If you ask someone living in Argentina what the first thing that comes to mind is when the word politician is mentioned to them, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if most answered “corruption.” The fact that “they embezzle, but get things done” is a commonly used expression by a sizable part of the population illustrates just how engrained corruption is within the country’s culture.
The last example of this thought can be seen in a viral video that grabbed the headlines during this weekend. In it, an independent journalist who goes by the name “Arturo Maluco” went to the Province of Jujuy to ask some of its residents what they thought of social leader associated with Kirchnerism Milagro Sala, in prison since February 2016 on charges that have yet to be proven.
In several interviews, Jujuy residents described the opinion they have of Sala and answered about the patronage system she allegedly ran in the province as head of the Tupac Amaru organization. Some of the people interviewed said that, on the one hand, she gave poor people houses her organization built with money from the provincial and national governments. But others said they were forced to join the Tupac Amaru in return and that they needed to be available when called upon. If they didn’t do show up, protest or vote as they were told, their house would allegedly be taken from them, as organization leaders kept the houses’ deeds to themselves.
“She’s good,” a woman said, “because she gave toys to kids and to see happy kids is always nice.”
“She’s mean,” says a you man, “because she beat my friends’ mother.” “She grabbed her by her hair and made her cry,” he describes.
But the moment that made the video grab headlines came later, when the journalist interviewed a person holding a photo with Sala’s face. When asked what she would say if it was confirmed that Sala stole money from poor people, the woman answered: “all politicians steal. If she stole, we still had money to eat. Like she says: [former President] Cristina Kirchner stole from poor people, she stole from the country, but poor people had money to eat. Today, we don’t we have to work day after day to be able to eat.
Now, it’s debatable if the woman wanted to say this. She may have, but there’s another possibility. That she wanted to say that even though Fernández embezzled state money, the economic situation was better and now she has to live paycheck to paycheck, not knowing whether they will make ends meet.
However, the words that came out of her mouth made it look like she was saying that the Kirchner administration ran a patronage system where people were given benefits in exchange or political support, and since Macri ended with these practices, they now have to actually work to make money.
If this was the case, her words merit several questions: how willing is part of the population to tolerate corruption in exchange for meager compensation; how much does this mindset have to do with a society that has tolerated corruption for decades; what’s needed to change that; and if there are any viable chances of actually changing this mindset. All questions that have no easy answers.