The smooth passage of the Scaloneta into tomorrow’s World Cup final in Qatar following last Tuesday’s semi-final has given a troubled nation an outburst of unanimous joy not seen in a long time, catharsis indeed. It’s impossible to say now whether this elation will be sustained by tomorrow’s showdown against the defending champions (and finalists in four of the last seven World Cups) or whether the Qatar 2022 campaign will end as it began in disappointment and defeat. But what can now be said is to echo President Alberto Fernández following Tuesday’s triumph over Croatia: “[These players] have shown us that the path to glory is always to work as a team.” For all the idolatry now being bestowed on Lionel Messi, the difference between a 3-0 defeat against Croatia in Russia in 2018 and this week’s 3-0 win over the same nation stems from the vast improvement in coordination and teamwork since then, based on meticulous planning and accurate diagnosis of the problems.
President Fernández was thus absolutely correct to underline teamwork but where is it to be found in his own sphere of politics, whether at home or abroad? Starting with the bigger regional picture, we have the confusion over Peru’s change of presidency and the fiasco of the postponement of the Grupo de Puebla summit to March when the indignation over the “lawfare” perceived in this month’ verdict against Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner will have lost all spontaneity (even if the grounds for that sentence will be given that month). Perhaps this postponement until next year was based on hopes of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva being installed in the Brazilian presidency by then and giving critical mass to a Bolivarian bloc – such hopes should consider that Lula will be hamstrung by his Congress and is already displaying strong empathy with the Democratic administration in the White House.
But there is no need to look ahead to March to see cracks in Bolivarian solidarity – the region’s leftist governments are already divided over whether Peru’s Pedro Castillo pressed the self-destruct button with his closure of Congress or whether he was ousted. Argentina has this week joined Mexico, Bolivia and Colombia in insisting on the latter interpretation but not all the usual suspects are banging this Bolivarian drum – perhaps Chile (governed by Gabriel Boric who is both more pragmatic and more principled and whose options are limited by his unpopularity) is less of a surprise but where is the Venezuela of Nicolás Maduro? The Bolivarian cradle is a very different beast this year with lower inflation than Argentina in some months and Chevron returning to its oil industry – one of the more bizarre consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
President Fernández might quite rightly praise teamwork but his Frente de Todos team has just lost its Messi with Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s decision to stand down from all candidacies next year. This is widely disbelieved – both by friends who cannot imagine life without the runaway opinion poll leader among government figures and foes who consider her to be power-mad above all else, while the opposition finds resistance to her ambitions the only common denominator cementing a coalition considerably less solid than the Scaloneta. Yet perhaps she should be taken at her word – quite apart from this month’s verdict (which might either have demoralised her or prompted her to seek martyrdom), the impact of a gun being pointed in your face should not be underestimated.
So what fills the vacuum? Organised labour and a league of governors present themselves but they are no Scalonetas either. The rivalries between trade unionists are more than evident while the unity of Peronist governors is superficial – most do not identify with Kirchnerism, Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof is short-changed by the others in federal revenue-sharing even if he chooses to blame City Hall and there is also a natural distance between the governors of the productive provinces and those dependent on that revenue-sharing with Córdoba’s Juan Schiaretti not even in the team. The main alternatives to the re-election of an isolated President Fernández are his Interior and Economy ministers but the message of Eduardo ‘Wado’ de Pedro remains vacuous while Sergio Massa is vulnerable to runaway inflation.
In short, no teamwork in the region, government, opposition or provinces but, having said that, would things be better if all governors were clones of Kicillof or nobody dared to criticise Messi’s verbal excesses? Somewhere between unanimity, polarisation and fragmentation there must be a pluralistic golden mean.