Argentina Rises, Minus Its Swagger

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EARLY in the last century, Argentina was one of the world’s 10 richest countries. Its fabled beef and other farm exports were building an industrial economy. In 1928, it had more cars than France and more telephone lines than Japan. The dream of its Spanish founders — to transform a wild land tucked near the bottom of the world into a great country of European culture and education inhabited by white-skinned people — was coming true.

But those days are deep in the past. As the Argentine author Tomás Eloy Martínez wrote in “Requiem for a Lost Country,” a nation once obsessed with its “greatness” is “obsessed by the fear of being thrown into irrelevance. ” Mr. Martínez wrote those words in 1993, before a crushing economic crisis in late 2001. In its aftermath, crime-filled slums sprang up and the country’s currency lost two-thirds of its value. Today, there are beggars in the streets of Buenos Aires; wealthy neighborhoods fall prey to thieves and crack-cocaine addicts.

For many prideful Argentines, the hardest thing to accept has been the inexorable rise of their much-larger neighbor and perennial rival, Brazil.

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