The other day a friend of mine, Ned Doyle of Asheville NC, and I made a few exchanges on Facebook about the idea of solar energy here in Argentina. Ned’s an entrepneraurel environmentalist and Argentina would be a great place for someone with his background, knowledge and insights to make a difference and pick up a few bucks also.
I told him though that solar energy would never fly in Argentina; and I believe it won’t, at least in my lifetime.
Ignorance isn’t the problem. Argentina’s history is full of people that invented things that changed the world. I’ve included just a few later in this post and the list will surprise you.
Argentina is full today of wonderful, caring, loving people who are intelligent and, unlike too many American, have not lost the skill of critical thinking.
So what’s the problem?
Money. Politics. Money + politics = corruption. And Argentina is rife with corruption.
The naive American will be quick to say that there is corruption in the US also, and while that’s true, the level of corruption in Argentina makes the United States look like a convent.
Argentines are not a stupid people. Throughout the history of South America’s second largest country, there is a long list of great writers, poets, politicians, scientists and inventors.
Some of the inventions that most Americans — and the world — take for granted were invented in Argentina.
The ballpoint pen, the animated film, heart bypass surgery, the artificial heart, fingerprints as a method of identification, radio transmissions and more.
Because of the inventiveness of Argentines, the country’s standard of living once rivaled that of the US and for a period of time in the 50s and 60s, actually surpassed Americas by a slim margin. So what happened?
Juan Peron, Carl Menem, Isabel Peron and Cristina Kirchner are just a few of the corrupt heads of state who started Argentina on it’s downward slide into an economy that is staggering like Rocky Balboa. Unlike Rocky though, Argentina will stay down for the count until another revolution takes place.
In the 70s a trend started which continues to this day. The trend of emmigration has grown over 40 years and basically eliminated two groups from the population. Established scientists and writers are now living overseas and college graduates are seeking work elsewhere, mainly in Brazil and Chile.
It would be easy to say that in the US there are many college graduates that are working at stations below their degree — the college graduate that is shuffling burgers at McDonald’s for example — but they are staying in America where their education may eventually be put to use. In Argentina, the education is leaving the country entirely.
Both groups are fleeing because of the corruption in national politics. Regardless of existing or potential skill and knowledge level, people that could make a significant contribution to the Argentine society are unable to pay the enormous bribes that would allow them to work.
While many countries today complain about corrupt politicians, very few have raised corruption to an art form like Argentina.
Corruption is ingrained in Argentina; it is a way of life. Ranked by Transparency International as 105th in it’s Corruption Index, Argentina is surrounded on the list by countries such as Algeria, Mexico and Greece.
In the US most of the population has a basic belief in the general goodness of the government and are shocked when an elected official is caught in a sex scandal, bribery or other criminal activity.
In Argentina, the population has come to accept corruption and are surprised when someone in power actually wants to do the right thing. It’s telling when the majority of Argentines are surprised by the Uruguay President who donates 99% of his executive salary to charity, drives a beat-up VW Beetle and cooks his own meals.
Corruption and greed extend into the highest levels of “justice” in Argentina.
In August 2012, Supreme Court Justice Eugenio Zaffaroni was found to be the owner of six apartments that were being used as brothels.
While practically anywhere else in the world this would be reason for the judge to have to step down, here in Argentina no one pressured him to step aside, even temporarily, to clear his name.
One of his fellow justices, Carmen Agribay, called it a “private matter”. Agribay went on to say that a Supreme Court Justice owning six brothels “…doesn’t affect the Supreme Court in the least and Zaffaroni would provide an explanation when he gets around to it.”
Needless to say, Zaffaroni never “got around to it”.
If you replace Zaffarona with Antonin Scalia and Agribay with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, you get an idea of how crazy the situation is.
Law enforcement here is in equally bad shape. A study from the Universidad Torcuato di Tella, a well known and well regarded private university, found that one of every three households had been a victim of crime within the past 12 months. You shouldn’t be surprised that 81% of Argentines laugh if you ask them about the effiency of the “policia”.
It’s not uncommon for a criminal to be picked up and released after bribing the arresting officer. Many here in Argentina see the payola as a sort of criminal tax. With no real teeth in the legal system, the lawyers are about as ignorant and corrupt as you can find anywhere, and with 70% of the policia on the take, you can understand why tourists stick to the port area where the high rises and the post-card-settings are.
It’s a shame because thousands of naive tourists go home each year with a twisted picture of Argentina.
An open secret in Argentina is the existence of Iranian sleeper cells. While the precise number and location of these terrorist communities in waiting is the subject of much discussion in Buenos Aires, their existence is not disputed.
Entering the country through the so called “Tri-Corners” area where Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meet. A no man’s land, the Argentine government has deliberately and repeatedly turned a blind eye to the human trafficking, drug trafficking and terrorism portal the area has become.
Trade between Iran and Argentina has grown to more than one billion dollars per year according to Paul Singer, founder of Elliott Management and a top funder of the US Republican Party.
Speaking to the NY Times, Singer explained that he believes the West “…finds itself at an early stage of a drawn-out existential struggle with radical strains of pan-national Islamists.”
The Washington Post recently ran ad ad touting, “What’s the TRUTH about Argentina’s deal with Iran?” The question concerns the recent agreement between the governments of Argentina and Iran to open a “Truth Commission” examining the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires which killed 85 people and injured more than 300.
Many people in Argentina are asking why the (Argentine) government is willing to negotiate with Iran, but not with law abiding creditors.
It’s a valid question that is still waiting for answers.
The list could go on and on, but you get the idea. With the intellectual capital leaving the country and 70% of the population receiving some kind of government handout, the incentive for upscale technological advances like solar energy is gone.
Unless you have a few million bucks sitting around doing nothing.
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Jerry Nelson is a freelance photojournalist from America. His latest book of photography, Suenitos tells the story of the only daycare inside the dangerous Hidden City. Now based in Argentina, he continues to turn his lens on social justice issues around the globe. Connect with Jerry on MosaicHub, Facebook or LinkedIn today. Have a story that needs to reach national media? Email him today.
In addition to being photo editor for the Internet’s largest collection of Travel Articles, Outbounding, he is also the lead photographer for BuenosTours, the specialists in private walking tours of Buenos Aires
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