The thousand challenges of the president of two Argentines
Mauricio Macri, the new Argentine president, does not like ties, but his accent is that of the wealthy neighborhoods of Buenos Aires. Born in Rome, his father Franco built an empire from scratch in just two generations beginning as an immigrant laborer. An entrepreneurial spirit runs in his son's blood.
- Friday, 27 November 2015
With 51.41% he beat by 3 points the fraying Peronist Party's candidate. While the incumbent president Cristina Kirchner simulcasted her speeches, Macri and his men and women went door-by-door to "listen to what Argentines had to say" and cleverly posted their talks on Facebook whether critical or not. A football fan, the utmost unifying and leveling sport in Maradona's home country, Macri took advantage of his first elected role as Boca Juniors president.
He flirted with union leaders and with Peronism itself. "I embrace its flags," he said in March, "because they represent the quest for social justice and for equality of opportunity." Last Sunday, tired of dysfunction, corruption and insecurity, even segments in the Peronist strongholds voted for Macri. His slogans "Zero Poverty, Defeating Drug Trafficking and Security" render the scope of his challenge, the more so with Congress remaining firmly in the hands of Justicialism.
Chanting Sí, se puede! (Yes, we can) and boasting his merits as governor of Buenos Aires province and of the countrie's capital until this day, he promised “decent” administrators.
"I see him acting more in the role of a capable administrator rather than in that of a political leader," said Marco Bechis, the director of Garage Olympo, and other films set in Argentina, speaking to East. "He will wisely manage what previous governments already implemented. I don't believe he will go for major changes, because that would put his mandate at risk. The Peronists still can count on their strength when calling people to take to the streets." Bechis believes that they would use it, for instance, if the Macri administration ended drastically the state capped-prices system.
"If he wants to keep his job for four years, his budget and economic strategy will be very 'Peronist'."
A free market economic adjustment that would, for example, get rid of those capped prices, could prove very painful. However, many economists in different fields think anh adjustment will be inevitable. Even the Argentine Entrepreneurs Confederation agrees that the new government needs to move slowly because of “the impact swift policies could have on the poorest." In other words, squaring the circle between a "truly inclusive economy" (even if couple of years out) and a business environment that restores the confidence of entrepreneurs and foreign investors will take nothing short of a miracle.
The nagging question is when his government intends to remove the official exchange rate with the dollar, at which point the peso would plummet. "A peso devaluation is not a problem,” said Macri in an interview with Clarín, “inflation is. [25% or 40%, depending on sources, WN]. Lowering inflation will allow to stabilize the currency. Everybody will go back to thinking in pesos."
Fresh foreign investments – "thanks to new clear and transparent rules of the game" – are his only hope, given the collapse of the prices of raw materials. Wall Street, home of the "vulture funds" that still want back their money, lost with Argentina's default in 2001, pulled a sigh of relief, as did the international network of diplomatic, financial and trade relations anxious to see him at work. This also because his record could contribute to change the political landscape in Latin America more generally.
It is the first time that the center-right, or outright the right, albeit in this case modern and progressive, comes to power democratically. Argentina's industrial bourgeoisie and its agrarian oligarchy never produced a ruling class, leaving it to the military to fill the void. If Macri resists pressures from the captains of industry of which he is an offshoot, he could make it, but it will not be a downhill ride as the first 24 hours after the result showed.
La Nación, the newspaper that voices today the opinion of the entrepreneurial class, but did so in the past for the agrarian oligarchy and even for the military, stepped into the new free-maket-popular era with an editorial calling for an end to the "shameful suffering by the condemned (read military, WN) still in prison ... for crimes committed during the years of repression of subversion." The tone and the language of it could not but send shivers down the spine of a vast part of the public who hailed as an act of civilization bringing to trial all those in the military involved in Argentina's "dirty war". The desks at La Nación gathered in an assembly repudiating the editorial, and Congresswoman Victoria Donda, herself kidnapped as a newborn by the military, called it "a bad favor to Mauricio Macri".
"This is an example of the previous government's policies that Macri will better not touch. In my opinion, human rights actions by the incumbent are a true achievement. It is the first time in Latin America that those guilty of crimes against humanity are facing justice. These are strongly affirmative facts, and not just for those who, like me, are survivors," said Bechis who underwent the experience of staying kidnapped in the hands of Argentina's torturers.
The Kirchner's 12 years leave a legacy of an almost universal pension system, social protections and low unemployment. "Overall, I rate those years more positive than negative, with very progressive elements that Macri will leave as they are. Unfortunately, there was also much corruption and a lack of internal democracy", Bechis added.
Corruption is a major obstacle. "Sociologist Rodolfo Kusch," Bechis said, "explained that our societies comprise a vast middle area of mestizo population whose cultural paradigms are different than those of the Anglo-Saxon bourgeoisie. Cristina Kirchner had a natural feeling for them. Trying to overlay an Anglo-Saxon model over a culture that has nothing to do with it may prove difficult".
"Macri will have to learn to deal with an entire system in which corruption nests diffusely all the way to representatives and governors. Time will show how long his administration will remain immune."
There are many "firsts" in how this President got to the Casa Rosada, but many others still need to be achieved. Among these, uniting Argentines hopefully this time behind ideas, and not ideologies.