Thursday, April 2, 2020

In Argentina, the fight against the coronavirus unites the political class around the peronist Alberto Fernandez

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Argentinian President Alberto Fernandez flies over Buenos Aires on March 21. MARIA EUGENIA CERUTTI / AFP

Aboard a helicopter flying over the capital with deserted streets; on the site of a new hospital, construction helmet on the head; in a big meeting with the provincial governors, looking serious… Not a day goes by without Alberto Fernandez appearing in “one” of the newspapers: the new Peronist center-left president, in power for less than four months, appears on all fronts in the fight against coronavirus. And there is consensus within a political class usually polarized between Peronists and Antiperonists.

Covid-19 has killed six people in Argentina, with 387 cases confirmed as of March 24. Figures still relatively low compared to those of European countries, the epidemic having started later in South America. In order to avoid an Italian scenario, Alberto Fernandez reacted early, decreeing blow by blow the total closure of the borders on March 15, the suspension of lessons for all students on the 16th – on the same date as France, which already counted, at that time, more than 6,000 cases while Argentina identified sixty – before announcing the complete containment of the country from March 20 and at least until the end of the month.

These strong measures contrast with those taken by other Latin American heads of state, such as in neighboring Brazil, where the eccentric far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, continues to deny the gravity of the virus; or in Mexico, whose president encourages residents to go out to restaurants, and "Continue to lead a normal life", in order to "Strengthening a family and popular economy".

In Argentina, despite a catastrophic economic and social situation (two consecutive years of recession, 40% of the poor and a rising unemployment rate), the consensus is great around Alberto Fernandez and the drastic measures he chose to take to curb the epidemic. "Argentines quickly accepted the idea of ​​confinement, the social condemnation of those who do not respect it is very important"says Lara Goyburu, professor of political science at the University of Buenos Aires.

Fear of an explosion of poverty

The government has adopted a series of economic measures – exceptional allowances for the most vulnerable, aid to SMEs, in particular – to cushion the effect of containment on the economy. However, in a country where more than a third of jobs are informal and where nearly 4 million people live in slums, the 40s are feared of an explosion of poverty. According to Mme Goyburu, "The consequences of this health crisis on the economy will be extremely serious and will further complicate the country's recovery".

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