Translated by Danica Jorden*
A week before the presidential elections, not one of the catastrophic predictions that took centre stage on the so-called political scene since the 2013 legislative elections have come to pass: no massive electoral desertions nor exchange rate storms, inflationary whirlwinds, social cataclysms, or judicial apocalypse. Scioli announces his cabinet and his police shoot for the head. Granados, Casal, Berni, ideology and business. To the polls with a long face.
18 October 2015
Despite the most intense and prolonged international crisis in nine decades, one not limited to the financial sector but which has extended into every category and direction imaginable, Argentina will go calmly to the polls in a situation radically different to that of the transitions from dictatorship to democracy in 1983, from radicalism to Peronism in 1989, from Menemism to Alianza in 1999, and from chaos to political, economic and social reconstruction in 2003. This is more like the intra-Menemist continuities of 1995 and the intra-Kirchnerist of 2007 and 2011. Similar, but not the same, because the proportions of the mix between transition and continuity constitute the unknowns yet to be revealed.
Rarely has the political process here had such a defined social protagonist as the one that began with the CFK’s [Cristina Fernández de Kirchner] first presidency. That privileged actor has been the working class, despite being in its worst state of disorganization for 70 years and a day, when Juan D. Perón ostentatiously burst onto the national stage. That reference has been at the core of all state policies of the last eight years, although that does not mean the path has been linear. But the preference has been so defined that those who have favoured personal convenience and spurious negotiations have been forced to the sidelines, reduced to mere scenery in a theatrical spectacle that potrays them as the worst opponents of the interests they claim to represent. The snapshot of Hugo Moyano and Gerónimo Venegas, incapable of overcoming the 1.5% required minimum vote in the primaries, embracing Maurizio Macrì at the foot of a hideous sculpture, is eloquent. Just like Ernesto Sanz’s radicalism, Moyano should be thanked for the emphatic sincerity with which he expressed, almost without thinking, that Macrì is his friend and that his government, while, as he said, “supposedly right-wing, was the first to recognise workers’ rights”. He did not specify which workers.
What is certain is that 2015 is a year for wage recovery. Waning inflation hovers at an annual 25 percent and the collective bargaining negotiated wage increases have risen to 30 percent. The information, freely available despite the infinite ineptitude with which the government has wiped away any measure of their undeniable consequences for poverty and indigence, explain as a question of mere common sense why the official stance is consolidating its advantage over the opposition’s magma. Their emerging leaders fight over who can reach the magical 30 percent mark and force a second round of voting, and then who could win if that were the case. But neither Maurizio Macrì nor Sergio Massa will get a second chance in November. The only hope they have left is the unsatisfactory candidacy of Daniel Scioli, who must also achieve a percentage that while it appears within reach, is not assured. What has become clear over the last month is that the FpV [Frente para la victoria, Victory Front] could also jump into the ring given Macrì’s surprising defeat in the PASO [primaries], where he did not even poll 50 percent in the City he governs. Cristina’s 54 percent in 2011, Menem’s 51.9 percent in 1995, Alfonsín’s 51.5% in 1983, Menem’s 47 percent in 1989 and CFK’s 46 percent in 2007 are not the only ones to seem extraordinary in comparison. Even the 42.8 percent that defeated Duhalde in 1999 is today considered an object of desire.
What’s coming up
The possibility of a victory for either Macrì or Massa today seems remote. But a Scioli presidency, with or without a second round, would reconfigure the political map after the 10th of December. Three of the tickets that garnered nine out of ten votes in the primaries have a Peronist component, with its mercurial capacity for regrouping as one of the characteristic features of the Argentinian political system.
The first point under discussion is how the difficult relationship between Scioli and Cristina Fernández might evolve; their ‘unity in diversity’ according to the optimistic definition of Carlos Zannini. Here is where two very entrenched traditions collide: one placing the holder of the institutional mandate at its centre of gravity, and the other which favours the charisma of political leadership over any formal arrangement. Both have been clearly expressed by their respective spokespersons. Salta governor Juan Manuel Urtubey announced that Cristina’s government and administration would end in two months. Zannini replied that her political leadership would continue beyond the constitutional restriction preventing another term for the president, whose administration is ending with the highest approval rating (only surpassed by her husband Nestor Kirchner, who did not run for reelection) in the history of Argentinian if not Latin American democracy (just below Evo Morales, who leads this privileged ranking). In the three cases in which both forms of exercise of power did not coincide, political leadership prevailed over institutional and the outcome was arduous: Ricardo Balbín hampered Arturo Illia’s government in the 1960’s, Perón did it to Héctor Cámpora in the next decade, and Alfonsín to Fernando De la Rúa in the first decade of this century. Besides political leadership and that of an organized, militant nucleus whose true consistency will be put to the test outside of the government, CFK will retain positions in legislative blocs, public ministries and the Central Bank. To cast off these chains, Scioli might set off landslides that would tilt the balance in his favour or wait until 2017 to stack the legislative assembly.
An obvious source of assistance in the race to victory could be the Frente Renovador. Massa’s dilemma would be whether to join with the transition and position himself to take the baton in the future, within the same political space, or keep being a Peronist opponent of a Peronist government. Less obvious up until now is what could happen with the political faction Cambiemos [Let’s Change]. On the one hand, it could rid itself of the radical element, whose 3 percent in the August PASO will make Ernesto Sanz’s ephemeral, defeated presidency historic. But the most important definition will take place in the ranks of the PRO [center right Propuesta Republicana, Republican Proposal]. It is hard to imagine the hedonist Macrì continuing as its leader, waiting to mount a new presidential challenge. In a moment of frankness, he confessed that should he lose this time, he would move to the United States or Italy with his wife and younger daughter. Another happy alternative would be a new presidential mandate at the football club Boca Juniors, whose elections take place on 6 December.
So what about Horacio Rodríguez Larreta (Jr), whose roles in Justicialist-party governments are less memorable than his career as a Macrì administrator? In the government of Carlos Menem he was general director of ANSES [Social Security Administration], undersecretary of Social Policy and director of the National Social Capital Fund, while in the provincial administration of Carlos Rückauf, president of the Buenos Aires Institute for Social Welfare. With Macrì out of the picture, the temptation of an agreement with Scioli would also be very strong for Cristian Ritondo and Diego Santilli, Peronists who have shown over the last few years the most aptitude for playing with coloured balloons. It’s also unimaginable that Kirchnerism would passively watch such a reshuffling of the chessboard. The reconstruction of the party system after the end-of-century crisis hardly seems to have been concluded.
Ideology and business
Despite the fact that he campaigned together with other populist regional presidents, Scioli is opting for a more northerly direction, as Urtubey unambiguously made clear, independently of whether he becomes Scioli’s next chancellor or decides to stay in Salta. From there he would exercise his role as strongman in a league of governors that only value Scioli as an alternative to Cristina, but privately consider him to be no more than a primus inter pares, according to Urtubey’s own definition. A realignment with the United States would go against Argentine society’s deep tendencies. In June, the Pew Research Centre published a global public opinion study that included 45,345 personal and telephone interviews carried out in 40 countries with adults over the age of 18. Argentina is the country with the worst opinion of the United States outside of those countries with high Muslim populations or that compete with Washington for world primacy. The average rate of the 40 countries’ low opinion of the United States is 24 percent of their populations. Argentina almost doubles that with 43 percent, only surpassed by Jordan (83 percent), Russia (81 percent), the Palestinian Territories occupied by Israel (73 percent), Pakistan (62 percent), Lebanon (60 percent), Turkey (58 percent), China (49 percent) and Germany (45 percent).
Some of the announcements, and leaks, regarding the Scioli cabinet (Alejandro Granados, the mayor with the highest incarceration rate, for Defence, Ricardo Casal for Justice and Sergio Berni for Security) also point to other aspects that collide with Kirchnerism. In September 2013, when Scioli offered him the Ministry of Security , Granados agreed on the condition that if Scioli became President he would appoint him minister of Defence. As Security Minister, Granados created the utmost confusion between security and police forces and between the police and institutional violence, and Scioli began to measure his administration’s achievements by the quantity of “criminals taken down”, which has nothing to do with the democratic administration of security. In his latest article in La Nación, Granados said that he hated statistics, which would give us 15,000 troops on the northern border, where they confused drug trafficking with migration.
Anyone wanting to know why the mayor of Ezeiza should take a fancy to the Defence Ministry should learn about his ability to take land back from the forest, a practice which began with his famous El Mangrullo restaurant and went on to include the Air Force lands surrounding the International Airport. The head of the National Civil Aviation Administration, ANAC, is Granados’ son. On Granados Sr.’s request, in 2008 the Air Force ceded him 535 hectares “in the zone” of the International Airport for a monthly licencing fee of 36,700 pesos. Ezeiza never paid the fee, yet ceded part of that land to the Boca Juniors Club for football fields, parking lots, a screening room, gymnasiums, offices, confectionaries, depots and hotels. The concession was free of charge for 30 years while the municipality could only use the lands for 10, and for unauthorised activities. But Boca Juniors also encroached upon the boundaries of the International Airport, leading to a lawsuit that bounced from court to court.
Though Berni came with the Kirchners from Santa Cruz, they never gave him an upper level position. When his relationship with the first Minister for Security, Nilda Garré, became unsustainable, it was suggested to CFK that she name Berni Security Minister and send Garré to Defence, whose frigates sank by themselves under Arturo Puricelli or were captured by African countries. The President stated categorically that “Whoever thinks this is a possibility either doesn’t know me or doesn’t know Berni”. At the Security Secretariat, Berni reneged on Kirchner’s decision not to confront social protests with repression and to enact protocols regulating the use of force in those cases. This month, Judge Sandra Arroyo Salgado, federal judge of San Isidro, dismissed the case against thirteen leftist activists being tried for blocking the Panamerican Highway. Gendarme troops had bombarded them with rubber bullets and asphyxiated them with noxious chemicals. Berni also infiltrated them by means of an Army Intelligence colonel. Arroyo maintained that the protestors engaged in the “legitimate exercise of the right to gather, in this particular case to petition for and have their grievances heard”, conduct “constitutionally protected, which on no account can be subject to penal law”. Maybe now Berni and Colonel Roberto Galeano should pay back their debts.
Casal is one of those responsible for weakening procedural guarantees, accounting for the fact that today’s number of people detained in the areas surrounding Buenos Aires is the highest in history. The rate of provincial imprisonment is the greatest in the country and one of the highest in the region. Casal left the running the prisons in the hands of a violent Penitenciary Service. This has also led to an increase in traumatic deaths among people behind bars. Not coincidentally, Clarín decided to illustrate the announcement of his appointment with a photo depicting the Buenos Aires government in which Scioli and Casal are shown together with Attorney General María Falbo, who is on the impeachment and penal prosecution panel that accorded protection to another friend of Casal, the general prosecutor of San Isidro Julio Alberto Novo, whom Arroyo Salgado will investigate for covering up drug trafficking, and against whom the impeachment proceedings were instigated. His protégé and friend is Gustavo Adolfo Juliá, sentenced to prison in Spain. Novo named Juliá’s defence attorney, Mariana Busse, Secretary of the Attorney General’s Office. Thanks to Falbo and Casal, Novo, his deputy prosecutors Rodrigo Caro and Eduardo Vaiani, Busse and also secretary and wife of Novo, Melisa Fernanda Rey, have been accused but continue in office despite the fact that prosecutor Luis Angelini requested their suspensions. Still in office, Novo, Caro and Vaiani continue directing the work of more than 60 prosecutors who, among other things, try cases concerning the sale of narcotics and judicially manage the police.
* Danica Jorden is a writer and translator of English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian. firstname.lastname@example.org