The electoral triumph of Mauricio Macri’s former interior minister in Entre Ríos leaves Rogelio Frigerio poised to be the next governor of a province which was historically the national capital of Peronism.
In a feature interview, Frigerio, 51, explains how he managed to transcend the inbred nature of his force via an alliance with desarrollistas (Arturo Frondizi’s old party), neighbourhood activists, socialists and even Peronists.
He says he tries to find a place for everybody on the basis of generosity and humility and that the concept of an “inner panel” brings back bad memories.
Does [Entre Ríos Peronist Governor] Gustavo Bordet’s slump [in the recent elections] surprise you?
We campaigned explaining that provincial matters were not at stake but that it was all about putting a stop to Kirchnerism and beginning to construct a different history.
Would the result have been different in a gubernatorial election?
I wouldn’t know. We campaigned really well, covering the whole province and making proposals – something that is generally lacking and particularly in Entre Ríos. We listened hard to the people, something politicians sometimes fail to do, and we won.
Governments worldwide, with only a few exceptions, have done badly in elections. What role did the pandemic have in that result?
It was an influence, we cannot say otherwise when observing the global panorama. The pandemic could not conceal the ineptitude of Kirchnerism in government. It did not hide its weaknesses, its infighting, its lack of leadership. That was more potent and important than the pandemic when it came time to vote.
How did the clash between the Etchevehere family and [social leader] Juan Grabois in the province impact the voting in Entre Ríos?
It wasn’t an issue which cropped up much in conversations with residents. The demand for jobs emerged very clearly as the top need and also education. That point seems very interesting to me.
Politicians often fail to understand that this demand is a priority for society. The struggle against drug-trafficking is another issue that politicians are not ready to discuss, at least not in the last couple of years, but it is present permanently, the fear of drugs entering homes and taking kids hostage.
Rosario and Santa Fe are very close.
Of course, and that influences too.
Was Vicentin [and the government’s nationalisation bid] an antecedent?
Kirchnerism has never understood how the most competitive sectors in Argentina and one of the most competitive sectors in the world works. It clearly ended up influencing the vote.
You were the candidate with the greatest difference over a united Peronism. Whatever happened to a united Peronism never being vanquished?
It’s true that the provincial government, the Kirchnerites and the Peronists were all united in Entre Ríos but it’s no less true that many Peronists voted for us and we had many Peronists working with us. Without that support it’s very difficult to win by 20 points in the capital of Peronism.
While doubling their vote.
We not only won by almost 25 points in the province but by almost 20 points in Argentina’s poorest city [Concordia], the national capital of Peronism. That would have been impossible if we had not picked up many votes from Peronism and leaders who joined our ranks because they disagreed with where Kirchnerism was taking the country.
There are also Peronists who are into the work ethic and republican values and we managed to seduce them with our proposal, which was very generous in its appeal. Furthermore, we decided on a name different to the national branding. We group no less than a dozen political parties and that’s different too. We placed our bets on respecting differences and thus expanded when measured against the past.
How was your relationship with the Radicals of the province?
Very good. I say out in public that Radicalism is the backbone of our space. It was an error not having given them greater participation in our government. It’s very healthy what happened with the Radicals in terms of mobilisation, taking part in the PASO primaries in different provinces. It does Juntos por el Cambio good.
The possibility of a rebellious federal Peronism within Frente de Todos was raised by [Córdoba Governor] Juan Schiaretti, who speculated that probably Omar Perotti [Santa Fe] or Sergio Uñac [San Juan] or even Bordet would be part of it as all representatives of productive regions. Are there geopolitical reasons for Entre Ríos having a different electoral preference?
It responds to the demands of the citizenry and the positioning of Peronist leaders in central regions. Argentina’s challenges require humility and generosity. Nobody can believe that they own the truth. In the last 50 years all of us who have held responsibility have failed. That’s why people live worse all the time and why we have over 40 percent poor and more than 10 percent destitute. People who cannot eat in a major food-producing country. If we all assume our share of responsibility for this situation and give priority to common sense over the ideological and the partisan, there is a way out for us but it must be done, not just said.
What did you think of Alberto Fernández’s speech while the votes were being counted?
What the president has to say surprises me less and less, it’s increasingly more predictable. He does not have a discourse based on reality, just blaming people permanently. He does not assume responsibility for the role he occupies and overacts positions which are not his own. We’re getting used to it.
What is your opinion regarding the idea of reaching agreement with the International Monetary Fund while sending to Congress a plan spanning several years?
I find it hard to believe that those really are his intentions, that he really has changed and now wants to seek consensus with the opposition. He’s spent two years blaming others.
Do you have any alternative to agreeing with the IMF?
That’s the least of it. It’s a negotiation which has to be done. The national interest dictates that it does not suit us to pay dollars we don’t have in March nor enter into default. This has to do with the national interest – there’s not too much else to this issue.
Economic definitions would be obligatory for a plan to be agreed with the IMF.
The government would be obliged to present a plan. I don’t think that the Fund will ask for much more than a plan dealing with inflation and the fiscal deficit. It seems to me that it would not be much more ambitious than that.
Wouldn’t that be embarrassing for Kirchnerism?
Those would be minimal requirements, the same requirements made of the Argentine people.
It was a very good performance for Juntos [in the midterms] with 41 percent, topping 40 percent in three elections straight, but that is not enough to win the first round whereas Peronism, even with an unimportant candidate as Alberto Fernández has turned out to be, won in the first round. What would Juntos need to win the first round?
I don’t want to talk about myself all the time but let me return to my province. We took almost 54 percent of the votes because we’re a broader coalition than at national level, closer to the one in Corrientes, which was also won with a very big difference. We incorporated sectors of Peronism, the left, also the socialists accompanying us, the desarrollistas, the neighbourhood organisations – very important in many inland places in this country. If we hadn’t made that appeal, we wouldn’t have reached that number of votes. It seems to me that this could be the answer to your question. You need generosity and the capacity to amalgamate differences.
How will the leadership for 2023 be worked out?
I would like the hinterland to be more present in the Juntos por el Cambio leadership, which also has a unitarian or Buenos Aires bias. That requires flexible and horizontal leadership.
Today there is a panel with the chair of each one of the three coalition parties. At one point they spoke of a ‘mesa chica’ (“inner cabinet”). Is that the problem?
I don’t have good memories there. It ended up in inbred governance making bad decisions. We need to broaden in every sense, including leadership, during these next two years. They will be difficult for Argentina and also for the opposition. The problems of inland regions need to be taken into account with greater presence of other parties and Radical protagonism.
As a concrete example, I’d like to await the results of the next election somewhere inland, not in Costa Salguero. That would be a good symptom, a symbol that we really understand the changes which need to be made. We must already start incorporating that more federal vision into the leadership this year.
Just vision or also people?
Visions are represented by people who are the references for votes and territories, those with the political capacity to lead a process. It will be complex these next two years, probably requiring us to be more united than today but also broader-based.
When you were interior minister and Emilio Monzó was speaker [of the lower house], Perotti was always a ministerial candidate while Schiaretti acted as a natural ally of PRO, which had in Córdoba the place where it won its biggest differences in elections (at national, not provincial level). Would expanding imply integrating non-Kirchnerite Peronism?
What would be the objection to that? We need to add leaders with whom we can agree over basics. There are examples within Juntos por el Cambio of different territories where we won now and have been winning for a while: Mendoza, Jujuy, Corrientes and now Entre Ríos.
How many lists are there in Corrientes?
There are 24 parties composing our coalition in Corrientes.
And in Entre Ríos?
We have 12 but we’re going to keep on growing for sure. It seems to me something which must be done because we owe it to the people. They are asking us politicians to agree more and work much harder, placing far more energy in seeing where we can agree.
You were critical of the announcement on the part of some leaders of your party that they would go for naming the speaker if they won a majority. In that circumstance, should they go for it?
It’s important not to send any signals for co-government. We have a very important role to fulfil as a responsible opposition. Any signal which distorts that is not a good one. To discuss those issues which worry Argentines and prevent them sleeping at night, Congress needs a different make-up of committees where most Juntos por el Cambio bills now lie dormant. The committees are controlled by Kirchnerism. It would be very relevant to negotiate them on the basis of the new relationship of forces.
‘Peronism united only for the election’
There was once talk of a league of governors, but today it would seem that the Peronist governors are divided into two leagues: one headed by Schiaretti and the other by Cabinet Chief Juan Manzur along with the other northwestern governors. Is Peronist unity more apparent than real?
Peronism united only for the election and not everywhere. I do not believe that it is united in ideological terms with Kirchnerism, nor in terms of future projects. This is an opportunity for Argentina to muster the two-thirds majority which is the minimum needed for a plan of sustainable development in the long term.
The worst thing for Argentina has been the permanent change of direction. That critical mass is needed to sustain the times of transformation. This government is basically composed of Kirchnerites and the Peronists who accompany them. It is not a unity of ideas or projects. From the opposition we are responsible for going out to look for those agreements with those who do not necessarily think as we do in every aspect but in four or five fundamental things we can arrive at consensus.
Analysts of a certain level criticise the scant regard of political scientists for two dominant aspects: demography and geography. In 2002 Buenos Aires Province was competing with the league of inland governors, the old idea of the hinterland against the port. PRO began as virtually a neighbourhood party of the City of Buenos Aires, then some town halls close to its frontiers and now it is nationwide. Meanwhile Kirchnerism has become a neighbourhood party of Greater Buenos Aires in a kind of geographic criss-crossing.
Do you notice that difference with looking inward at the City or Province of Buenos Aires which has affected the outlook of both Juntos and Frente de Todos, or Kirchnerism and Peronism, as well as PRO?
Such introspection is very bad for the country and public policies. That is not just the heritage of Kirchnerism, we’ve suffered it too. Let me make the distinction between PRO and Juntos por el Cambio, something much more comprehensive. I see a coalition which is trying to be really federal.
Meanwhile Kirchnerism is increasingly inbred and confined to certain Greater Buenos Aires districts, as reflected by the electoral result, which in turn responded to the government’s lack of empathy with the hinterland and the most productive sectors of our country. I hope a more federal Juntos is sustained in time. It also needs a more federal leadership than the current, despite considerable advances in that direction.