New & Noteworthy

June 26, 2009

Dictatorship, Democracy, and Globalization: Argentina and the Cost of Paralysis, 1973–2001, by Klaus F. Veigel, Penn State University Press, 2009, 248 pp., $65 (hardcover)

In this revision of his princeton history dissertation, Klaus Veigel traces what he calls Argentina’s “epic struggle over the very model of economic and political order” in the last three decades of the 20th century. The story is bookended with the departure by helicopter of Isabel Perón from the roof of the Casa Rosada in 1976, at the dawn of the military dictatorship, and the strikingly similar departure of Fernando De La Rúa, 25 years later, as Argentina’s economy and government collapsed around him.

Veigel argues that in the 1960s and early 70s, the social consensus within Argentina on how to best manage the economy began to unravel, and that the lack of such a consensus, even during the military dictatorship, exacerbated the many economic and political crises that have wracked Argentina in the last 30 years. Both civilian and military governments, he argues, vacillated between inward-looking, protectionist policies and outward-looking liberalization, reacting to each new crisis by reversing whichever policy was currently in place to provide a short-term solution at the expense of long-term stability and growth. A growing lack of confidence in the government’s ability to solve any crisis fostered what Veigel calls “strategic indecision,” which brought down one government after another in the last three decades.

Argentina: Stories for a Nation, by Amy K. Kaminsky, University of Minnesota Press, 2008, 280 pp., $22.50 (paperback)

By closely reading literary texts from the North, supplemented by film, newspaper stories, and advertisements, Amy Kaminsky attempts in this book to create a new theory of national identity by uncovering the dialectic that emerges between the Argentine self image and European and U.S. visions of the Argentine nation. The long history of northern engagement with Argentina began in the 19th century with the official encouragement of European immigration for the task of physical nation-building, including the construction of railroads, schools, and plantation agriculture, and persists in both the built environment and the population today. “Argentina,” Kaminsky says, “lives at the tip of the collective unconscious of the North.” It is “a familiar other, a foggy mirror to Europeans concerned about their own identity.”

By attempting to move beyond formulations of national identity that rely exclusively on colonial relationships and perpetuate the subordination of the formerly colonized, Kaminsky shows how the cultural elite of Argentina shape, and are shaped by, Northern representations of their nation. In this way, the book provides a useful case for thinking about what she calls “globalization in relation to nation.”

Dirty Secrets, Dirty War: The Exile of Editor Robert J. Cox (Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1976–1983), by David Cox, Evening Post Publishing, 2008, 232 pp., $26.95 (hardcover)

The problematics of journalistic detachment thread through David Cox’s memoir of his father’s life as the editor of the Buenos Aires Herald, an English-language daily, during Argentina’s military dictatorship. Cox brings his father’s voice to a story that his father, having lived through the terror of the times, is unable and unwilling to write. Interspersed with journal excerpts and re-created dialogue, the book chronicles the story of Cox’s unlikely heroism, told with the obvious adulation of a son for his father.

Living an aristocratic life in an upscale neighborhood with his wealthy Argentine wife, Robert Cox had close contacts in the military and was firmly situated within the country’s bourgeoisie. He initially supported the junta and its campaign against “subversives.” But when the disappearances began, Cox’s “Englishman’s conscience,” as his son calls it, compelled him to publish the names and the stories of the disappeared in the Herald—which he continued to do until 1979, when threats against his family forced him into exile in the United States. The Herald under Cox’s leadership was one of the few sources reporting the truth about state terror during the dictatorship, and this emotional memoir offers a window into the toll that it took on the Cox family.


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