and Gamarra E. (Eds). Journal of Democracy, Markets and Structural Reform. Florida: North-South Center Press. 17-66

Etchemendy, S. (2001). Constructing Reform Coalitions: The Politics of Compensations in Argentina’s Economic Liberalization. Latin American Politics and Society 43(3), 1-36.

Helleiner, E. (2003). Economic Liberalism and Its Critics: the Past as Prologue? Review of International Political Economy 10 (4), p. 685-696.

Pearson, R. (2003). Argentina’s Barter Network: New Currency for New Times? Bulletin of Latin American Research 22 (2), 214-230.

Peruzzotti, E. (2001). The Nature of the New Argentine Democracy. The Delegative Democracy Argument Revisited. Journal of Latin American Studies 33 (1), 133-155.

Johnson, J. (2003). Conceptual Problems as Obstacles to Progress in Political

Science: Four Decades of Political Culture Research, Journal of Theoretical Politics 15, (1), p. 87–115.

Smith, W. C. (1990). Democracy, Distributional Conflicts, and Macroeconomic Policymaking in Argentina 1983-89. Journal of Inter-American Studies and World Affairs 32 (2), p. 1-42

Tedesco, L. (2002). Argentina’s Turmoil: The Politics of Informality and the Roots of Economic Meltdown, Cambridge Review of International Affairs 15 (3), p. 469-481.

Tomassi, M. (2002). Federalism in Argentina and the Reforms of the 1990s. Working Paper 147, Center for Research on Economic Development and Policy Reform, Stanford University.

Weyland, K. (2004). Neoliberalism and Democracy in Latin America: A Mixed Record, Latin American Politics & Society 46 (1), p.135-157.

Persson, T., & Guido, T. (2000). Political Economics: Explaining Economic Policy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Political Culture and Society in Argentina'. 16 December.

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