Throughout Latin America, the right is trying to regain its power. In Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, the right dreams to derail the progressive cycle that began at the birth of the new century. That also happens in Argentina where the businessman Mauricio Macri is trying to win the election to be held on October 25. But if that happened, it would be a step back for the nation.
By: Tarik Bouafia / Source: Journal of the Americas No. 7 / The Dawn / October, 2015
On December 21, 2001, thousands of Argentines spontaneously took to the streets to express their anger and despair. The country had just bankrupted; hundreds of thousands of people who possessed savings account lost, in a few hours, all their savings. The country was ruined, GDP sinked. The unemployment rate reached 25% and poverty plagued more than 50% of the population. In the demonstrations, 38 people died under the bullets of the police. This social catastrophe was not the result of chance, but the result of ideological options and political and economic decisions implemented by politicians and bankers since the military coup that occurred on March 24, 1976. Massive disengagement of the State in the economy, price liberalization, State companies privatizations, abolition of customs barriers to imports, nationalization of private debts…
These neoliberal recipes concocted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank (WB) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) continued to be applied when “democracy” returned in 1983, and met its peak during the 90s with the government of Carlos Menem.
Fifteen years later, supporters of the policy that wreaked havoc and left millions of people homeless are determined to seize back the control of the country. Mauricio Macri, the candidate of the coalition Cambiemos (Let’s Change), is undoubtedly the best man for this rebirth of neoliberalism in Argentina. Son of Franco Macri, one of the largest entrepreneurs in the country who, like others, took advantage of the military dictatorship to build his personal fortune, is today one of the richest people in Argentina.
Economic project: uneventful
The change that Macri has introduced in his speech in recent months is noticeable, particularly in regard to his economic proposals. Less than a year ago, he did not hesitate to proclaim his ultra-liberal convictions and promised, in case of victory, to re-privatize large companies nationalized by the governments of the Kirchner couple such as the national carrier (Aerolíneas Argentinas), the national oil company (YPF) and retirement pensions.
But, over time, he realized that, in order to win elections, such an unpopular discourse was not convenient. So, he has dismissed these proposals. For example, in a rally, he said: “We must recognize that, in these years, some things have come a long way and we should not go back” and then promised not to abolish social gains made during the past twelve years. Regarding the Universal Child Allowance (AUH), a social insurance given by decree to each family with a child and very criticized by the right, he conceded that “it is a right, let’s work until it’s approved in Congress so that it has continuity under future governments”.
With regard to privatization, the new discourse of Macri also has evolved considerably. He has promised that YPF “would remain under the control of the State” and the national airline “would remain state property”, should he be elected president. A spectacular half turn that shows the tricky situation the new right is in. On the one hand, it has to satisfy the will of his more radical supporters who claim to get it over with the welfare State, and on the other side, he can not disenchant the majority of Argentina’s population, who do not want in any way to relive that tragedy from twenty years ago.
But the mask finally fell last May 13 during a conference organized by the largest employers in the country and in which three eminent economic advisors of Mauricio Macri spoke (1). They revealed the true economic plan of the candidate for the presidential election and to say that it is far from encouraging for the Argentine people, falls short.
All the recipes that are being applied today in Europe are being followed, line by line, by these economists in need of a reality check.
One of these advisors, José Luis Espert, former member of the failed government of Fernando de la Rúa, proposes to end what Ronald Reagan once called “the obese State”. And that’s why he advocates “firing two million public servants and eliminating or reducing taxes”. In regard to external trade he advises the abolition of customs barriers to imports, which means something very simple: the scheduled disappearance of national industry. During the two presidencies of Carlos Menem, during the 1990s, that same policy was applied. The result was overwhelming: more than one hundred twenty five thousand Argentine companies went bankrupt.
Finally, José Luis Espert considers that the negotiations that take place twice a year between employers and trade unions to discuss, for example, the increase in wages, is an “absolutely fascist” concept and proposes to suppress and replace it with direct negotiations between the employer and the employee, leaving the State out. As if the employee, alone against their boss, was in a strong position to demand a wage increase or better working conditions. Their relationship is unequal force since the first has power over the capital while the second has only his or her workforce to meet their needs.
So, what this extreme liberal economist wants is to is flexibilize the labor market by giving maximum power to the employer so that he or she can depress wages or dismiss employees as he pleases. These measures are equivalent to what is happening in Europe, particularly, in France, where the Labour Code is routinely kicked aside by the government and employers.
For Mr. Miguel Broda, another of Macri’s economic advisors and also a follower of the doctrine of neoliberal former President Menem, what Argentina needs is not to invent something new but to “copy”. But to “copy” whom or what? Maybe the Bolivarian Venezuela? Or the popular Revolution in Ecuador? Of course not. Once more, he tries to imitate what the “Western” governments do, with Germany leading the way. Therefore, according to him, austerity is “inexorable” and we can only discuss over how to apply it. According to this man, austerity will be either “planned” or imposed by the “shock”. Think carefully, reader.
Naturally, the organizers of the conference had not invited any media outlet. But unfortunately for them, a person present in the room had the good idea to record it and spread it and that’s how the Argentines have been able to measure the extent of the suffering they will have to endure if Mauricio Macri ascends to the presidency.
But not only in regards to the economy does the candidate for the presidential election have far-right ideas… In fact, to seduce the middle and popular classes, he has appointed a new enemy: the immigrants. But beware, not any immigrants! He doesn’t intend to discriminate Frenchs, Spaniards or Italians who come every year to Argentina trying to make a better life. The new enemies are the Paraguayans, Bolivians and Peruvians who, due to their somewhat dark complexion, have become scapegoats for Mr. Macri, with that same vulgar xenophobic rhetoric that unfortunately flowers every day in our wannabe Europe.
Mauricio Macri said: “We can not continue to be as exposed, as a society with an uncontrolled immigration, to the advancement of drug trafficking and the advancement of crime”(2) If we erase the word drug from this phrase, we could very well imagine Marine Le Pen saying it.
This ultra-Orthodox economic and social discourse signals a major break with the policy applied since Nestor Kirchner came to power in 2003. But the split with the Kirchner spouses driven would also affect international politics and particularly the issue of policy Latin American integration.
Submission to the established order
Since two years now, Argentina is the target of the “vulture funds”, those hedge funds that claim more than a billion dollars from Buenos Aires. That aggression has a lot to do with a genuine attempt at financial coup against the southern nation that has always met its commitments to international creditors. This attack from international finance, gave a patriotic start to millions of Argentines and a slogan spread throughout the country, “Homeland or vultures.” For many Argentines it is unthinkable to repay a penny to those ruthless speculators, even as a way of gaining pride and national dignity.
In this judicial case, one man in particular has played a role of great importance: Thomas P. Griesa, a New York judge who repeatedly ruled in favor of the “vulture funds”.
And when the vast majority of Argentine society stands with their government and its struggle for independence and sovereignty, guess who disagrees: Mr. Macri, of course(3). He has deemed the fight against those speculators who only try to bleed the people useless and said, referring to the judgment of Judge Griesa: “We may dislike it, but we must fulfill the court’s ruling”.
Meanwhile, one of his aforementioned economic counselors rejoiced when learning the US judge’s decision, “thanks, judge Griesa, for imposing limits on populist barbarism”.
A wonderful example of a perfect model of submission to the dominant economic and political order.
Another even more serious example of submission to the Western powers is the case of the Malvinas Island. These islands in the continental shelf of Argentina are, since 1833, colonized by England, who refuses any dialogue about its restitution to Buenos Aires. If a subject exists in Argentina on which 99% of Argentines agree with, it is, well: “The Malvinas are Argentine”.
However, Mauricio Macri does not share that view at all. He dared to say, in 1997 (4), that an effort to recover the Malvinas would cause a “huge deficit” for Argentina, and added “I never understood the issues of sovereignty in a country as large as ours”. Yeah, why engage in a tiny territory vindication when Argentina is the eighth largest country in the world? Why fight to regain land that was taken from us over a century and a half ago if we own such a big country? This is Macri’s message of surrender and capitulation. Since then, Macri has changed those statements by saying that “the Malvinas will be Argentine again inevitably and peacefully”, but no one imagines for a moment that, as a President, he will as much as move a finger to reconquer that colonized land.
But if the right wins the coming elections, the greatest risk is the new regional policy that Buenos Aires would launch. What we do know beyond doubt is that this would be a complete rupture with the policy pursued until today. Macri has not hesitated to cry out, in recent years, his hostility to the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela. Proof of that is affront to the government of Caracas when he received, on March 27, the wives of coupists Leopoldo López and Carlos Ledezma (5), both imprisoned for leading the outbreak of violence that cost the lives of 43 people in February 2014.
The leader of the Argentinean right feels sympathy for reactionary leaders and regional leaders such as former Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, the former candidate in the presidential election in Brazil: Aécio Neves, and former Peruvian President Alan García. He also has excellent relations with the European right, as evidenced by his meetings with the Prime Minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, and former Prime Minister José María Aznar.
All these politicians have a common point: they feel a visceral hatred for the Bolivarian Revolution and Latin-American progressivism as a whole.
These last twelve years were a renaissance for the Argentine people. But we should also not forget the failures or errors of Kirchner spouses. Many important challenges remain unresolved, like ending the extractivism imposed by transnationals and that brings along disastrous consequences for the environment. On the economic plan, although there have been many advances, Argentina, as most Latin American countries, is heavily dependent on commodity exports such as soybeans. Furthermore, despite the legalization of gay marriage, many social issues remain unresolved and particularly one urgent concern: the decriminalization of abortion. Indeed, because of its ban, every year, hundreds of thousands of women choose to abort clandestinely.
For those who can afford an abortion in a clinic, the health risks do not exist. But most of the other women often have no choice but to resort to more primitive abortive methods or tricks, and consequences are often dramatic. In Argentina there is much left to do ,but one thing is certain: the return to power of the neoliberal right will only aggravate the problems encountered and help to destroy everything good that has been built in the last twelve years.
What Macri proposes is nothing but a return to the 1990s in which a handful became millionaires while the vast majority of the population sank into unemployment and misery.
Hopefully the people of Argentina won’t forget that painful episode in their history when they go to express the polls on October 25.