CULTIVATING WEALTH : Like many Argentine farmers, Roque Tropini is inclined to discuss the  present by telling stories about the past.

A century ago, Argentina was among the wealthiest nations on earth. To Mr. Tropini, that status  resulted from the various backbreaking labor of pioneers like his grandfather, who arrived in the state of Entre Rios from his native Italy and turned the land into prosperity.

One afternoon, Mr. Tropini, 69, drove past the brick flour mill that his grandfather erected in 1920, next to what was then a lonely stop on a new railroad.

He idled in front of the towering church that his grandfather constructed in the town that grew around the mill, Viale. He named it Santa Ana, after the cathedral in his hometown in northern Italy.

He drove out to his fields, where golden sunshine illuminated rows of soyabeans stretching in the horizon. A combine rolled across the land, harvesting a crop mostly destined for China.

Without his family's exertions, Mr. Tropini maintained, Viale would be a blank spot on the map.

If only the story ended there, he said. But history delivered the populists who have run Argentina for most of his adult life.

In the beginning, there was Juan Domingo Peron, the charismatic Army general who was president from 1946 to 1955, and then again from 1973 to 1974.

He employed an authoritarian hand and muscular state power to champion the poor.

He and his wife, Eva Duarte - widely known by her nickname, Evita - would dominate political life long after they died, inspiring politicians across the ideological spectrum to claim their mantle.

Among the most ardent Peronists were Nester Kirchner, the president from 2003 to 2007, and his wife, Cristina Fernandez de Kerchner, who took office in 2007, remaining until Mr. Macri was elected in 2015.

The version of Peronism - what became known as Kirchernerism - was decidedly left wing, disdaining global trade as a malevolent force. They expanded cash grants to the poor and imposed taxes on farm exports in a bid to keep Argentine food prices low.

As the country's farmers tell it, Kirchnerism is just a fancy term for the confiscation of their wealth and the scattering of the spoils and the unproductive masses. They point to Mrs. Kirchner's 35% tax on soyabean exports.

''We had a saying,'' Mr. Tropini said. ''For every three trucks that went to the port, one was for Cristina Kirchner,' ''

Given all that, Mr. Tropini cheered the arrival of the new president.

Mr. Macri's administration promised to modernize the government while rebuilding Argentina's  standing among international investors, the cosmopolitan, English-speaking technocrats who filled his government relished their role as the antidote to the destructive forces sweeping the continent.

''We are a country that is fighting to get away from a legacy of populism that has failed,'' Marcos Pena, Mr. Macri's chief of cabinet ministers, said in a recent interview.

''We embrace that idea of showing the region and the world, but especially Argentines, that with more open society, with more open political system, with more open economy, we can do better with a closed populist statist culture.''

Among the first things the new president announced was a gradual reduction of export taxes.
''You could breathe finally,'' Mr. Tropini, the farmer, said.

He was free of Kirchners, yet stuck with nature. Floods in 2016 wiped out more than half of his crops. A drought last year  wreaked even more havoc.

''This harvest, this year,'' he said. ''Is a gift from God.''

The honor and serving of the latest case study and  operational research  on Argentina, poverty and future, continues.


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