The Age Question For Politicians Plays Out In Latin America

Older politicians seemingly face an image problem in some Latin American countries. But in this continent of massive corruption scandals, can age really be the issue for voters?

Tabaré Vásquez, 79, President of Uruguay
Tabaré Vásquez, 79, President of Uruguay


BUENOS AIRES — Quite a few people have asked me recently about my interest in gerontology, the study of aging. I was in particular asked what I thought of the ridicule heaped on one veteran Argentine politician and presidential hopeful, Roberto Lavagna, for letting himself be photographed wearing shorts, white socks and sandals. The very picture of an old man at home. My friends' condescending tone meant to say, he's past it, surely?

Memes and online reactions seem to indicate so. People are asking how someone dressed this way can think of becoming president, or if political rivals had picked his attire. One Tweeter suggested he needed to be taken care of. Worse perhaps was his son insisting that his father dressed this way "for his health"! Was the explanation necessary, considering the guy wants to be president, not a model?

Roberto Lavagna's infamous outfit — Photo: Popular via Twitter

Comments have indeed gone beyond the dress sense and suggest some people may have a problem with a 76-year-old seeking the presidency. We are in a moment in history that seems not to favor old age. Facing off the ageist onslaught, one of Lavagna's allies, Sergio Massa, defended "this 80-year-old gentleman" (who knows why he added four years) by insisting Lavagna did sit-ups every morning.

The more or less subtle forms of age discrimination are not exclusive to our country and affect candidates elsewhere on the continent. In Uruguay, the age of former president José Mújica, who left office at 79, became a political issue. Critics said it posed a risk and was at odds with his progressive discourse. When Mujica's term was coming up, Tabaré Vásquez, who had already served as president, run again, aged 75, for the 2014 presidential elections. His rival, Luis Lacalle Pou, made an acrobatic move dubbed "the flag" for his campaign commercial, using a pole in the street, presumably to show the youthful prowess Vásquez lacked. Thankfully voters in Uruguay understood that a president's dexterity had nothing to do with gymnastics.

Age is no longer an indicator of conservative or progressive tendencies, or of the old or the new

Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has also faced questions over the age of his cabinet — his ministers being 60 years old on average. The marked youth of his predecessor, Enrique Peña Nieto, did not bother anyone of course, as if the norm of past times that frowned on youthful politicians had been inverted.

In spite of rivals wanting to show Lavagna as old and conservative, age is no longer an indicator of conservative or progressive tendencies, or of the old or the new. Britain's Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will turn 70 next month, while two top U.S. Democratic candidates for president Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden all already well into in their 70s. Donald Trump is 72, though admittedly one can barely classify him in any way.

Not that an advanced age is valuable in itself. You might say Peru's previous president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, should have known better because of his age. But neither age nor experience could protect him from the stain of suspected ties to Odebrecht — the Brazilian firm whose bribes have sunk a good many politicians across the continent — bringing his presidency to an early end. Perhaps sandals and shorts are not the issue — but the number of disappointing, disgraceful incidents that have besmirched so many presidents. Or could it be that past a certain age, the brain just cannot take politics seriously anymore?

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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