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The Darkening Nation: Race, Neoliberalism and Crisis in Argentina

The Darkening Nation: Race, Neoliberalism and Crisis in Argentina

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The Darkening Nation: Race, Neoliberalism and Crisis in Argentina

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346 pages
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Dirilis:
Apr 12, 2018
ISBN:
9781786832238
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Deskripsi

At the turn of the twenty-first century, Argentina was in the midst of its worst economic crisis in decades, the result of years of drastic neoliberal reforms. This book looks at the way ideas about race and nationhood were conveyed during this period of financial meltdown and national emergency, examining in particular how the neoliberal crisis led to the critical self-questioning of the dominant imaginary of Argentina as homogeneously white – allegedly the result of European immigration and the extinction of most indigenous and black people in the nation-building age. The Darkening Nation focuses on how the self-examination of racial and national identity triggered by this crisis was expressed in culture, through the analysis of literary texts, films, artworks and music styles. By considering a wide range of artistic and cultural products, and different forms of racial identity and difference (white, indigenous, Afro-descendant, immigrant and negro as it is understood in local contexts), this study constitutes a timely addition from a literary and cultural studies perspective to recent academic enquiry into race and nation in Argentina.

Dirilis:
Apr 12, 2018
ISBN:
9781786832238
Format:
Buku

Tentang penulis

Ignacio Aguiló is Lecturer in Latin American Cultural Studies at the University of Manchester.

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The Darkening Nation - Ignacio Aguiló

IBERIAN AND LATIN AMERICAN STUDIES

The Darkening Nation

Series Editors

Professor David George (Swansea University)

Professor Paul Garner (University of Leeds)

Editorial Board

David Frier (University of Leeds)

Lisa Shaw (University of Liverpool)

Gareth Walters (Swansea University)

Rob Stone (University of Birmingham)

David Gies (University of Virginia)

Catherine Davies (University of London)

Richard Cleminson (University of Leeds)

Duncan Wheeler (University of Leeds)

Jo Labanyi (New York University)

Roger Bartra (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México)

Other titles in the series

Catalonia: National Identity and Cultural Policy

Kathryn Crameri

Melancholy and Culture: Diseases of the Soul in Golden Age Spain

Roger Bartra

The Poetics of Otherness in Antonio Machado’s ‘Proverbios y Cantares’

Nicolas Fernandez-Medina

The Spanish Golden Age Sonnet

John Rutherford

María Zambrano: A Life of Poetic Reason and Political Commitment

Beatriz Caballero Rodríguez

Nationalism and Transnationalism in Spain and Latin America, 1808–1923

Paul Garner and Angel Smith (eds)

The Enlightenment in Iberia and Ibero-America

Brian Hamnett

Graciliano Ramos and the Making of Modern Brazil: Memory, Politics and Identities

Sara Brandellero and Lucia Villares (eds)

IBERIAN AND LATIN AMERICAN STUDIES

The Darkening Nation

Race, Neoliberalism and Crisis in Argentina

IGNACIO AGUILÓ

© Ignacio Aguiló, 2018

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any material form (including photocopying or storing it in any medium by electronic means and whether or not transiently or incidentally to some other use of this publication) without the written permission of the copyright owner. Applications for the copyright owner’s written permission to reproduce any part of this publication should be addressed to the University of Wales Press, 10 Columbus Walk, Brigantine Place, Cardiff CF10 4UP.

www.uwp.co.uk

British Library CIP

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

ISBN 978-1-78683-221-4

eISBN 978-1-78683-223-8

The right of Ignacio Aguiló to be identified as author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 79 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

The publisher has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for any external or third-party internet websites referred to in this book, and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

Cover image: Leonel Luna, Laconquista del desierto (2002), digital print on vinyl. By permission.

¿Te acordás cuando regresaste enamorado de tu viaje por todo Latinoamérica? … Que te sentías latinoamericano … Me decías que para ellos éramos Nueva York, y que por suerte la Argentina nunca iba a estar en el nivel de pobreza que vivían ellos. ¿Te acordás? … Bueno, ahora nos hemos latinoamericanizado, andá al barrio de Once y vas a ver en qué se transformó, otro que un mercado persa. ¿De qué te quejás?, tenés que estar contento, ahora sos un latinoamericano de verdad …

Enrique Medina – La espera infinita (2001)

Contents

Series Editors’ Foreword

List of Figures

Acknowledgements

Introduction

Exceptionalism

Migration

Space

Multiculturalism

Structure and texts

1Neoliberalism and its crisis

2The historical construction of whiteness in Argentina

3Facing darkness in the literature of the crisis

Literary production and the crisis

‘Asterix, el encargado’

La Villa

Cucurto

4‘A Bolivian walks into a bar …’: race in New Argentinian Cinema

The renovation of Argentinian cinema

Bolivia

Copacabana

5Amerindians, fashion models and picketeers

Huellas

La conquista del desierto

Grupo de Arte Callejero (GAC)

6Cumbia villera and the new racialised marginality

Cumbia music in Argentina

The boom of cumbia villera

Racialising the villero youth

Afterword

Notes

Works cited

Series Editors’ Foreword

Over recent decades the traditional ‘languages and literatures’ model in Spanish departments in universities in the United Kingdom has been superseded by a contextual, interdisciplinary and ‘area studies’ approach to the study of the culture, history, society and politics of the Hispanic and Lusophone worlds – categories that extend far beyond the confines of the Iberian Peninsula, not only in Latin America but also to Spanish-speaking and Lusophone Africa.

In response to these dynamic trends in research priorities and curriculum development, this series is designed to present both disciplinary and interdisciplinary research within the general field of Iberian and Latin American Studies, particularly studies that explore all aspects of Cultural Production (inter alia literature, film, music, dance, sport) in Spanish, Portuguese, Basque, Catalan, Galician and indigenous languages of Latin America. The series also aims to publish research in the History and Politics of the Hispanic and Lusophone worlds, at the level of both the region and the nation-state, as well as on Cultural Studies that explore the shifting terrains of gender, sexual, racial and postcolonial identities in those same regions.

List of Figures

Figure 4.1 Dancers rehearsing in Copacabana (2006). Dir. Martín Rejtman

Figure 5.1 Abipón: Noviembre by Gaby Herbstein (1999). Included in Huellas

Figure 5.2 Yámana: Julio by Gaby Herbstein (1999). Included in Huellas

Figure 5.3 Toba: Enero by Gaby Herbstein (1999). Included in Huellas

Figure 5.4 Ocupación militar del Río Negro bajo el mando del General Julio A. Roca, 1879 by Juan Manuel Blanes (1896)

Figure 5.5 La conquista del desierto by Leonel Luna (2002)

Figure 5.6 Photograph of the monument to Julio A. Roca in downtown Buenos Aires, by Alejandro Aguiló (2017)

Figure 5.7 Roca’s anti-monument, by Grupo de Arte Callejero and Comisión Anti-monumento a Roca (2003)

Figure 6.1 Pablo Lescano by Vera Rosemberg (2010)

Acknowledgements

In writing this book, I have been privileged to benefit from advice from many people. I would like to thank my colleagues at the University of Manchester, particularly Lúcia Sá, James Scorer, Frank Eissa-Barroso, Valentino Gianuzzi and Blanca González Valencia, who kindly gave me feedback on the contents of this book. I owe special gratitude to Karl Posso, who believed in this project from the moment it was just a few poorly written sentences in an email. His precious advice, direction and generosity were crucial for the development of the ideas contained in this volume. Jens Andermann and Peter Wade provided me with invaluable input through their comments and inspiration through their work. I am also immensely indebted to Cara Levey and Matías Dewey for their help during the early stages of my academic career.

I am very grateful to the artists and institutions who granted me permission to reproduce their works: Gaby Herbstein and Dana Kamelman, Leonel Luna, Martín Rejtman and Rosa Martínez Rivero, Vera Rosemberg and staff at the Museo Histórico Nacional. Sarah Lewis from the University of Wales Press has been extremely helpful and supportive throughout the elaboration of this book. I would also like to thank the anonymous reviewer for the very useful suggestions.

During the development of this project, I have enjoyed the friendship of many people who have contributed to making Manchester feel like home: Miquel Pomar Amer, Maurício Sellmann Soares de Oliveira, Gustavo Carvajal, David Jiménez Torres, Suzanne Boerrigter, Nicole Peters, Christian Declercq and Gözde Naibog˘lu. My family, and especially my parents, have been an unconditional source of support, love and encouragement. Without them, this book would not have been possible. Finally, I would like to thank Mary, with whom I greet the dawn and stand beside. This book is dedicated to her, in love and solidarity.

Introduction

In January 2016, the Central Bank of Argentina revealed its plans for new peso banknotes designs, which would substitute depictions of national heroes with those of autochthonous animals such as the jaguar, the condor, the hornero bird, the Southern right whale, and the guanaco. The announcement was followed by an article in the country’s leading conservative newspaper, La Nación, entitled ‘Argentina es África’ (Argentina is Africa), which reported some of the public’s initial reactions.¹ The replacement of the country’s founding fathers by local fauna ignited outrage in a significant number of La Nación’s readers who pointed out that the South African rand, the Congolese franc and the Zambian kwacha also included native animals in their designs. This likening to Africa was, for them, not only unjustified but also insulting. A reader stated: ‘Los países del Tercer Mundo tienen animales en los billetes. No somos un país del Tercer Mundo’ (Third-World countries have animals in their banknotes. We’re not a Third-World country). Another argued: ‘Argentina es un país con historia. Estos animales nos hacen parecer una jungla incivilizada a la que el hombre blanco acaba de llegar’ (Argentina is a country with history. These animals make us look like an uncivilised jungle where white men have just arrived). The racial overtones were also reflected in other comments, which claimed that the fauna in the notes implied that Argentina was ‘uno esos países de población mestiza’ (one of these countries with mestizo population). References were also made to the Brazilian real, which features endangered native animals. For the readers, old tropes that postulated the opposition between Western civilisation and the Other as a figure of nature persisted as frameworks to conceive African nations and Brazil. The commentators seemed to imply that, if African countries – and Brazil – had wildlife in their banknotes, this was because they had no choice: their national histories lacked scientific and cultural achievements, architectural landmarks or distinguished personalities. Argentina was, on the contrary, a place that could pride itself on having all of this, according to the readers; featuring animals was simply nonsensical. The statements’ racial overtones also indicate that this rejection of the new banknotes’ designs was as much an attempt to distance Argentina from Africa’s associations with poverty as from its associations with non-whiteness. Both, in fact, were perceived as intrinsically interrelated. This obsession with presenting itself as a white civilised nation is far from recent in Argentina. Such racial anxieties vis-à-vis comparisons with Africa – or other Latin American countries – have been a common feature in public and everyday discourses for decades. Still, if anything, they indicate that this self-perception as white is far from unquestioned; on the contrary, it needs constant reaffirmation and policing. The renowned travel writer Paul Theroux was quick to identify this inclination during his travels in Argentina. He too compared Argentinians with Africans but, interestingly, it was white South Africans whom, for him, they resembled:

But, of all the people I met in South America, the Argentines were the least interested in the outside world or in any subject that did not directly concern Argentina. They shared this quality with white South Africans; they seemed to imply that they were stuck at the bottom of the world and surrounded by savages.²

In 2001 and 2002, Argentina was in the midst of what was arguably its most dramatic economic, political and social crisis since its return to democracy in 1983. In this context, these anxieties and concerns about ‘becoming’ African or Latin American became a frequent presence in the media, expressed with a high sense of urgency and distress by intellectuals, politicians and journalists. For example, cultural critic Beatriz Sarlo stated in 2002: ‘Nosotros nunca pensamos que podíamos llegar a compararnos con algunos países pobres de África’ (We never thought we could end up comparing ourselves to some poor African countries).³ In another article entitled ‘Africanización’ (Africanisation), published in the centre-left newspaper Página/12, Manuel Fernández López affirmed: ‘el país hoy (es) una Euráfrica, donde unos viven como en Europa y los demás como en el continente negro’ (the country is now a ‘Eurafrica’ where some live like in Europe and the rest like in the Dark Continent).⁴ In a similar tone, novelist and conservative intellectual Marcos Aguinis warned: ‘Si no luchamos por una utopía, terminaremos como un pobre país africano’ (If we don’t fight for a utopia, we will eventually become a poor African country).⁵ National Minister for Social Development Juan Pablo Cafiero, in turn, claimed: ‘la Argentina está latinoamericanizada … 39 ó 40 % de la población (vive) en esas condiciones’ (Argentina has been Latin Americanised … 39 or 40 % of the population (lives) in these conditions). Of course, these analogies aimed to stress the extent of the financial meltdown that the country was undergoing, with alarming poverty levels and unemployment rates. ‘Becoming’ African or Latin American expressed panic about becoming poorer. However, long-standing discursive traditions of disavowed racism explain how it also implied a process of symbolic ‘darkening’: these fears of national ‘Latin Americanisation’ or ‘Africanisation’ articulated poverty with race, suggesting a correlation between underdevelopment and non-whiteness. Although not directly stating it, all these voices, from the Left to the Right of the political spectrum, were raised in a shared expression of concern about the possibility that Argentina was in the process of ceasing to be ‘white’. Instead, they implied, it was becoming like the Third World countries from which it had attempted to distance itself.

A wide variety of studies has examined the financial implications of the Argentinian crisis and its political consequences. There has also been some scholarly attention devoted to the cultural and literary repercussions and representations of the crisis. However, few studies have comprehensively looked at how the financial meltdown was read through race by sectors of Argentinian society. In this book, I look at cultural products created during this period of national emergency to show that the crisis induced a preoccupation with questions of nationness and national belonging in Argentinians, which was partly crystallised through discourses of whiteness. Widespread fears of impoverishment and tangible experiences of social descent during this period were frequently framed as a process of blackening, ‘Africanisation’ and ‘Latin Americanisation’. Different strategies were implemented to deal with this alleged threat to the white national self – illustrated by the rise of middle-class racism against immigrants and the poor. But the racial encoding of social crisis also ignited in others a need not to preserve but to critically revise these national identity templates articulated around whiteness. Culture, in particular, constituted a platform through which many of these critical discourses were expressed. The analysis of literature, film, art and popular music of the time will demonstrate that, in this state of social decomposition and economic meltdown, cultural products contributed to the exposure and examination of the often subtle ways in which race intervenes in definitions of national belonging and difference. Simultaneously, they also suggested alternative models and discourses of nationality.

Given that the Argentinian crisis was the direct result of neoliberal reforms, this book is also concerned, in a broader sense, with neoliberalism and its relationship with nationness and race. By neoliberalism, I understand here not just an economic ideology of market rule, as in neoclassical and neo-Marxist thought, nor a flowing and diffuse assembly of productive technologies of normalisation, as in more recent approaches derived from Michel Foucault’s pioneer reflections on governmentality and biopolitics. Instead, following Loïc Wacquant, I conceive neoliberalism as an articulation of state, market and citizenship, in which the first is utilised to impose the stamp of the second onto the third.⁶ The advantage of this definition is that it goes beyond understandings of neoliberalism in purely economic terms but maintains the distinction between state and citizenship, which allows for scrutinising the privileged role of state apparatus in the crafting and production of the social. Neoliberalism does not imply a retreat of the state but its reconfiguration as a regulatory agent, responsible for guaranteeing the free interplay among market agents – an example of this is the fact that certain traditional functions of the state, particularly its punitive role, have experienced an expansion with neoliberalism.⁷

Latin America is an interesting context in which to analyse neoliberalism. There is ample consensus that neoliberalism was first applied in Chile following the 1973 coup d’état, and rapidly spread to other countries in the region. In this sense, Latin America constituted an early laboratory for neoliberal experimentation. In the subsequent three decades, most Latin American nations would experiment with radical neoliberal reforms that would lead to a profound transformation of the social fabric and, in most cases, to an exponential increase in inequality and poverty. The particularities of Argentina’s neoliberal experience and its subsequent crisis will be examined in detail in Chapter 1 but, at this point, it is useful to provide a brief account of said transformations. As in Chile, it was also a dictatorial regime that marked the transition towards neoliberalism: the Proceso de Reorganización Nacional (National Reorganisation Process), which ruled the country between 1976 and 1983. During the return to democratic governance under Raúl Alfonsín, from the centrist Radical Party (UCR), some neoliberal policies continued, but there were no significant developments in this direction. Nonetheless, neoliberalisation returned in full force in the two-term presidency of Peronist Carlos Menem, which lasted from 1989 to 1999. Traditionally a working-class party, the Peronist Party reinvented itself as an alleged agent of modernisation, bringing about a draconian programme of state reform, privatisation and deregulation that would, eventually, have catastrophic effects on socio-economic indicators. Historically, Argentinians had enjoyed higher standards of living than most of their Latin American counterparts: in 1974, only 8 per cent of the population was living below the poverty line; during the neoliberal crisis, this figure increased to 57.5 per cent – of which 27.5 per cent were unable to afford essential food items.⁸

The widespread impoverishment and disenfranchisement produced by neoliberalism did encounter resistance. Initially, it was working-class people who opposed these reforms, as they were the first ones to be affected by unemployment, privatisation and cuts in social welfare. However, at the turn of the twenty-first century sectors of the middle class also joined the opposition to neoliberalism as they started to feel the effects of the country’s socio-economic transformation. In 1999, Fernando de la Rúa won the presidential elections. He did so on a ticket from Alianza para el Trabajo, la Justicia y la Educación (Alliance for Work, Justice and Education), a political coalition of the Radicals, to which he belonged, and FREPASO, a new progressive political movement created by dissident Peronists and other centre-left forces. Despite coming from the opposition, his government continued many of Menem’s policies in a climate marked by economic recession (which had started in 1998), excruciating poverty and unemployment levels, and civil disaffection with the political establishment. The situation eventually erupted on 19 and 20 December 2001, when the people took to the streets and forced the fall of de la Rúa’s government. Throughout 2002, many direct-democracy initiatives prospered, some of which originated in the late 1990s, such as neighbourhood assemblies and piqueteros (protest groups composed of unemployed people whose primary modality of protest were picket lines). Centre-left Peronist Néstor Kirchner became president in 2003 and was able to stabilise the country through a combination of neo-developmentalist economic policies, institutional reforms that partly addressed citizens’ demands for political change and disarticulation of civil activism.

In this book, I propose an understanding of the crisis that goes beyond the economic and political events of 2001 and 2002. I conceive the crisis as spanning from the late 1990s to the mid-2000s, years marked by neoliberal governance, the dramatic fall of socio-economic indicators, institutional fragility and civil discontent and mobilisation. I also look at certain developments that took place in previous years. As Cara Levey et al. argue, the crisis can be seen as a series of responses to ‘both old and new problems – many of which predate 2001. In particular, the origins of these issues can be traced back to the neoliberal decade of the 1990s and to the military dictatorship’.⁹ The 1990s were in fact enormously transformative, not only economically and socially, but also culturally. They constituted a period of ‘heightened neoliberalism’, in which traditional forms of political identification – particularly those linked historically to the working class and the Peronist Party – suffered dislocation, while dreams of national exceptionality experienced exacerbation. Frederic Jameson argues that one of the main traits of neoliberalism is the collapse of the distinction between economy and culture – a process that he denominates ‘dedifferentiation’.¹⁰ In the case of Argentina, explaining why social decline was partly lived through a language of race implies considering neoliberalism also as a cultural project – something that I will discuss in depth in Chapter 1.

In order to understand why whiteness played such a crucial role in the way in which the crisis was experienced and framed it is also necessary to look at the ways in which race has historically shaped Argentina’s discourses of national belonging and difference. In the first decades of the twentieth century, as Latin American countries experienced processes of consolidation, mestizaje became a dominant paradigm of nationhood in the region. Opposing contemporary theories of scientific racism, which signalled racial mixture as an obstacle for modernisation, mestizaje celebrated the progressive demographic force of mixing and the uniqueness of Latin America. It promoted a homogeneous national character, a superior synthetic product embodying all the ‘natural’ qualities of pre-existing racial groups. In Argentina, however, it was not the mestizo but the European immigrant who was hailed as the symbol of the nation during this crucial moment of national affirmation. Argentina went on to present itself as an anomaly in the region: a white Europeanised society surrounded by mixed-race countries. The causes of this exceptionality were attributed, according to official discourses, to the extinction of indigenous and Afro-descendant populations in the second half of the nineteenth century and the massive arrival of Europeans at the turn of the twentieth century, all processes that had almost entirely whitened the country by the 1920s.¹¹ Although similar narratives were articulated in Uruguay and southern Brazil, and to a lesser degree in Chile, only Costa Rica can be perhaps compared to Argentina in terms of the success of such paradigm of racial uniqueness and white nationhood. However, in the case of Costa Rica, the country’s alleged whiteness has been traditionally traced back to Spanish settlers during the colonial era rather than attributed to turn-of-the-twentieth-century European migration.

Argentina’s whiteness, like mestizaje, was not merely an ideological construction: undoubtedly, the scale of white migration to Argentina was unparalleled in other Latin American countries, including those that also received large contingents of Europeans. However, as I will explain in Chapter 2, this process did not imply, as it was alleged, Argentina’s complete whitening. Many people of indigenous, African and mixed background were forced to incorporate, in extremely disadvantageous ways, into a social structure predicated on the alleged uniformity of the population.¹² Whiteness became common sense and taken for granted: Argentina was hailed as a ‘race-less’ country while, in everyday reality, the inequalities that race produced contributed to the longevity of social hierarchies. This double movement through which subaltern sectors were simultaneously included in and excluded from Argentinian society was not dissimilar to mestizaje, which also aimed to both amalgamate the national population under one single form of racial and cultural identity and obscure racism. However, by founding racial homogeneity on whiteness rather than on racial miscegenation, Argentina could claim greater success on the road to progress, at least according to contemporary Euro-American scientific racism. Despite their celebration of racial mixture, many mestizaje supporters assumed that non-white elements – which were seen as ‘weaker’ – would be eventually absorbed or diluted in the mix, leading to civilisation and development.¹³ Argentina presented itself to the rest of Latin America as already white, and thus, ahead in the run to join the ‘civilised world’. Indeed, as early as 1895, a census official claimed: ‘The Asiatic and African races clearly exist only in diminutive proportions such that their influence with respect to the country’s development (transformación) is null. The same can be said with respect to the Indians.’¹⁴

As can be seen, Argentina’s whitening implied a rather vague notion of whiteness, one that could, at times, symbolically include non-white people into the national community but would also reinforce racial disparities in everyday interaction. Because of its flexibility and vagueness, the scheme, like mestizaje, also allowed the emergence of interstitial spaces through which subaltern sectors were able to explore forms of resistance. In fact, Argentina’s combination of discourses of homogeneity with an asymmetric social structure based on race and class were contested throughout the twentieth century – particularly with the rise of Peronism as a political articulator of the rural multitudes of indigenous and mixed backgrounds that migrated to the capital city in the 1930s and 1940s. The combined process of rural–city migration, the transition towards an industrial economy, and the empowerment of the masses implied that the distance between whiteness as a discourse of nationhood and the country’s reality could be exposed. And yet, although Peronism brought about

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