Argentina Of Kirchner: Populism Or Kleptocracy?

Critics of both Nestor and Cristina Kirchner have focused on the "populist" nature of their hold on power. But to understand their rule, it may be wiser to follow the money.

Peronism... but which kind?
Peronism... but which kind?
Luis Alberto Romero


BUENOS AIRES Kleptocracy, derived from Greek, is government by thieves. While it may sound Aristotelian, it is a word coined in the early 19th century and its usage has recently spread in political parlance.

U.S. President George W. Bush famously called for international action against kleptocrats in 2006.

The category has gradually spread out from dictators to include rulers democratically elected to office. It is a word used in Spain now by anti-system protesters, the indignados, and applicable in Latin America to cases in Mexico, Dominican Republic, Peru, Venezuela and even Cuba.

And there’s Argentina, and a sharp eye on the governments run by the late President Nestor and his wife and successor Cristina Kirchner.

The term, however, has yet to replace the concept of “populism,” generally a much broader term. It is used both to praise and to denigrate. For some, it connotes people power, of people united in fighting the powerful. They would recall its prestigious origins, British Chartism in the 1840s, Russian populism at the time of Tolstoy or even the first phase of Peronism — the populism associated with General Juan Perón and his wife Evita — which oversaw a vigorous process of social democratization.

Even in its present, less virtuous versions, a basic, epic element persists, though its critics denounce it as intolerant and contemptuous of pluralism.

For their defenders, populist governments redistribute wealth to benefit the poor. Critics say their expenditures are irresponsible and indifferent to generating new wealth. Bread today, hunger tomorrow — probably when someone else is in office.

Both accept that wealth distribution comes with a dose of corruption, but defenders like to see it as a lesser evil, or that the ends justify the means.

Is the Kirchner party’s style of Peronism a kind of populism? If its intention was to redistribute wealth, things haven’t turned out so well.

Beyond the wasted prosperity of its early years, the outcome has been greater wealth concentrations and more social polarization, helped by subsidy policies.

State-sponsored storytelling

Its economic policies, which have led to Argentina’s present predicament, can be qualified simply as the worst management of prosperity among all other so-called populist governments.

The solid core of this populism is its self-concocted “story.”

It’s reminiscent of those early Christian apologists, able to show God’s triumph over the devil, be it amid flooding or drought, through prosperity and poverty, health or infirmity. Its principal victims are political opponents, time and again trapped by the discourse that knows how to manipulate their beliefs and traditions. Its supporters include a core of believers, visible and active, and others, mere opportunists repeating their political catechism to stay in the game.

How many of these are there? It‘s difficult to tell for sure, but their numbers are likely overestimated and it’s necessary to look elsewhere for the reasons for Kirchnerism’s electoral victories.

On the whole, I don't think populism helps us much understand the governments led by the Kirchners. Indeed it confuses, and ultimately weakens, its critics. Now kleptocracy — that goes straight to the core of a regime built on two foundations: concentration of power and accumulation of wealth.

Nestor Kirchner said in 1975 — as his widow Cristina recalls — that the first step was to gather funds needed to win power, and then make more money. The couple accumulated its first lot of power and money in the 1990s — as Governor and First Lady of Santa Cruz — without a need for any political discourse.

The next challenge was to go from remote province to the national capital. To activate a new, amplified cycle of power and money generation, they had to find partners, amplify their circle of support and above all, come up with a “story.”

Much has been said about Nestor’s political finesse and skills, but really, he just needed money, and lots of it. We are beginning to understand now the mechanisms used to amass wealth, which has reached a scale yet to be calculated. We have fragments of it, but no complete picture yet.

In that sense kleptocracy is a clear and direct concept that goes to the heart of the matter. It refers to rulers who use state resources to organize a systematic ransacking operation, to fill private and political coffers one can barely differentiate.

The kleptocratic analysis clarifies and explains so many government actions, even as they are distorted by the official “story.” Paving streets, building more universities, more homes, subsidizing gas, electricity and transport — yes, there was populism in all of this, and a lot of mismanagement, but more to the point, there was cash flow. Every public works project, every piece of nationalization and every concession is a commission earned, another piece of the cake.

All together they form a system. We know its nucleus and main agents, and less about its ramifications and roots, which will likely permeate the next government.

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The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire

According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council

Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire

The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke

During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press

Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

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