Argentine anger fades as spring sun shines, vote nears
Buenos Aires — Springtime has burst on this sprawling city with its broad avenues and tree-laced parks like a brilliant sunrise. The troubles of the past winter in this southern world - the cold, the endless economic problems, and the doubts that Argentina would ever hold presidential elections this year - seem less real with the current warming spell.
Elections now are almost certain to take place on schedule Oct. 30. The Argentine military, bruised by 81/2 years of lackluster rule and savagely defeated in last year's war with Britain over the Falkland Islands, is eager to return to the barracks. It appears to have lost the will to govern.
The nation almost seems not to have a government. Brig. Gen. Reynaldo Bignone , named president by the military last year, is hardly ever in the news. The big story is the election campaign. Argentina's next president will inherit a sadly demoralized and economically bankrupt nation.
''Why anyone would want to be president is beyond me,'' mused Deolindo Felipe Bittel, the vice-presidential candidate of the Peronista party.
But there are 13 eager presidential candidates. The polls show Italo Argentino Luder, the Peronista candidate, and his running mate, ''Chaco'' Bittel , are the front-runners. No one seems to know what former President Maria Estela Martinez de Peron, officially still head of the Peronista party, plans to do. She is in exile in Spain, but some Peronists wish she would come back.
''If she does, will that help Luder?'' queried one radio commentator. ''It should enliven the campaign.''
The campaign is already lively. Walls all over the city are covered with campaign posters. Radio and television crackle with comment on the political races. Newspapers and magazines feature the campaign, too. Street-corner crowds gather throughout the city to listen and argue with supporters of one candidate or another.
On Calle Florida, the main shopping street in downtown Buenos Aires, half a dozen knots of people were gathered recently in good-natured debate. Less than a block away, a movie house was showing ''La Republica Perdida'' (The Lost Republic), an angry protest over the past 40 years in Argentina. Its theme is that Argentina has lost its way during the succession of military and civilian governments since 1945.
Many Argentines agree. They are shocked to read that the notorious Triple A organization, a right-wing paramilitary group, is still active. It now stands accused of a series of crimes in the city of Cordoba.
Here in Buenos Aires, the weekly mothers' march in front of the Casa Rosada, the Argentine White House, quietly calls attention to the ''disappeared ones'' - the men, women, and children who were picked up by paramilitary groups like the Triple A and who then vanished.
''I'll never see my son,'' one woman says. ''But I have to do this every week in his memory and to let those gorillas (a common Latin American term for the military) know that we will never forget their crimes.''
She is not alone. There is plenty of anger in this nation of nearly 30 million people. Much of it is directed at the military - both for those disappearances and for having got Argentina into the 1982 war with Britain.
Another common concern is how to get through the week on paychecks that no longer stretch to cover necessities. This was the theme of 16 letters to the editor in newspapers on the first day of spring (Sept. 21).
Yet restaurants are full of people eating huge portions of good, but increasingly expensive, Argentine beef. And the La Scala Ballet of Milan performed to a packed and enthusiastic audience that paid 250 pesos each (more than $20) for seats in the Cine Gran Rex. And out in forested Palermo Park, there were hundreds of women in well-tailored fur coats, pushing baby carriages and enjoying the sudden burst of warmish weather. Obviously not all Argentines are hurting.
But the general impression is that for the average Argentine, it is getting harder and harder to make ends meet.
Many here would agree with Radical Party leader Raul Alfonsin, the man likely to place second in the presidential sweepstakes, who says, ''We are on the edge of the abyss and slowly slipping in. For the moment, there is no safety net to catch us.''