We’ve held a bunch of meetings over the last few weeks and it’s been difficult to keep up with posting the recaps. One of particular interest was our conversation with Paula Biglieri, a professor of Political Science at the Universidad de Buenos Aires. We met Paula through out faculty advisor, Professor Dilip Gaonkar, who had worked with her when she did research at Northwestern a few years back.
We convened at a quaint corner Porteño cafe in our neighborhood to discuss Kirchnerismo — the political ideology of current Argentine President Cristina Kirchner and that of her late husband Nestor, the nation’s former head of state. Aside from the economic issues we have been researching, at the time of our meeting with Paula, Kirchner was also under international fire over her potential role in the mysterious death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman, a spy-like saga that has transfixed Argentina for most of the past month and remains unsolved.
Though Paula had told us she knew very little about Bitcoin, we wanted to chat in order to gain a better perspective of the country’s general sociopolitical atmosphere. Argentine Bitcoin enthusiasts have proven to lean libertarian in their political views, so we were hoping to hear the argument from the other side of the political spectrum.
In stark contrast from the rhetoric we’ve been hearing in discussions with Bitcoin enthusiasts that “the country is falling apart” and “this fall’s elections will drastically shape the future”, Paula offered a much more reassuring and calm view.
In fact, she actually described Argentina’s political ecosystem in terms that sound incredibly similar to that of the United States. There exist underlying racial and immigration issues and even deeper-woven class issues. Too much of the media is controlled by too few people. The government is divided and therefore inefficient. The global debate between economic protectionism and free trade wages… Sound familiar?
And while Paula was critical of the Kirchner regime’s handling of the economy, she wanted to make it clear just devastating the situation was when Nestor took over following the crisis of 2001. She also offered us a positive window into some of the very successful social programs Cristina has implemented. She’s completely revamped social programs — providing computers to low-income students and subsidies to parents who vaccinate and send their children to school — reducing extreme poverty by 4%. Likewise she has made incredible strides for the LGBTQ community — in addition to legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, she also passed a bill that allows transgender individuals to receive free hormone therapy in both private and public hospitals, the first of its kind in the western hemisphere.
Paula’s outlook on the Nisman case, which was blaring on the television behind us at the cafe where we met, was similarly unperturbed. She felt that though the case was of course tragic, it was being overblown by the media.
Kate and I both found it interesting to hear the political landscape defined in these familiar terms. If this is truly the case, Argentine citizens political engagement is even more surprising and impressive. Perhaps it is due to the fact that voting is mandatory, but we have noticed that people here, particularly younger generations, are much more likely to openly discuss politics than in the United States.
In our follow-up discussions, both Kate and I agreed that from the all of our pre-trip research about the dysfunctional economy and seemingly inefficient policies in place to solve it, we had come to Argentina somewhat biased against Kirchner’s government. Hearing Paula’s take was a great way to counter these biases and evaluate the Bitcoin movement within the greater context of national politics.