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Learning to Lose in Argentina

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KIRCHNER AND EVITA
ASSOCIATED PRESS

BUENOS AIRES -- And on the 116th minute, Mario Götze silenced the Maracaná, burying the hopes of thousands of Argentines in the stadium and giving Germany the World Cup. It was soon followed by Brazilian laughter, German celebrations, and booing against FIFA, an organization that did everything to deserve it. Then, the palpable disappointment of an Argentine team that gave it all in the World Cup. Yet there was nothing more heartbreaking -- even more than that late goal -- than "impossible" Lionel Messi's face when receiving the Ballon D'Or.

On Brazilian soil, Argentines once again learned to lose, just as the Germany of Joachim Löw did for a decade. But the honorable behavior of the team on the pitch and outside it could not but contrast with the political response in Buenos Aires over the last 10 days. Such contrast makes one wish that the government in Buenos Aires learned to lose -- and only then begin preparing for future successes.

In the Argentina of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, however, the government holds on to defeat as a symbol of an ideology that is vacuous and lost.

The very night of the World Cup final defeat, the streets of Buenos Aires were filled by proud supporters. Yet the celebrations soon turned sour, with attacks against local businesses and means of transport. The police reacted late and ineptly. The minister of security, meanwhile, only found the time to decry "destabilizing factions" rather than to take responsibility for a sense of insecurity that has become the city's key problem.

Hours later, I was ashamed to witness in person how the only Aerolineas Argentinas -- the airline President Kirchner nationalized in 2008 -- flight that returned to Buenos Aires on time was that which carried its CEO Mariano Recalde and his friends of "La Campora," the ultra-Kirchnerite organization. The rest of the flights shared the same usual fate of Aerolineas: up to eight hours late and without any representatives to face client concerns.

Maybe that is why Recalde moved swiftly and stealthily through the Rio de Janeiro airport. It appears that the "national and popular" ideology that he loves to talk about with regards to the "national airline" makes it impossible for him to provide transparency on the firm's accounts or its public subsidies, not to mention the endless reports of overcharges and illegal campaign contributions.

Back in Buenos Aires, the Argentine football team had to put up with a televised welcome from President Kirchner, who sought to obtain political favor from their gargantuan efforts even though she admitted she had skipped each and every game. At the local football association, an organization co-opted by political power and damaged by illegal ticket resale allegations, Kirchner presented the players with a backdrop from Football for All (Futbol Para Todos).

Futbol Para Todos is the expensive program that nationalized football TV rights in 2009. Since then, and including the World Cup, in order to enjoy the finest sport on Earth one has to put up with the type of political propaganda that would make Politburo types shiver. Subtlety is not their thing.

And yet, nobody in the government can provide clear accounts of how much the taxpayer spends on FFA, an embarrassment in a country with child malnutrition.

A few hours after the televised "presentation," Kirchner travelled to the BRICS Summit in Brazil, where all Latin American presidents were invited. Upon leaving the territory, Vice President Amado Boudou -- a man formally charged for bribery and businesses unbecoming of his office -- became acting president.

Boudou is implicated in a case involving the spurious takeover of Ciccone, the private company tasked with printing local currency bills. In a country suffering from stagflation, one can be sure inflation will continue when the crooked politicians take over the printers. Every single corruption allegation against the government somehow touches upon Boudou. And yet, the veep refused to step down, even when cabinet members refuse to be seen with him.

Politics aside, the Argentine economy is in free fall, stuck with negative growth, rampant and accelerating inflation, and poverty indexes that grow together with unemployment. The "high growth, high inflation mix" that Kirchner sold so successfully in the last decade is now exhausted, and only the neo-Marxist finance minister (Dr. Kicillof) does not acknowledge the existence of stagflation.

And now, courtesy of a battle against debt holdouts that Argentina ignored for a decade, it may even be possible for the country to return to default -- the end product of the 2001 crisis that eventually brought the Kirchners to power in 2003 -- this very week. A technical default would only deepen Argentina's isolation from world markets, dooming it to sit on the third largest proven reserves of shale but without resources to develop them.

From its security policy to suspicious, crony nationalizations, and down to its corrupt officials still in office, the Argentine president refuses to learn when she has lost. Without admitting defeat, ideology is left naked to face undeniable reality. Today this ideology is only useful to protect the corrupt and hide scandals. Power is never eternal, and for Kirchner it is finally running out.

So that a new Argentina can be built, we must learn when we lost -- learning and building from bad experiences into future successes. Before Messi and his team can get revenge for the World Cup final in Russia come 2018, Argentines will face the polls in October next year.

Let us learn to lose, so that then we can think about winning.

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