Argentina’s President Macri Faces Increasing Scandals and Resistance to His Return to Neoliberalism
The political panorama for Argentina’s conservative government looks increasingly difficult according to Prof. Atilio Boron
GREGORY WILPERT: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Gregory Wilpert, coming to you from Quito, Ecuador.
For the second part of this two-part interview with Professor Atilio Boron, we’ll be looking at the situation in Argentina. For the first part, we were examining Ecuador.
Argentina is Professor Atilio Boron’s home country, and for those of you who missed the first part, let me just say that Atilio is an Argentine Professor of Sociology and Political Science, at the University of Buenos Aires, and he’s written extensively on Latin American politics and social movements.
Thanks again, Atilio, for joining us for the second part.
ATILIO BORON: Thank you for the invitation.
GREGORY WILPERT: In November 2015, Mauricio Macri won the presidential elections against his… successor, against the candidate of Cristina Fernandez. Ever since then, throughout the year of 2016, Macri seems to be following the neo-liberal playbook, lowering taxes for the wealthy, cutting social spending, and laying off public employees.
Now, what the other thing that’s making a lot of news though, is that he also forgave the debt to a company that’s belonging to his family, and it was up to something like, $300 million, that was forgiven.
How do you think the… or how do you see the Argentine public reacting to these things, and not just the scandal of the debt forgiveness, but also the entire package of neo-liberal programs that have been implemented in Argentina?
ATILIO BORON: Well, Greg, I will say, at the beginning, you know, there was a sort of a great hopes, because the campaign against Cristina has been so, so strong, and so vicious. That many people believed, that way now we enter into a new phase in Argentine history, with an honest government, with an efficient government. In which the major social advancements produced during the … year, will be sustained, but also will be improved, so on and so forth.
And this explained that Mr. Macri has a reasonably good index of popular support, basically 50%, even after the beginning of the hard economic policies. Now, it is something very interesting. Because of this scandal of the Correo Central, the debt of the Correo Central, there was a sharp decline in the popularity, and the indices of approbation of President Macri. I think that after one year, and a little bit more, people started saying that it is enough, it is enough, and wants to do something different.
I think that he also… well, this is a politician which is very, very impulsive. He is unable to distinguish the difference between being a CEO of a big corporation, and the Chief of State. In which, in the second case, you at least have to talk with your allies. But he doesn’t talk to anybody. I know, even, he doesn’t listen to his own advisors, and he’s making many mistakes.
I say mistakes, in the sense, not that he would like to do other policies, he wants to do this policy, the re-concentration of wealth, decline in real wages, et cetera, et cetera. But the way in which he does, that creates many …, and especially the fact that … Panama papers(?). Which is something, it means tax evasion, Bahamas, the same, and now with the Correo. With the Correo, it’s a major scandal. You know, he’s… the group, which was held by his father, has a debt of $300 million dollars with the state, for many, many years. Finally the group, the Macri Group, proposed to the state, in this case, the same Mauricio Macri, a reduction of 98.3% of the debt, also to be paid from 2017 until 2033.
So, it was a major scandal. And this has created a very, very delicate situation. I think, that this year in the coming weeks, I will say, will start a very, very serious offensive, popular reaction, even by people who voted Macri, and are now strongly disappointed because they believed that he was an honest administration. He’s not… they believed that he was an able administrator. He’s not. They believed that he has a good team, and he does not have a good team. And so I think that this year is going to be a very, very, very turbulent year in Argentine politics, and the government faces a very threatening election in October of this year.
If the government does not win this legislative election, in October 2017, I would anticipate that Macri may become, how do I say? Puto Gringo(?), which is the expression in English, “lame duck.” I’m sorry, a lame duck. He will become a lame duck, two years before ending his term. So, this is why he is very, very desperate, trying to see how to arrange things. But it’s going to take a lot of good luck, and favorable international economic environment, which is not there.
Now, he’s going to visit Washington, invited by Trump, to go to the White House in April, or May. But, of course, Trump, you know, Trump did something, which was quite grotesque. After many years of preventing the imports of lemons from Argentina, which is perhaps the greatest lemon producer in the world, finally Obama said, okay, you can bring.
And after Trump take over the presidency, he cut that possibility, saying that lemons will not be imported from Argentina, because we have good lemon producers in California, and other states of the union, so that… nothing in that. So, what kind of help could expect Mr. Macri, from the United States? He can’t even be allowed to export lemons to the U.S.
GREGORY WILPERT: What are the social movements, and unions planning now, given the situation that you have just described? I hear that there will be a general strike in the second half of March. Do you think that that will be a success, given the situation?
ATILIO BORON: Well, steaming(?) is gaining in momentum at this moment, at the present time. Now there is a mountain level of intolerance, and anger against the government, because he has been quite able to make enemies, where before they have friends, no? For instance, the old people, the pensioners, are now being very, very badly hit by a recent decision of President Macri. Which will mean that the amount of the pensions will not be re-adjusted in a high inflation country, on the basis of the official index, but something, which is less than half of the official inflation index. So, that means that you are putting yourself in the focus of the pensioners.
They are very, very militant against him now. While they have been quite supportive of Macri in the past. And the same happened with several layers of the wage earners, employees, small entrepreneurs also, okay, the Bilinkis(?), what they call in Argentina, small and medium enterprises are being badly hit by the government.
There is no credit for them. There is a high inflation rate. And there is not any kind of incentive. The costs of production have skyrocketed, because, for instance, electricity is tripled… the cost in questions of… in a matter of months, the same with the provision of gas, which are essential components of the price structure of these small enterprises.
So, I think it’s gathering, an impressive storm, a political storm, in Argentina, in an electoral year.
GREGORY WILPERT: Given all of the problems that Macri is facing, and the problems that the public has been facing, with the implementation of his policies, you see a similar situation actually, in Brazil, and in other countries that are currently governed by right-wing governments.
How do you think that the right, in general, is reacting to these problems that they themselves have created?
ATILIO BORON: I think that the right is not having a good time in Latin America. Look, in Argentina, the situation is quite critical. In Brazil, it’s even worse. But in Brazil, by contrast — in Argentina you don’t have social movements and political forces, which are by tradition, very weak in Brazil, and traditionally are very strong in Argentina.
But look at the situation with President Bachelet, in Chile, with an index of approval in the teens, 15, 16, 17%. The country was once considered the economic miracle of Latin America. They don’t have any political alternative. Okay? People are running away from the polls. They are not going to vote anymore.
In the last presidential election in Chile, voters, barely one-third of the people who were in capacity to vote, the situation in Peru is not better. The situation in Colombia, well, Colombia is some very serious, and complicated economic problems, aggravated by the question of the paramilitaryism[sic] and so on.
So, the right, I think, that in Latin America, has proved that after 30 or 40 years of neo-liberal policies, they have very little to show. And they are unable to win elections. In the case of Argentina, it was, I will say, just an electoral accident. But in the case of Brazil, today the frontrunner candidate for the 2018 elections is Lula. They don’t have anyone able to defeat Lula. What they are going to do is to prevent Lula from being the candidate.
GREGORY WILPERT: That was actually one other thing I was going to ask you, regarding how Macri became president in the first place. You called it an “accident”. Why is it that you call it an accident? What happened?
ATILIO BORON: Because I think that he was an accident for the many mistakes made by the … government, in the last year. Okay? Economic mistakes, for instance, do not fight seriously against inflation, which was undermining the social policies. The government gave a lot of money to the poor, but given that the inflation was running out of control, at the end of the year, you have lost 35%, 40% of what you gave to the poor.
Mistakes, such as insisting in a presidential formula, which was just pure … okay? … who was a former language(?), was good for one-third of the electorate, which is … But in order to win, you need to have a wider political offer, and they failed to do that. They made another serious mistake in the election of the critical province of Buenos Aires, which they lost. It’s the first time in its history, in which being government at the national level, the Peronistas lost an election in the province of Buenos Aires. Never happened before.
There was only one case — that was in 1983 — but the Peronistas were not in power at the national level. Alfonsín was in power. But then, losing the province of Buenos Aires was a major, major blow to the electoral fortunes of Peronism. And this is why there was a second ballotage, and in the ballotage, there was a small difference in favor of Macri. It was, nobody expected that. They were not… I can tell you a story.
For instance, the meetings of the top candidates at the provincial levels, or legislative positions of the running alliance, the Cambiamos, there’s the name, in which, oh, we are absolutely convinced that when talking with the sociologists, the economists, that they were not going to win. That they were thinking in the 2019, that they’re goal was being very well positioned for the election of 2018. And to their surprise, they won four years before the … and this you can quote, without any doubt that was the case. Okay?
And that were… because of the mistakes made by Kirchnerismo, Cristina is a very interesting politician. She’s a long-looking politician that has learned a lot, has studied a lot, is a formidable speaker, formidable speaker, okay? But she’s not good at the short term political maneuvering, which you need if you want to win an election. Néstor Kirchner, her husband, was very good at that. He had… Néstor did not have the long look of Cristina, okay? Not even the international dimension that Cristina handles very well.
But he was a master; in terms of the tricks you need to do, in order to prevail in political contests. And Cristina is very bad at that, and didn’t have anyone able to do the job, and this is why they lost. With a very simple change in the presidential formula, if instead of Sanini(?) as a second candidate, as vice-president, they have elected anyone else, they would have won the election without any problem.
But, you know, those miskates are very, very expensive in politics.
GREGORY WILPERT: Well, we’ve run out of time. But thanks again, Atilio, for joining us for the second part of the interview.
ATILIO BORON: No, my pleasure to cooperate with your news. I know that you are doing a very, very good job, in many … So, thank you very much.
GREGORY WILPERT: Thank you. Thank you so much, for joining us for this interview with Professor Atilio Boron, about Argentine, Ecuadorian politics in the context of Latin America.
And thanks again for watching The Real News Network.