Argentina's Social Default
Attention paid to Argentina is usually focused on the debt crisis and the interminable negotiations between the government of Argentina and the International Monetary Fund, leaving the social tragedy and the role of the State and Civil Society in addressing poverty with little or no comment.
The moderator of the first panel, Ambassador Richard T. McCormack, put the social tragedy in Argentina in the broader context of the failure of macroeconomic policy. He cautioned that such problems might potentially surface in other countries of the region and that it was the role of the Wilson Center to focus the attention on these issues.
With almost half the population under the poverty line, of which 37 per cent are "new poor," María del Carmen Feijoó, Executive Secretary, Consejo Nacional de Coordinación de Políticas Sociales, outlined the programs implemented since January, when Eduardo Duhalde came to power. Feijoo referred to the "Jefas y Jefes de Hogar"(Heads of Households) program which works to calm the social unrest that led to the fall of former president Fernando de la Rúa. The implementation of this program and others "has restored social order," she said.
Both Fabián Repetto (INDES, IDB) and Aldo Isuani (FLACSO) agreed that social policy programs need to be reconsidered, and stated that institutions are neither in touch with social needs, nor are adequately equipped to deal with social crises. The State remains unable to address the social situation "while the work force is continually changing, and the informal sector is constantly increasing," according to Repetto. Carola Alvarez, (IDB) reported on the experiences of the Progresa Program applied in Mexico after the Tequila crisis, as a comparative study to gain additional insight into the Argentine experience.
The second panel discussed international and local NGO's roles in Poverty Alleviation in Argentina. Bernardo Kliksberg, (IDB) referred to the increasing importance of civil society organizations and explained how as society became more polarized, the number of NGO's and the number of people involved in volunteer work increased. Even though the social contract is broken, he argued "the ethical contract is stronger that ever before."
Both Javier García Labougle, Cáritas, and William Recant, The Joint Jewish Distribution Committee, referred to the collapse of the Argentine middle class and the increasing role of NGO's in relieving stress in the community. Recant explained that the once strong Jewish community in Argentina now is devastated as is most of the middle class. García Labougle insisted that NGO's cannot replace the state in dealing with social problems. Raúl Zavalía Lagos, who directs Provivienda Social, an NGO that provides microcredit to 8,000 people in Moreno, a suburb of Buenos Aires, stressed the difficulties that NGOs face when it comes to achieving and maintaining adequate levels of financing for ever-increasing public demands.
In introducing the second panel, Ambassador Joseph B. Gildenhorn, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Wilson Center, emphasized his shock and amazement at the severity of the Argentine social crisis and called on the policy community in the United States to pay attention to such problems throughout the hemisphere.