Former president Mauricio Macri made his comeback to active politics on Thursday as he launched his new book, Primer tiempo, with an event attended by key leaders from the opposition Juntos por el Cambio coalition.
At a book presentation event at an exhibition in the capital, Macri attacked the Peronist government that replaced him in office, describing Kirchnerism as “a final expression of populism in Argentina” and predicting that the opposition would return to power.
"I regret not having found the way to avoid this regression [to Kirchnerism], but I am convinced that we will overcome it in 2023," he told the audience.
Macri even found time to take a swipe at the Alberto Fernández administration for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic: "If we continued with reintegration into the world, now we would have the same or more vaccines than Chile, for all Argentines."
Key opposition leaders and political allies – including Patricia Bullrich, Alfredo Cornejo, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta and Marcos Peña – were present at the event, which featured a speech, video guest spots and panel moderated by his co-writer, ex-Culture minister Pablo Avelluto.
Macri, who has generally kept a low profile since departing office, described his book as one of “great sincerity and honesty,” saying he was fighting for “democracy, the Republic and freedoms.”
He criticised Argentina’s powerful unions ("they do not want to lose privileges"), praised the anti-government banderazo demonstrations, as well as those in Formosa, and told his allies and leadership rivals that the “second half” of the battle for Argentina had already begun.
Despite his re-appearance on the political scene, however, the former president will not be seeking office in this year’s midterms, his inner circle say. Bullrich, the leader of Macri's PRO party, confirmed as much to reporters on Thursday.
"The book is clearly a political instrument. Macri does not rule out the possibility of running again for the presidency in 2023," said political analyst Carlos Fara.
Primer tiempo, which addresses Macri’s 2015-2019 presidency, hit the bookshops a day prior to the event. The 300-page book, published by Planeta, aims at reigniting the opposition, with seven months to go until October’s crucial midterm elections.
"The first half is over but the match continues and winning it depends on everybody," writes Macri in the book, deploying football jargon befitting both his past running Boca Juniors club and his present job presiding over the FIFA Foundation.
Based on notes taken towards the end of his government, it went on sale earlier this month initially via Mercado Libre, with a reported first print run of at least 25,000 copies. Avelluto said at Thursday’s event that sales were about to hit 75,000.
The book, which features a large photograph of Macri on the cover, dominated the shop windows of many of Buenos Aires’ biggest bookstores this week. Some reserved it in advance and rushed to pick it up on Wednesday. One of them was Carmen, a lawyer, said she was proud of her purchase.
"Macri, for me, was the best president I ever had. He gave me hope, he made me believe in a different future for Argentina. He might have made some mistakes but he always worked in good faith for Argentines," she told the AFP news agency.
In the book Macri underlines his desire that the country overcome its stark polarisation (or "la grieta" as it is locally known), but the very publication of Primer tiempo has brought that rift to the forefront with bitter arguments in the social networks.
"Despite isolated episodes of intolerance and fanaticism, I note with gratitude and pleasure the commitment to the freedom of expression and debate of the immense majority of Argentine booksellers," said Macri in one post, after some bookshops publicised the fact they would not stock the book.
Martín Latorraca of the Sudestada bookshop and publishers explained his decision not to offer the memoir as simply selective.
"Not every bookshop has all the books published. That’s not censorship but deciding what books to have. This is a book which has nothing to do with our political ideology of a personality with policies which have done much damage to the country and to the popular sectors," he told AFP.