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On and Off The Record in Argentina

July 11th, 2012 | 08:52 PM

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President Cristina Kirchner said Wednesday that she had asked the national tax agency, AFIP, to investigate a man after a newspaper quoted him saying the real estate market is in bad shape.

The man, who reportedly runs a real estate agency and was quoted Sunday in Clarin, told the paper that the government’s latest limits on the purchase of U.S. dollars have rattled the nerves of potential buyers and caused them to think twice before agreeing to buy property.

In recent months the government has severely limited access to the foreign exchange market, making it virtually impossible for many people and companies to buy dollars and other currencies. Given that almost all home sales in Argentina are done in dollars, the crackdown has hurt the real estate market.

“Dollars are just a collector’s item now. The feeling people have is that if they let go of their dollars (to buy a house), they’ll never see them again,” Rodrigo Saldaña was quoted as saying. “Because of this, when we suggest to people that they accept pesos, 90% of them resoundingly say no.” As a result, Saldaña said, deals fall apart immediately. People selling homes want dollars while people buying homes are afraid to give them up.

Saldaña’s real estate agency typically closes between 12 and 15 deals a month, but last month they closed just two, according to the article.

Kirchner, who became a millionaire thanks to the real estate business, said she personally called AFIP Director Ricardo Echegaray and asked him to look into the matter. He did.

It turns out, Kirchner said, that Saldaña hasn’t filed taxes since 2007.

“He either lied to the newspaper or he lied to AFIP,” she said.

Whatever the case, for the purposes of this post, it’s immaterial whether Mr. Saldaña or the real estate agency paid its taxes.

What matters for this post is that Argentina’s president admitted in public — in a nationally televised speech which broadcast networks were forced to carry —  that she has used the tax agency to investigate people for saying things that she finds questionable. (more…)

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Cristina Kirchner as Theologist-in-Chief

July 3rd, 2012 | 07:29 PM

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Argentine President Cristina Kirchner is better known for her politics than for her musings on theology. But she broke with custom Tuesday and offered some thoughts on the latter.

“I am absolutely sure that God loves everyone. Because of that, if there’s life, it’s because God wants there to be life. If things happen, it’s because God wants those things to happen. And God blesses all of us. He doesn’t just bless those who think one way. He blesses even those who don’t pray to him and he also blesses those who curse him. Because of that, he’s God and because of that we continue believing in him and because of that we continue having the strength to move forward as Argentines.”

Of course, if Kirchner is correct, then her political opponents, as well as the journalists she often criticizes, are simply behaving the way God wants them to behave. But if that’s the case, how can they be blamed for simply acting in accordance with God’s will?

Labor union boss Hugo Moyano led a national strike last week, against the government — because God wanted him to do it? Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri rejects Kirchner’s plans to turn the subway system over to his district — because God wants him to do so?

Taking it to the extreme, could we explain the actions of Hitler, Mao and Stalin the same way?

What about other things happening around the world? Kirchner has said “the world is falling on top of us” in reference to global economic and financial problems. But these too, in this theological worldview, are happening because God wants them to happen.

The theistic preordination of affairs — and what some would call its atheistic counterpart, mechanistic determinism — have long stirred debate among philosophers of religion. If events are determined in advance, either by the mind of God or by the physical nature of the universe, then we must grapple with numerous logical questions, not the least of which is the famous problem of free will. How can we have it if we’re simply doing what God wants us to do? At what point do our own wants and desires enter into the equation, if at all?

Kirchner didn’t delve into any of this on Tuesday and it seems unlikely she will in the future. But who knows. Her speeches are unpredictable. Perhaps God wants it that way.

You can watch her make the comments above, starting at minute 13:00.

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