Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Silly Symbolism? Argentina's New Banknote et al.

Not so long ago, I remarked that Argentina needs to create new banknotes because the country’s galloping inflation had made dealing with cash so unwieldy – with the largest denomination at 100 pesos (less than US$10), the volume  of bills is stressing the capacity of our wallets and, as far as I know, even ATM machines (though I have not used an Argentine ATM for quite some time). Bills of 200 or even 500 pesos would be a relief to overstuffed wallets.
Last week, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner finally announced a new banknote, but it was not what the country needed. Instead of printing larger bills – which would have been a tacit acknowledgment of the inflation problem – her government chose to introduce a new 50-peso banknote with a map of the Falkland Islands. Even worse, she made the announcement on the 32nd anniversary of the Dirty War dictatorship’s foolish invasion of the Islands, despite the fact that her administration (and her late husband Néstor’s) have made a point of condemning the murderous military’s human rights abuses.

The hypocrisy did not pass unnoticed. While Argentines may be virtually unanimous in their opinion that the Islands should be Argentine, some were vocally upset that the government commemorated their claim on a date linked to the dictatorship. Hernán Lombardi, cultural secretary of the city of Buenos Aires, unleashed a series of bitter tweets, including the statement that “Celebrating April 2nd as a holiday follows a logic that could end in a monument to [General Leopoldo]Galtieri. Not in my name!” Independent journalist Uki Goñi, who has written eloquently on human rights issues, tweeted that “It would be beautiful to celebrate the Malvinas on another day not the anniversary of April 2, 1982,” linking to a YouTube video of the masses applauding Galtieri on the Plaza de Mayo (see below).
In fairness, the national government was not the only one to engage in silly symbolism last week. The Buenos Aires city council, in a similar measure, voted to rename the block-long street of Inglaterra (“England,” in the barrio of Agronomía) as “2 de Abril,” after the date of the invasion. Apparently, few in the neighborhood agreed with the change, but those opposed were reluctant to speak out publicly.
Perhaps it’s too much to expect Argentine politicians to abandon grand (or petty) symbolic gestures, Even if they can’t do so entirely, a good model to follow might be the postage stamp (pictured above) issued to commemorate the 1829 establishment of the “Political and Military Command of the Malvinas Islands” by the United Provinces of the River Plate (a precarious precursor of modern Argentina). Commander Louis Vernet, a German Huguenot businessman who had settled in the Islands some years earlier, was primarily interested in commercial sealing.


At the same time, it’s perhaps worth noting that the obverse of the new banknote contains an image of the gaucho Antonio Rivero, who murdered five holdover employees from Vernet’s settlement after the British assumed control in 1832. Some Argentine sources have tried to portray Rivero as a political folk hero against the British, but it’s likelier his grudges stemmed from management maltreatment.

Meanwhile, Argentines will continue to wait for larger banknotes to conduct their daily business, as the new 50-peso bill is barely worth US$5.

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