I continue to be fascinated by the Argentine reactions to the election of Cardinal Bergoglio. Jorge Fernández Díaz titled his recent column “El papa peronista.”
Juan Domingo Perón is the defining personality in modern Argentine history. He was a protean figure, hard to categorize. Some regard him as a proto-fascist, others as a proto-socialist. But all agree that he smashed the old oligarchies that dominated Argentina, setting in motion the many convulsions of populist and anti-populist movements that have roiled Argentine society. To this day a wide range of politicians claim the title “Peronist.” It’s akin to saying you’re in solidarity with “the people,” which has a very real but ill-defined meaning.
There are leftist Peronists and rightist Peronists. In the current scene in Argentina, Pope Francis is on the right. He was notably and sometimes sharply opposed to the Kirchneristas, the government of Nestor and Cristina Kirchner that has ruled for the last decade. Fernández notes the joke that God seems to be playing, having elevated a conservative Peronist to the papacy from a country ruled by a progressive one.
Fernández thinks that by and large the political establishment in Argentina will find ways to claim Pope Francis as their patron. Cristina Kirchner is off to Rome to commune with the new pope, and this in spite of refusing to meet with him on many occasions in recent years. But there are true believers on the left, “setentistas” formed by resistance to the dictatorship in the 1970s. They will continue to “abominate Francis.”
But it’s not going to be easy. “It will be difficult by any means to respond to a simple comparison. Who is more progressive? Someone who lives in Puerto Madero or Palermo Hollywood, who owns several properties, travels in planes and helicopters with armies of guards and wears gold Rolexes and designer clothes? Or a priest who lives in a completely austere environment, wears worn down shoes and a weathered coat, travels by bus and subway, eats in soup kitchens, and regularly visits the slums?”
For those not familiar with Argentina, it’s Cristina Kirchner who wears the gold watches and designer clothes. She enjoys the support of the “setentistas,” because she’s the progressive. Supposedly.