Sunday, December 13, 2015

The new administration in Argentina

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner gave her final address as President of Argentina on Wednesday evening, December 9. She addressed a massive crowd in front of the Presidential palace, the Casa Rosada, in the Plaza de Mayo and nearby streets. Visión 7 - Cristina se despide ante una multitud en la Plaza de Mayo TV Pública Argentina 12/09/2015

The massive crowds in front of the Casa Rosada were a fixture of the Perón years in the 1940s and 1950s. Most documentaries of that time will show Juan and "Evita" Perón speaking to a grand multitude in the Plaza. Cristina and her late husband and predecessor as President, Néstor Kirchner, put a lot of emphasis on these gatherings for special occasions in the Plaza de Mayo. I had the good fortune to attend two of the four days of the May 25 national day celebrations this year, including Cristina's speech there. I had always wondered what it would be like to be in one of those packed crowds there. So now I now. It was exciting. And not so packed shoulder-to-shoulder as one might imagine from seeing news reports or photos. It was definitely crowded, but you could move around. Not the place to be if you're claustrophobic, though. (On Wednesday going-away rally, see: Nicolás Lantos, “Podemos mirar a los ojos a todos los argentinos” Página/12 10.12.2015)

The transition from Cristina to now-President Mauricio Macri was tense, though not in the sense that the election was at all disputed. It was a close Presidential race, but Macri won it in the final round with a 51-49% majority. But one factor of irritation was that the Argentine courts held that Macri would officially become President at 12:00AM midnight on December 10. Cristina's speech was on Wednesday evening, so she jokes in the speech that she has to finish by midnight or she will turn into a pumpkin.

Since the Peronist party has had 12 years of experience in mobilizing people to come to the Plaza for these events, she was able to turn out the massive crowd she did. And it was large enough to easily overshadow the crowd that turned out Thursday to celebrate Macri's ascension to the Presidency.

If Cristina's health holds up, I fully expect to see her make another run for the Presidency in 2019. The Argentine Constitution does not allow the President to serve more than two consecutive terms, so she was termed out.

I fully expect Macri to implement a stock neoliberal/Washington Consensus program of cutbacks in public services, privatization, tax breaks for the wealthiest, deregulation of capital flows for multinational banks and corporations, run up high debt without getting much durable for it, and generally implement the kind of hyper-crony capitalism that Jamie Galbraith has called the "predator state."

But he's not saying exactly that. In fact, he campaigned on maintaining government services and keeping the two major state companies that were de-privatized under Cristina, YPF and Aerolíneas Argentinas, under state ownership and control. But part of the standard neoliberal script is to bring on a crisis of some kind with the stock prescriptions. Then when debt goes up and budget balancing remains a sacred goal while revenues from tax cuts to the wealthy go down, "necessity" then demands a change of course: cuts in services, more privatizations, etc.

Horacio Verbitsky reports on Macri's inaugural speech (El arte del Nomeacuerdo Página/12 13.12.2015) that he stuck to the triad of goals he had used in the campaign: eradicating poverty, fighting the drug war more vigorously and uniting the people of Argentina. He also emphasized two goals that Verbitsky identifies as goals stressed by Pope Francis: revolutionizing public education (which I'm guessing will involve some sort of privatization) and fighting corruption. The latter is a stock item on the neoliberal list that is meant mostly for show, certainly not interfere with the preferences of the One Percent.

Macri's administration will negotiate with the vulture funds that bought up defaulted Argentine debt and, with the help of a radical Nixon-appointed zombie judge in New York, Thomas Griesa, has caused considerable financial difficulty for Argentina. Paying the amount Griesa has ordered them to, in a ruling that disregarded literally centuries of international debt law would be a serious blow to Argentina's national finances. But Macri previously has indicated he would settle with the vulture funds, while Cristina had fought them all the way.

Macri has also indicated that he will abrogate the agreement Cristina made with Iran to facilitate investigation of the still-unsolved AMIA Jewish Community Center bombing case from 1994. That agreement didn't please the Obama Administration or the neoconservatives because it could possibly interfere with a favorite propaganda point against Iran, which may well have been responsible but which has never been proved.

He also wants to change to Communications Law Cristina got passed that limits the ability of media corporations to build bigger monopolies, a law that particularly disturbs the two biggest such monopolies, the Clarín and La Nación groups, both pro-Macri and anti-Cristina. The kirchneristas

Pointing to Macri's successful political career, Verbitsky warns, "Subestimar a Macrì sería un error grave." ("It would be a serious mistake to underestimate Macri.") But he adds, "No subestimarlo pero tampoco tomar al pie de la letra sus palabras." ("Don't underestimate him, but also don't take his words literally.")

For the immediate future, the kirchnerista and macrista positions are likely to form the major opposing positions in Argentine politics.

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