IPS STUDENTS OBSERVE ARGENTINIAN POLICY IN ACTION
During spring break, students in the Ford Dorsey Program in International Policy Studies (IPS) had the opportunity to visit Argentina to meet with a number of elected officials, NGOs, think tanks, and journalists to help them understand the current political climate of the country and get a better idea of how policy affects the population as a whole.
This student-led study trip was conceived and coordinated by second-year students Emmanuel Ferrario, Jessica Brunner, and Matthew Levy, in order to provide seventeen first-year master’s students with an opportunity to apply information learned in the classroom, and to further hone their career trajectories. Students were joined by faculty leader Professor Francis Fukuyama, a senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, who shared his expertise, addressed questions, and led discussions throughout the trip.
“We crafted the study trip agenda with a desire to give the students a holistic approach to Argentina. We met with the most relevant stakeholders of the policy-making process in the country, and learned a lot from them (even me, a 100% Argentine),” said Ferrario, IPS ’14.
“After having participated in last year’s study trip to Rwanda, all three of us study trip leaders were keenly aware of the unique insights policy students can get from being on the ground and meeting with politicians, civil society, and industry,” added Brunner, IPS ’14. “We wanted to give that same perspective to the first-year students.”
Students wrote extensively about the trip and share some highlights below.
It was a great opportunity to put into practice topics we had studied during the Autumn and Winter Quarters, as well as an opportunity to learn more about Argentinian politics, institutions, and culture.
The image the government projects in the media (especially in a country with such a large bureaucracy) is quite different from what I observed. During my week in Argentina, I saw for the first time on-the-ground “job creation” and social programs. Seeing workers standing around to operate an automated machine and dozens of workers doing manual labor to create swimming pools in the middle of nowhere (all while wearing Evita T-Shirts) inspired a lot of curiosity for my future research about political loyalty and the ties between job creation and/or social programs and voting behavior. It was such a worthwhile part of the trip.
The trip allowed me to apply a lot of what I learned in our international economics series to a critical examination of the shortcomings of Peronism (despite the propaganda touting its success). Furthermore, for a DDRL student who has largely focused on sub-Saharan Africa, Argentina’s transition to democracy presented an extremely interesting comparative case study.
Meeting policy leaders from the Kirchner government, opposition leaders, think tanks, and other non-governmental advocates gave us a wide range of perspectives and contrasts that helped us better understand the holistic nature of Argentinian politics.
What surprised me most on the trip was the rosy picture painted by most high-level practitioners, who ascribed many problems in the country to “unfinished work.” I took this to mean that the situation in Argentina would be subject to a continuing trend, as opposed to the implementation of drastic changes in policy. Moreover, I felt that the higher a person was in his or her position, the less I would learn from him or her about the country.
One highlight was meeting with Congresswoman Laura Alonzo. Her frankness and passion for transparent and accountable governance was truly inspiring, and provided a telling counterpoint to our meetings with members of the ruling party.
Argentina seems to have great potential for economic growth. However, at the same time, the country struggles with structural problems, which are a negative legacy from the past and a serious impediment to stable growth. Even though every stakeholder I met on the trip seemed honest and sincere, none seemed to have any clear-cut plans to tackle structural reforms.
Professor Fukuyama made all the difference. Having a seminar each night over dinner was one of the best interactive, academic, and international learning experiences I’ve ever participated in.
Meetings with various members of Argentine society provided an excellent perspective on the current situation in Argentina. Discussions with politicians, bureaucrats, NGOs, think tanks, business leaders, and journalists enabled each member of the trip to develop salient concepts of Argentina’s history, challenges, and opportunities.
Argentina did not disappoint: the beauty of Buenos Aires, the friendliness of the Argentines we met, and the opportunity to explore the culture and cuisine and gain first-hand knowledge of the challenges and opportunities the country faces made this an immensely rewarding experience. A particular highlight of this trip was our involvement in the 23 de Marzo remembrances, celebrating the transition to democracy in the 1980s and remembering the victims of the dictatorship.
We concluded our trip with a visit to Argentina’s Supreme Court and a meeting with the president of the court, Dr. Ricardo Lorenzetti. He told us yet another frightening tale of presidential overreach. In a sustained battle for judicial independence, Dr. Lorenzetti conceded that the Supreme Court has lost its battle for the independence of the lower courts. These lower courts are now strongly influenced by local political movements stretching from Buenos Aires, and are no longer considered a dependable form of justice. With sad, defiant eyes, the Chief Justice suggested that with no control over the lower courts, and an uncertain future for the Supreme Court, the entirety of Argentina’s judicial independence was at stake.
Soh Young In
We were deeply inspired by the discussions led by Professor Fukuyama. In particular, I was struck by our visit to the Kirchner government’s mega-scale leisure park site, which is part of Argentina’s social development plan. Knowing the worsening economic situation, we were all skeptical of the project. At dinner that evening, Professor Fukuyama explained that growing populism in Argentina and Latin America had led to the irony of such a large-scale development project being launched in a difficult economy. From that point, we were better able to understand Argentina’s political challenges.