Not according to Sergio Berensztein, a journalist with the Clarin Group:
Why is Argentina not going to become Venezuela?
OPINION | Although our country faces a severe crisis and there is a progressive radicalization of the Alberto Fernández government, there are significant differences that are worth highlighting.
A nationwide survey conducted by Zuban / Córdoba revealed that 50.8% of those consulted believe that Argentina is on its way to becoming Venezuela. This opinion stands out among those over 60 years of age (65.7%) and among those who voted for Mauricio Macri (87.8%) and Roberto Lavagna (63.9%). Among the voters of Alberto Fernández, only 17.9% believe it. Newspaper articles have also appeared showing that some Venezuelans, who came to our country escaping from the Nicolas Maduro regime, now want to leave as they see similarities between the journey through Venezuela and the current situation in Argentina. According to the Association of Venezuelans in the Argentine Republic (ASOVEN), there would be about 1,000 who want to leave the country because they feel that they are living a repeated history.
There is no doubt that our country faces a severe crisis in multiple dimensions that generates anguish and hopelessness in a large part of its population (particularly in the middle class) and even among Venezuelan immigrants who fear they are stumbling twice over the same stone. At times, Argentina seems to find itself in a labyrinth from which it cannot get out, discussing the same problems over and over again. In addition, the progressive radicalization of the Alberto Fernández government has disappointed the moderate electorate who expected a stage of less confrontation, greater dialogue and respect for the institutions. On the contrary, the administration of the Frente de Todos has progressively become the fourth Kirchnerist government (more similar to Cristina's last than to Nestor's). However, Argentina and Venezuela are not and will not be the same. This does not imply ignoring the seriousness of the situation we are going through. But there are significant differences between one country and another that are worth highlighting.
Differences in the political system
The first point to consider is the political system. Argentina has gone through severe economic and social crises, however, from 1983 to date, our democracy has been consolidated (the 2023 elections will coincide with the celebration for 40 uninterrupted years). The political system has proven to be resilient in the face of adversity and, despite its multiple weaknesses, the democratic institutionality is preserved and there are certain possibilities of alternation in power. Currently, the party system has been configured around two broad, plural coalitions with strong leaderships (the Frente de Todos and Juntos por el Cambio). It is true that in both there are radicalized sectors that seek to take Argentina to the extreme, but the moderates of each one ensure a minimum quota of internal balance.
This balance between "hawks and doves" within each coalition seems difficult to break, since if one of them fragments it is likely that the other will capitalize on it electorally. On the contrary, in Venezuela democracy has been interrupted. There is no separation of powers and the mechanisms of checks and balances (elementary for the functioning of democracy) were dismantled some time ago by Chavismo. Before Chávez became president, there were no strong political leaders in Venezuela. The "Caracazo" had weakened the political system and the front made up of Rafael Caldera (who was already very old in his second presidency in the 90s) at no time managed to fill that power vacuum. It is in this context that Chavismo was born, that environment does not exist in today's Argentina characterized by solid coalitions and strong leadership.
The role of the Armed Forces
The second point to take into consideration is that of the Armed Forces, since they play a fundamental role in the Maduro government and this is one of the reasons why Chavismo still retains power. In Argentina, the Armed Forces do not have the strength or the intention to actively participate in politics, while they exist with little or no legitimacy from civil society to do so. Furthermore, the Argentine military does not have a charismatic leader, who stands out politically and in the media, as was the "commander" Hugo Chávez at the time.
The truth is that the Armed Forces in Argentina are absolutely committed to the democratic system and the constitutional order, and the statements of former President Eduardo Duhalde implying otherwise are simply absurd. Even having César Milani as head of the Army, Cristina Kirchner did not manage to form a group within the Armed Forces that would identify in favor of the Kirchner project. Although Cristina concentrated all the political power at that time and installed a leader among the uniformed members related to her ideals, this was not enough to distort her democratic and partisan commitment.
Oil vs. agricultural activity
The third and last point is the one that makes the main export product of both countries. Today the international price of oil has been hit hard, but for years the price of a barrel close to USD 100 allowed Chávez to finance the consolidation of the regime domestically and its expansion regionally. This was possible not only due to the high price of oil, but also to the fact that in Venezuela hydrocarbons are in the hands of the State. In Argentina today there is no substitute for obtaining such financing, which is evidenced by the current currency crisis, which increasingly erodes and delegitimizes the government of Alberto Fernández. Agricultural activity is the main source of foreign exchange in Argentina and, although there is a heavy tax burden, it is developed entirely by private companies. The last 3-point reduction on withholdings announced by Minister Martín Guzmán shows that the Argentine State must necessarily give in to the private sector if it intends to generate incentives when it comes to exporting.
After three years of recession (including the Covid-19 crisis) and a decade of stagnation, Argentine society is submerged in deep pessimism. The discouragement and radicalization of the Frente de Todos in recent months have combined causing a large part of Argentines to see Venezuela as a mirror of our reality. Following the current path, there is no doubt that our country can continue to deteriorate, but the Venezuela of Nicola Maduro is not the correct mirror in which to look at ourselves. You have to look for a different one: because our crises are recurrent and problems are repeated, probably in Argentina's own past there are more keys to understanding the future.
Maybe not, but it bloody well looks like it at the moment.