Geopolitics

Cristina Kirchner Has Plenty To Say, Just Not To The Press

Analysis: Whether it is for a factory opening or a ceremony honoring her hero, "Evita," Argentine leader Cristina Kirchner finds plenty of opportunities to speak. Many discourses, but not much dialogue.

Sylvia Colombo

BUENOS AIRES - Argentine President Cristina Kirchner does not give interviews. Nor does she request meetings with ministers. And yet she always makes herself well heard.

Over the past month, the president gave no fewer than 12 speeches. She has no trouble finding occasions to do so, be it the inauguration of a hydroelectric dam, an act on behalf of her deceased husband and presidential predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, or the opening of a new hall in Buenos Aires' Casa Rosada --her executive mansion and office, in honor of her heroine, Evita Peron.

As President Kirchner has isolated herself more and more, talking only to her closest political allies, her speeches have become her primary method of informing even her own ministers about her decisions and policy changes.

Human rights groups, particularly the Mothers and Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, are always in attendance for her speeches. Organization leaders Hebe de Bonafini, 83, and Estela de Carlotto, 81, who have spent decades raising awareness about the thousands of people who disappeared during Argentina's period of military rule, show up every time, even when the topic is completely unrelated.

In mourning since Nestor Kirchner died in October 2010, Cristina keeps a pattern in her speeches. She usually refers to her late husband; compliments what she calls his "model," which includes a heavier presence of the state in economy; attacks mass media and powerful foreign countries; and reinforces the idea that her administration is "national" and "of the people."

Recently, more than 200 journalists gathered for a television show called Periodismo para Todos (Journalism for Everyone) to demand that the president speak with the press. The group included several well-known journalists, including Ricardo Kirschbaum, editor-in-chief of Clarin, the country's largest newspaper. They carried banners saying "we want to ask questions" and "no to the pro-government media."

The group presented 10 questions they would like to ask the president. Among other things, they want her to explain allegations of corruption and influence peddling involving the vice-president, Amado Boudou.

None of their questions were answered. Soon after the program aired, President Kirchner boarded a plane and flew off to Angola.

Photo: Presidencia de la Nacion Argentina

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Society

Why Chinese Cities Waste Millions On Vanity Building Projects

The so-called "White Elephants," or massive building projects that go unused, keep going up across China as local officials mix vanity and a misdirected attempt to attract business and tourists. A perfect example the 58-meter, $230 million statue of Guan Yu, a beloved military figure from the Third Century, that nobody seems interested in visiting.

Statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou Park, China

Chen Zhe


BEIJING — The Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development recently ordered the relocation of a giant statue in Jingzhou, in the central province of Hubei. The 58-meter, 1,200-ton statue depicts Guan Yu, a widely worshipped military figure from the Eastern Han Dynasty in the Third century A.D.

The government said it ordered the removal because the towering presence "ruins the character and culture of Jingzhou as a historic city," and is "vain and wasteful." The relocation project wound up costing the taxpayers approximately ¥300 million ($46 million).

Huge monuments as "intellectual property" for a city

In recent years local authorities in China have often raced to create what is euphemistically dubbed IP (intellectual property), in the form of a signature building in their city. But by now, we have often seen negative consequences of such projects, which evolved from luxurious government offices to skyscrapers for businesses and residences. And now, it is the construction of cultural landmarks. Some of these "white elephant" projects, even if they reach the scale of the Guan Yu statue, or do not necessarily violate any regulations, are a real problem for society.

It doesn't take much to be able to differentiate between a project constructed to score political points and a project destined for the people's benefit. You can see right away when construction projects neglect the physical conditions of their location. The over the top government buildings, which for numerous years mushroomed in many corners of China, even in the poorest regional cities, are the most obvious examples.

Homebuyers looking at models of apartment buildings in Shanghai, China — Photo: Imaginechina/ZUMA

Guan Yu transformed into White Elephant

A project truly catering to people's benefit would address their most urgent needs and would be systematically conceived of and designed to play a practical role. Unfortunately, due to a dearth of true creativity, too many cities' expression of their rich cultural heritage is reduced to just building peculiar cultural landmarks. The statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou is a perfect example.

Long ago Jinzhou was a strategic hub linking the North and the South of China. But its development has lagged behind coastal cities since the launch of economic reform a generation ago.

This is why the city's policymakers came up with the idea of using the place's most popular and glorified personality, Guan Yu (who some refer to as Guan Gong). He is portrayed in the 14th-century Chinese classic "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms" as a righteous and loyal warrior. With the aim of luring tourists, the city leaders decided to use him to create the city's core attraction, their own IP.

Opened in June 2016, the park hosting the statue comprises a surface of 228 acres. In total it cost ¥1.5 billion ($232 million) to build; the statue alone was ¥173 million ($27 million). Alas, since the park opened its doors more than four years ago, the revenue to date is a mere ¥13 million ($2 million). This was definitely not a cost-effective investment and obviously functions neither as a city icon nor a cultural tourism brand as the city authorities had hoped.

China's blind pursuit of skyscrapers

Some may point out the many landmarks hyped on social media precisely because they are peculiar, big or even ugly. However, this kind of attention will not last and is definitely not a responsible or sustainable concept. There is surely no lack of local politicians who will contend for attention by coming up with huge, strange constructions. For those who can't find a representative figure, why not build a 40-meter tall potato in Dingxi, Gansu Province, a 50-meter peony in Luoyang, Shanxi Province, and maybe a 60-meter green onion in Zhangqiu, Shandong Province?

It is to stop this blind pursuit of skyscrapers and useless buildings that, early this month, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued a new regulation to avoid local authorities' deviation from people's real necessities, ridiculous wasted costs and over-consumption of energy.

I hope those responsible for the creation of a city's attractiveness will not simply go for visual impact, but instead create something that inspires people's intelligence, sustains admiration and keeps them coming back for more.

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