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ARGENTINA | 23-12-2023 06:46

Juan Grabois: ‘A disruption, even if reactionary and dehumanising, evidently captivated most Argentines’

Lawyer, social leader and former presidential candidate Juan Grabois on Javier Milei, the government’s economic emergency measures and receiving criticism from both sides.

His commitment to the empowerment of the lowest strata of society was born in 2001, making Juan Grabois one of the most prominent referential figures of the social movements.

After running as a presidential hopeful in the PASO primaries, the 40-year-old lawyer handed in his marshal’s baton within the social leadership, becoming a political leader of a new generation seeking to restore to politics its original purpose, the transformation of reality. 

Grabois affirms that in the future he will try to be president again and in a feature interview, reflects on Javier Milei and his new economic measures.

 

Almost two years have gone by since that long interview [we conducted] confronting you with [Javier] Milei. Did you imagine then that the person with whom you were debating could become President?

Yes, I did. I would have liked it to be me winning but well, it was him.

 

Today, in retrospect, do you see him differently from then? I don’t know if you got to see any of it again but that debate had plenty of Internet repercussions, even through to today.

I never got to see it again. I have personal knowledge from our comrades in the communication area that parts of it were used in the PASO primary campaign where we won 1.5 million votes and Milei over six million – i.e. an unexpected breakthrough, not so unexpected in the last few weeks or months but a disruptive phenomen for the political establishment from the right in reactionary terms, which was what we wanted to produce from a humanistic perspective. And perhaps our self-criticism was not radical enough within the traditional political structures like Unión por la Patria, which, I believe and insist, is a framework of alliances where one of its sectors continues to hold up the banners of the Argentine national popular movement, which are part of our historic tradition. 

We do not want an absolute rupture, we want continuity with what constitutes a people, its history, its myths and its culture. We don’t believe that history begins when we arrive and my dogs, to make a metaphor with Milei, do not just have the names of foreign thinkers but are rooted in our national, River Plate, Latin American and also universal culture but we have our homeland, our history and our people. Evidently that option of seeking disruption within continuity in a moment of such deep crisis at every level, fundamentally in the economic but the economic, as Pope Francis also says, is the administration of the common home, which implies values of every type, material, cultural and spiritual. And they have been so badly administered by the ruling classes that a disruption, even if reactionary and dehumanising in many aspects, evidently captivated most Argentine people.

 

Were you surprised by the relationship, at least as shown on television at the inauguration, between Cristina Fernández Kirchner and Milei, in such contrast to that between Cristina and [Mauricio] Macri, who was more of her generatión?

It did not surprise me. You need to separate the book from the author. 

 

Whose book and which author? 

The author is Milei and his work is the economic programme. That was a ceremony where... 

 

I thought you were going to say that Macri was the intellectual author and Milei the book.

Now Macri made his manoeuvre for which I would use the word smart rather than correct, very astute and mafia-like – not in the criminal sense of the term but the methodological. In other words, Macri does not function as a political leader but as a mafia boss because if he were a political leader of PRO and Juntos por el Cambio, the President today would be [Horacio] Rodríguez Larreta, who won the last midterms and the [Buenos Aires Province] governor would be [Diego] Santilli, but he decided to crush his own people, quickly moving, after tepid support for [Patricia] Bullrich, to embrace Milei to guarantee a triumph which perhaps would have happened anyway. But he embraced Milei after Milei lost the general elections... 

 

But he had beaten Bullrich…

…gave a hug quickly and with an enthusiasm far superior to that shown on behalf of his own party during the campaign. Macri was astute there, mafia-style. Why do I say that? Because that is not appropriate for a political leader, he was not developing a constructive policy but a strategy of crushing his internal rivals and building power. 

But when I was speaking of book and author, Milei is the author, not the book because he is going to unfold an economic policy programme which perhaps will be the biggest social catastrophe ever, that’s my forecast. Ever since I could think, the measures announced by [Economy Minister Luis] Caputo are cruel for every ordinary man and woman, not just the most impoverished strata of society. They have told the middle class: “From this moment on, you are poor, go to hell,” all pronounced coldly and with a psychopathic lack of empathy. That’s the book. But the author is a very particular personality with his eccentricities and his moments. 

 

Might he even have his charm?

The one thing in politics is that the truth jars.

 

There is a Hannah Arendt essay about the relationship between lying and politics which says that it is intrinsic to politics. I understand politics as the exercise of power. 

I disagree.

 

That would also be part of your being disruptive. 

But if Milei called me up to express his solidarity over what had happened [regarding Grabois at the receiving-end of aggressive hostility], something which very few of our leaders did, some even tweeted it without calling me, weird. And the guy did express his solidarity. 

 

It should be acknowledged that he acted in a meritorious fashion there.

I’ll leak something to you, I don’t know whether you’ll like it or not, nor do I care because as [Uruguayan founding father José Gervasio] Artigas said, “With the truth I neither offend anybody nor have cause for fear.” He [Milei] apologised for having called me a “thief” in a video in the closing stages of the campaign. That’s never happened to me before and I’ve been called everything. That made me remember whether I had ever insulted anybody untruthfully because at times I do insult but without lying or saying sorry. But if you do lie, you have to say sorry. There you have the author. 

 

Do you believe that he is a good person with the wrong ideas?

I try not to use moral adjectives because if he sends half of my people to their deaths, I’m not going to say whether he is a good person, I’m going to say that he is a social assassin. 

 

Can ideas result in massacres while having good intentions? 

That can happen. That combination does exist. 

 

The difference between the author and the book?

There is a difference between the author and the book. 

 

But there are cynical authors who do evil on purpose.

Macri. 

 

So Milei does not share those characteristics?

Not necessarily. What I’m telling you is that when Cristina smiles at him and has a relationship of empathy with him, I believe that she is interacting with the author, the same author with whom I interacted in front of you, very respectful and constructive, a person immersed in a political and ideological debate – in other words, he was not speculating about how it would come out on television the next day. 

 

“The measures announced by Caputo are cruel for every ordinary man and woman, not just the most impoverished strata of society.”

 

I even believe that he went on to his lab because after that debate with you, he deepened his idea: “There is no social justice,” which happens to be where I made the social doctrine of the Church the basis of that debate against the Austrian school. 

That’s right. And indeed, he stood by that, he never retracted. But I insist, political leaders cannot be judged by their intrinsic characteristics but... 

 

Not as persons but judged by their actions? 

Their actions and the results of their actions. 

 

So could there be bad people who carry out good policies which are beneficial, and vice versa, good people with bad policies which are destructive? 

That's where the Gospel phrase “By their fruits ye shall know them” comes in and I believe that the fruits of this branch will be rotten.  Because there is also a conglomerate, a constellation of very tricky people there, not just the caste but the military party and the old guard of neoliberal businessmen, the ‘traders’ doing business and not public policies.

 

Does it seem positive to you that [Vice-President] Victoria Villarruel has been shunted to one side by not being given control of defence and security?

It seems to me that Victoria Villarruel cannot wait for Milei to be declared insane or slip up or die to take over the Presidency so that for the second time in history [because General Juan Domingo Perón reached the presidency by legitimate means], somebody from the military family can become President by legitimate means, something which might happen. 

In truth you can see it in her face. In some of these chats I insist that sticking up for yourself need not rule out common courtesy – except in some tense situations, I am not obliged to mistreat my political adversaries, that seems stupid to me. My motto at this stage is: Respect others and gain respect for yourself. Looking out for your friends more than your enemies. 

 

Or who might appear to be friends in that case.

Yes and that also applies to Cristina. Those who seem to be her friends or her adopted children or people she herself empowered have done her a lot of harm and continue to do so.

 

And in the case of Villarruel, do you think that the fact that she has not been given those two ministries has to do with Milei spotting that?

Yes, Milei or his sister or people in his entourage, I don’t know. I’m not into ‘Mileilogy.’

 

Is Villaruel Macri’s Plan B, as has been much speculated?

Something like that, I heard something along the lines that she proposed to Macri or to some businessmen, that if Milei went mental, she could guarantee institutional continuity. It’s what I heard but you never know if these things are true or false.

 

You were quoted as saying that there was going to be a social massacre and that when there is a change of government from the popular, as happened with Macri, they end up calling on you and the social leaders to guarantee social peace. Do you think something similar is going to happen now? 

I haven’t the slightest doubt because that is what happened after the devaluation of 2016, if I remember correctly. 

 

If it comes to that, will you be stronger and go distributing food, helping the contention work of the Milei government? 

But obviously because the people need it. Are you going to say no just because Milei is governing? And on the other hand, that’s another incredible thing which turns my stomach, you have those Greater Buenos Aires Peronist mafia bosses, those scoundrels who take yachts to Marbella who have the nerve to accuse social leaders when they sit down to negotiate with people on the other side of the political fence for the food for soup kitchens. Then some snobs who couldn’t win an election in a consortium if it were not for Cristina and who go to the Caribbean in the middle of the pandemic to drink cocktails take away the warehouses from the garbage recyclers to see if they can put together a unidad básica political cell there and who also tell the social organisations: “You must be our cannon fodder to destabilise the Milei government.” Do you understand what I’m saying? It’s terrible. 

 

I understand that you feel attacked from both sides.

It’s terrible because... 

 

But that’s the price of being an iconoclast.

It’s not about what’s happening to me, it’s the rot in the political system because on the one side you have a destructive project dehumanising society and on the other, beyond that one obviously should not generalise because not all the more or less young comrades are like that...

 

"The honeymoon is starting to come to an end."

 

They’re not all Insaurraldes, you’re saying. 

They’re not all Insaurraldes nor all like [former PAMI deputy chief] Martín Rodríguez, who went to Cancún and then tried to take away buildings from the garbage recyclers. They’re not all the same, some are better and some worse, as is also the case with the comrades at my side, that happens everywhere. But there is a logic behind this, there is no doctrine, no training, no study, no commitment to the people, no sense of empathy with the suffering of the poor. Instead there is a use or abuse, and that is the great betrayal of Peronism, of the concept of social justice which is verbal and skin-deep. And in the same way being strong against the weak and cowardly with the strong is somehow seen as great courage. So what has been installed in Argentina is to deepen the impotence of any humanistic project because it is effectively being attacked from both sides. Unless you can discipline the system of rewards and punishments of the politics of plunder, you are inside that format and have to enter into that logic. 

 

I smile because I’ve known that for many years from being outside the grieta chasm and being attacked from both sides but that is the price you have to pay for the autonomy of your position. 

But I’m worse off because I’m inside the grieta and undergo the same thing.

 

Somehow you are because you are criticised from within your own party. 

I’ll give an example, during the governments of Cristina there were young and not so young officials of a certain organisation who became multimillionaires by exploiting their posts... 

 

They would earn the label of “thieves.” 

They would qualify for all the insults which come my way but since nobody knows them, they might well continue exploiting their posts. When Cristina is prosecuted, they sing: “If they touch Cristina, what a commotion will be aroused,” but they never put their bodies or a peso behind it. It is we comrades who have to put our bodies on the line and suffer the espionage of the likes of [ex-cop Ariel] Zanchetta. How much longer are we going to tolerate that kind of thing? That’s when I say to myself: “Juan, calm down.” 

 

You are a child of 2001 and this upcoming Wednesday there will be the anniversary of the starting-point, we might say, of all that violent crisis of 2002. What do you think will happen on December 20? Might there be a demonstration which will begin a process of resistance to the Milei government and the measures of Toto Caputo or is there still a honeymoon which will  inhibit major protests?

There always have been demonstrations on December 20 and there always will be. I listened to [Security Minister Patricia] Bullrich at it again with her spectacular announcements of anti-picket protocols declaring this to be federal territory. I don’t know about that because the Federal Capital is not federal territory, it’s the beat of the Buenos Aires City Police who have again been beating up biscuit-vendors. Just as in Buenos Aires Province, governed by the “pibes para la liberación,” they go bashing garbage recyclers, so in Macri’s City they hand out the same treatment to biscuit-sellers or anybody protesting, the truth is that if this country is going to become the Wild West or whatever, we have a problem. But there has always been a demonstration on December 20…

Wherever I go, and I walk everywhere, I hear the street, in Barrio Norte, Boulogne and the slums of  Villa Caraza and Villa Fiorito where I was recently, and the honeymoon is starting to come to an end.

 

That fast?

That fast because you know what is killing it? In the supermarket, the service station and the grocery, there are no prices or if there are, they’ve just been marked up, the sweet talk ends when the most sensitive organ of mankind, as General Perón said, begins to see that in the final analysis – I’m not going to be very original with this phrase, some have already said it – the caste was not so afraid after all. The caste is well-off because they all have money and positions. Those no longer in the national government moved onto some provincial or municipal sinecure and if not, they have bank accounts or mansions. Those who are screwed are the workers and the middle class. So this gentleman [Milei], whether consciously or unconsciously, lied to them, selling to them the fantasy of “dumping on the privileges of the caste.” No, it did not happen.


Production: Melody Acosta Rizza & Sol Bacigalupo.

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Jorge Fontevecchia

Jorge Fontevecchia

Cofundador de Editorial Perfil - CEO de Perfil Network.

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