Argentina's New Leadership Is Kicking Evita Off Its Currency

Argentina Evita Aniversary

Argentina's former president Cristina Fernandez unveils an archetype of the 100 Argentine pesos bill bearing the profile of former late first lady Maria Eva Duarte de Peron in 2012. Photographer: Alberto Raggio/AP Photo

Photographer: Alberto Raggio/AP Photo
  • National fauna will be the new currency of the currency
  • The guanaco, the race to the death and the 20-peso note

So far, Argentina’s new president has jettisoned currency controls and dumped the old consumer price index. But really, ditching Evita for a four-legged animal?

That’s the plan of the administration of Mauricio Macri, who after taking office last month set about dismantling predecessor Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s economic legacy, along with her paper-money compositions. Celebrations of national fauna will be the new currency of the currency, so a deer native to the Andes will replace Eva Peron on the 100 ($7.45)-peso note, the highest denomination bill in circulation. The mighty condor will be on the 50 instead of what most call the Falkland Islands.

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner unveils the 100 peso bill bearing the profile of Eva Peron in 2012.
Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner unveils the 100 peso bill bearing the profile of Eva Peron in 2012.
Photographer: Alberto Raggio/AP Photo

Dethroning an icon for a ruminant mammal could be polarizing, considering that Macri’s Pro party beat the Peronists in a November runoff by less than 3 percentage points. “It’s a terrible idea,” said Claudio Mamud, a music teacher who supported Fernandez. “It’s an attempt to erase history. It’s a way of saying that everything in the past didn’t exist.”

But so far in a country where people have other things to worry about, such as consumer prices having risen 539 percent since 2007, the end of the Peron peso isn’t exactly causing riots in the streets. The most controversial of the new motifs the central bank made public last week might well be the southern right whale on a new 200-peso note. Ricardo Sastre, the mayor of Puerto Madryn, where the whales go to breed, said on Twitter that the image awkwardly shows the fins above, not below, the body. He posted a photo of an upside down horse to illustrate his point.

It was Fernandez who put Evita on the 100 back in 2012, choosing a profile of the former first lady with her hair pulled into the bun she favored when her husband Juan Domingo Peron ran the country. For the 50, Fernandez picked images of the Malvinas -- the U.K. knows them as the Falklands and the two nations went to war over them in 1982 -- and Gaucho Rivero. He was an Argentine laborer who lead a rebellion on the islands in the early 1800s and is either a murderer or patriot, depending on who’s writing the history.

The choices were no-brainers for Fernandez, a member of the left-wing branch of the Peronist movement who tried to emulate Evita’s radical discourse and sartorial elegance. Macri, viewed as center-right, is the first democratically-elected president in more than 70 years who’s neither a Peronist nor a Radical.

“They’re trying to depoliticize the currency by putting figures that don’t generate bad feeling and a lot of discussion,” said Ignacio Labaqui, a senior analyst at Medley Global Advisors in Buenos Aires. “The decision seeks to avoid vindicating heroes from either faction.”

The new president is trying to undo policies put in place by previous leaders that throttled foreign investment and have kept the country locked out of international credit markets since 2001. Annual inflation was 27 percent in December, according to the Buenos Aires city statistics agency, whose index the Macri administration is temporarily using after it suspended publishing national government numbers due to their unreliability.

To make it easier for people to carry cash around, the central bank will later this year start printing money in values larger than 100; there will be the 200 with the whale and a 500, featuring a jaguar, and there are plans for a 1,000-peso note adorned with the hornero, the national bird, next year. Existing denominations will be redecorated. Central Bank President Federico Sturzenegger took to Twitter to explain it all. “Our new series of bills highlights the challenges all Argentines face,” he said. “What unites us is much more than what separates us.”

The Peronists revealed they had mulled introducing larger-value bills too. Alejandro Vanoli, the former central bank president forced out when Macri took over, posted Tweets with some images -- Juan Peron on the 500 peso and former President Hipolito Yrigoyen of the anti-Peron Radical party on the 200.

The leftwing publication Pagina 12, which pointed out that the Evita bill won a design award in 2014, called the deer “a more modern and happier design,” at least “in the eyes of those who govern today.”

The decision to feature the guanaco, a relative of the llama, on the 20-peso bill also received attention, after critics pointed out that the central bank’s vice president, Lucas Llach, had been reproached by environmental groups for proposing a sport where people would chase guanacos until the latter died of exhaustion. His idea was that it would be an experiment to prove humans have better stamina than animals, but Llach documented one such race on Twitter last year that didn’t prove his hypothesis. The guanaco lived.

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