Yesterday, Monday September 5 began like any other day. I had finished 33 of the 54 rounds of prayers for Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Novena. Reuben, a friend who owns an electronic repair shop nearby visited for lunch, we shared some pizza and talked about the faith. Reuben is a ‘cultural Catholic’ with a good heart. He struggles to understand a faith that was never fully explained to him. One of his sons became an Evangelical and is trying to get Reuben to attend a local Evangelical temple. That has generated some questions on Reuben’s mind and he often comes and asks questions about the Bible and Catholic doctrine. He had questions that Monday and we talked about them during lunch and a little bit after. I had to pay bills, here in BA bills are paid not by mail – since mail is unreliable and checks are often stolen – but by going to a pay store where one is issued a receipt for payment. There is one not far from where I live. I was standing in line when a young man came and simply cut in front. Both the cashier and myself indicated to him that there was a line. The man said he knew that already and began to profusely insult everyone in a loud voice. I told him to leave the store and he did but he continued hurling insults from the sidewalk outside. It took about two or three minutes to make my payment. I stepped outside and there was the would be thug with another young friend, now they were taunting me to fight. I ignored their calls and attempted to cross the street. I was tackled and quickly fell to the floor where one of them proceeded to pin me while the other tried to kick my head, something he managed to do twice. All of that lasted about five seconds when suddenly I was head and shoulders under a car that had climbed from the street to the sidewalk, pushing the two thugs away from me. The car was driven by a good Samaritan who saw from his car what was happening and had the good sense to help me. I was barely aware of what was going on when the police came and helped me up, they grabbed the first thug while the other fled.
Police did what police do and then I was sent to the nearby public hospital where they performed a magnetic resonance of my brain and found nothing was wrong except by a big bump on my forehead that is almost gone by now. While I was waiting for the results of the brain scan I sat there in the Emergency Room with several people that have been involved in accidents, etc. Sitting next to me was a man who introduced himself as Miguel (I thought of St Michael, “San Miguel” in Spanish) and began to chat about his reason to be there. One could see Miguel was down and out and used to it. He asked me why I was there and I told him. He was shocked at the sheer stupidity of it all and concluded those people were most likely on drugs. After that he said something about “leaving politics” which here are heavily connected with illegal drug trafficking. Since he did not impress me as a typical lawyer politician I asked him what kind of politics. He told me he worked as a laborer and sometimes he was paid good money to go to marches and demonstrations. I understood he was involved with some Peronist movement or other, perhaps some leftist group. Here in BA only those groups pay people to march with protest signs, and raise traffic trouble. I asked him why he was not doing that anymore and he asked me if I was a Peronist. I said ‘no’ of course. Then he went to explain that it was obvious that the last Peronist government (12 years of the Kirchner family) was a robbery operation: “now those that had stolen billions of dollars refuse to return them even when they see the terrible misery and squalor that affects about half the nation …” then he added somberly “I don’t believe in Perón any more, he was pure smoke. He did nothing for anyone in the end.” I told him I agreed and we chatted a little more walking back home. I noticed a Rosary around his neck and I asked him if he prayed the Holy Rosary. He said he did and added: “at night I sing for Our Blessed Mother.” Then he began to sing in a very sweet voice a few bars of a beautiful melody of praise. Before we parted ways I asked him to pray the Rosary for the country asking, after each Our Father, that God would remove the corrupt from all places of power so people like him, especially the poor, can enjoy the fruit of their labor. We shook hands and he went into the rainy night to sing praises to Mary.
For those who don’t know the tremendous loyalty that Juan Perón used to exact from people like Miguel, it is hard to understand the impact of the poor man’s words. Only a few decades ago it was anathema to even criticize Perón. I was a witness to a phenomenon: the poor are finally disillusioned with the old crook. It took seventy years and a lot of loss.
While Germany and Japan were in ruins in 1945, Argentina was an agrarian power untouched by war, blessed with full employment, vast reserves, one of the ten top economies in the world. Seventy years of experimenting with all the variants of Peronism have left the country’s reserves exhausted. Exhausted also is the confidence of the world’s investors. Downright stupid nationalization of myriads of enterprises that disappeared under state administration, decimated monetary and banking systems, impoverished education, obsolete infrastructure, and a gigantic centralizing State that eats more than half of the nations GDP are killing honest Argentines who are now serfs-through-taxation working under a tax load that would initiate revolts anywhere in the world but not here.
Argentina faces impossible odds and – all things remaining equal – the country is sure to collapse unless complete changes are implemented. Unions have to stop the usual extortion of every productive industry, judges have to stop selling their rulings to the higher bidder, police and district attorneys have to stop fostering and protecting criminals, politicians have to stop stealing everything on sight, i.e. furniture has disappeared from the presidential palace, pieces that were there for almost a century were basically pilfered by the “friends of the poor.” Our Pope Francis has to stop looking at our people like if they were the property of thugs and thieves like Juan Peron or the political left. Argentines have to understand that morals make a nation, that honest commerce within the bounds of Christian morality is a good thing, that the State is not God and it can’t feed anyone. When is this going to be fixed for good? Until what century will Argentines be “burying the talent” and doing nothing with one of the most blessed territories on Earth? I do not have the answer to that question but I know the Lord is near.