A few years ago as we prepared for a trip to see my wife’s family in Buenos Aires, someone we know sent us an unusual request before we left the UK: is there any chance you could bring some tampons because the country is running short? I initially thought it was a joke. In fact it was true. The country was facing a shortage as a result of a collapsing currency and import restrictions under the former hard-left President Cristina Kirchner.
This weekend, John McDonnell said his mission was to overthrow capitalism. I have lived through what his vision for the UK would mean when we lived in Argentina in 2012 and again in 2013 and I have news for those who are desperate for Corbyn to become Prime Minister – it is a frightening prospect.
Cristina Kirchner, a left wing populist succeeded her husband as President in 2007, and ran the country until 2015. During her reign the country benefited from huge spikes in the price of agricultural products (especially soya crops). Yet having been to the country every year since 2006 it was plain to see that the main shanti-town in Buenos Aires known as Villa 31, had mushroomed. Crime soared, fuelled by a growth in drug trafficking with children being able to buy a cheap version of cocaine called paco for under £1. Someone close to us had armed robbers enter his home and shots fired, only two years after being beaten up when he would not release the keys of his imported Audi by a gang on a moped.
Inflation remained stubbornly high. Friends would not repair their cars because it was too expensive or you could not import the parts. At the same time the government was telling the population they should not be using dollars but pesos. Even to go on holiday abroad, Kirchner’s government made it impossible to purchase dollars at the official rate. Her business secretary would attend meetings of private companies and threaten them if they did not lower prices.
As you walked down Florida street, (the Buenos Aires equivalent of Oxford street), people would shout out out that they had dollars to buy on the black market and then usher you into back alleys to charge you an exorbitant rate for the privilege. At the same time as others were struggling, Kirchner was feathering her own nest as state-owned Aerolineas Argentinas cabin crew stayed in hotels she owned. On one trip to Paris to meet then French President, Nicolas Sarkozy she is said to have spent over 100,000 dollars on designer shoes and other accessories.
In healthcare, shortages reigned in certain medicines manufactured abroad because these were priced in US dollars and manufacturers were unwilling to supply large quantities due to the currency instability.
Kirchner when diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2012 was flown by helicopter to a private hospital.
Shunned by the West, her only allies were Angola, Russia, Venezuela and Iran. She even led a trade mission to Angola in a desperate bid to secure foreign investment. When it came to energy, gas and electricity prices benefited from huge state subsidies – the result was that foreign owners of energy sources did not invest in infrastructure and Argentina ended up importing natural gas from Bolivia.
In similar fashion to the hypocrisy of Diane Abbot when it came to education, Kirchner sent her own children to a private school in Buenos Aires.
When Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour leader, Kirchner tweeted that he was “a great friend of Latin America”. To those who think that Corbyn is a new Messiah and will sort out the ample mess left behind by the Conservatives, I would suggest they go to Buenos Aires and see for themselves what a decade of populism brings. We brought my own kids back from Argentina because we felt they had a better future in this country. If Corbyn becomes Prime Minister, this may not be the last move we make.