Crowd waiting for election results in Plaza de Los Andes, Buenos Aires.
Society

Volver

A word that explains the apprehension surrounding the outcome of the Argentine elections

Ler em português

A quick Google search on available dictionaries for definitions of the word “return” (volver in Spanish) gives the following results: verb. 1. Come or go back to a place or person. 2. Go back to (a particular state or activity). 3. Turn one’s attention back to (something). 4. (especially of a feeling) Come back or recur after a period of absence. 5. Give, put, or send (something) back to a place or person. 6. Feel, say, or do (the same feeling, action, etc.) in response. 7. Yield or make (a profit). 8. (of an electorate) Elect (a person or party) to office.

It’s 9 pm on Sunday, October 27, and I can’t return (volver).

I’ve been squeezed into a crowd whose end I can’t see can’t for two hours now. For two hours I can’t open my arms, or turn around. Using my fingers, I turn to the phone screen, using the intermittent internet signal, trying to talk to my publishers in the other side of the world. I try to be brief. “I can’t get out of here,” I type. The message is not going anywhere. I’m not going anywhere.

Plaza de Los Andes, Chacarita, Buenos Aires, hours before the Argentine elections results being disclosed. Images: Gabriela Grosskopf Antunes

I had marked, with the smoke of the barbecue grills of the vendors selling sausage bread, the exits from the great corridor that had been set up on Avenida Dorrego. When, standing on tiptoe, I couldn’t see them, I could see the column of smoke. A column of smoke indicated an exit to some square where there might or might not be room. All of them, for some reason, had positioned themselves in these small entrances of the Plaza de Los Andes, in Buenos Aires’s Chacarita neighborhood, which is surrounded by iron bars. It was a route to return. But, again, I couldn’t move.

“I can see the flashing lights in the distance marking my return. They are the same ones that lighted, with their pale reflections, many hours of pain. And though I don’t want to go back, one always returns to the first love.” The author of these words is, in theory, a Brazilian, Alfredo Le Pera, who was born in São Paulo, but became an Argentine citizen, as well as his partner and singer Carlos Gardel (who was not born in Argentina, but became one of the most emblematic faces of the country), and who immortalized this letter with his voice.

It is one of the strongest and most emblematic tango lyrics of the genre and talks about a return, with a mix of longing, anxiety, melancholy, and love.

I had been thinking about this tango lyrics since I passed through immigration a week earlier, returning to Buenos Aires after many months and having lived for nearly a decade in the country to cover the presidential elections. The bittersweet return, with the best memories, and also, with the pain of being gone. But I was coming back. Volver.

Four years and five days earlier, Sunday, the 27th, when another presidential election was being celebrated in Argentina, I was outside Luna Park, near Puerto Madero, producing, for a Brazilian television channel, the closing rally of candidate Daniel Scioli‘s campaign, supported by Cristina Kirchner. He ended up losing to Mauricio Macri, current president.

“We will return, ehhhh we will return,” shouted supporters of Scioli. There were hundreds of thousands of militants who promised to return, even in the event of a Scioli’s defeat, which, in fact, happened.

Now, overwhelmed by an ever-growing crowd, I was hearing that same–now amplified–chant again. Without official confirmation at the time, as I understand that not even the local authorities could measure the crowd that flooded the surroundings of Alberto Fernández Electoral Committee, later elected Argentina’s next president, it has been said that one million people were in the neighborhood of Chacarita in Buenos Aires.

As I tried to stand, I felt the tide of people dragging me, as I moved without feeling the slightest control of my body.

I admit that at some point I prayed for nothing unexpected happen in the counting of votes and that, as all polls showed, Fernández was announced as president.

As the hours went on, the ever-growing crowd became more restless. On the screen, big shots of the slate said they were keeping an eye on the count and that they “took responsibility for the current government.” It was like throwing gas in the fire, since the crowd somehow distrusted the electoral authorities who, although independent, were under the opposing government’s roof.

The Argentines were returning to Cristina Kirchner, the former president, as vice president, and to former Kirchner’s chief of staff and head of the slate, Fernández, as president.

Argentina has lived 12 years of Kirchnerism. First with Nestor Kirchner, and later two terms with Cristina. Now that they were coming back, I recalled that afternoon at Luna Park and those words: we’ll be back.

Verb. 1. Come or go back to a place or person. 2. Go back to (a particular state or activity). 3. Turn one’s attention back to (something). 4. (especially of a feeling) Come back or recur after a period of absence. 5. Give, put, or send (something) back to a place or person. 6. Feel, say, or do (the same feeling, action, etc.) in response. 7. Yield or make (a profit). 8. (of an electorate) Elect (a person or party) to office.

The Argentina that Fernández inherits is currently the country with one of the highest inflation rates on the planet, with about 40% reaching the poverty line by the end of the year, with frequent currency earthquakes, huge inequality, recession, and all kinds of financial issues of which we are aware.

It can be forever argued who came first “the chicken or the egg, or whether these figures are also the result of past governments or if they were the fault of Macri’s management.

Admittedly, they are the worst in many years. The decay is crystal clear.

This was all known even before the elections. The Argentine economic situation is nothing new and was crucial in Sunday’s results.

Returning to the path that Kirchnerism claims to be right for Argentina, what remains to be seen in the future is whether “return” will mean “coming back” or “going back” or “doing something in response”, and whether that word will mean “a return to the first love,” like Le Pera’s melancholy.