The Evita Syndrome

On the day last month that Argentina commemorated the 50th anniversary of the death of Eva Perón, patron saint of the descamisados and of jobs for everyone, the worst unemployment rate in the country's history, 24%, was announced. Four years of recession and devaluation of the peso, has seen Argentina descend into a veritable economic hell.

Only a head of household--one third of the population--may draw monthly government assistance equal to $1.30 per day. This amount cannot begin to cover basic needs. More than 19 million people, 53% of the population, live in poverty. The middle class continues to cling to the hope that their savings can be salvaged, but these funds, which are now frozen in the nation's banks, are unlikely ever to be at anyone's disposal.

Under the rule of President Carlos Menem, who rid the country of inflation and opened the economy to the world, Argentina became the darling of international investors and institutions. After half a century of stagnation, Menem looked good.

But Argentina, a society that historically lacked the means to defend itself against authoritarianism, has long been the agreeable victim of populist and autocratic rulers. So it was not hard to convince such a nation that " menemismo " was the price that had to be paid to become a member of the "first world."