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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 19-08-2022 17:31

Blame the rich

Weirdly enough it seems that several of the major constituents of the Frente de Todos have acknowledged that, at least for the time being, they are all in the same boat. And that boat appears adrift at sea.

This week led to an interesting balancing act for the “workers’ movement,” massively mobilising against inflation while simultaneously trying to show its support for the government. The ruling Frente de Todos coalition, led by Alberto Fernández and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, ultimately runs a Peronist administration, so they can’t really be accused by the country’s largest and most powerful unions of being responsible for the galloping inflation that is eating away at workers’ wages. (It’s those damned speculators, of course.) It’s also interesting to see organisations like the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) umbrella union group and even members of the Moyano clan (Teamsters) lend their support for Sergio Massa, the recently anointed “Super-Minister” in charge of an expanded Economy outfit and probably the Peronist with the longest and farthest reaching private-sector connections. Trusting Massa is an even larger leap of faith for Cristina, who’s felt the taste of betrayal from the hands of the man from Tigre in the past, to the point where her former Cabinet Chief campaigned on ridding the public administration of members of La Cámpora political organisation — led by Máximo Kirchner — while locking up corrupt officials in a thinly veiled message for the Kirchnerites. What’s the alternative, Fernández de Kirchner probably mused during her alone time, a return to the days of Mauricio Macri, political persecution and all?

Weirdly enough it seems that several of the major constituents of the Frente de Todos have acknowledged that, at least for the time being, they are all in the same boat. And that boat appears adrift at sea. Massa, who had been trying to make the jump from the Chamber of Deputies to an executive branch job for quite some time, has finally been entrusted with the rudder. Courageously, and maybe even recklessly, he took over as a powerful storm battered down and he has at least made it out in one piece. Martín Guzmán’s main problem was the lack of political support from the strongest faction of the ruling coalition, as CFK lost faith after the electoral meltdown of the 2021 PASO primaries. Silvina Batakis, his short-lived successor, lasted less than a month at the Economy Ministry as she was incapable of mustering some level of market confidence, in great part because no-one believed that Fernández de Kirchner had her back. Enter Massa, the third leg of the triumvirate that makes up the Frente de Todos, and there’s nowhere else to hide and no-one else to blame. The massive run on the peso and Argentine sovereign debt temporarily came to an end as the market appeared to re-calibrate expectations. At least the man from Tigre has the political weight to execute, and the explicit backing of Alberto and Cristina – that was the read.

Does that hypothesis have any legs? Since taking office in a ridiculous celebratory mood, Massa managed to create a temporary reprieve from the constant sensation that things are about to blow up, but not much more beyond that. He has finally moved forward with the long-avoided increase in public utility prices in order to cut subsidies and therefore the deficit, an agreement between Guzmán and the International Monetary Fund that was consistently blocked by Kirchnerism. In doing so, he pushed out two mid-level Kirchnerites that had become large rocks in Guzmán’s shoes, Electric Energy Undersecretary Federico Basualdo and his supposed boss, Darío Martinez. At the same time the government went on a ridiculous public shaming campaign with AySA water utility boss Malena Galmarini — who is also Massa’s wife — calling out residents of three luxury condo buildings for unfairly receiving water subsidies while the Página/12 newspaper and C5N news channel went after high-profile businessmen, politicians and athletes who received subsidies including Carlos Tévez and Mirtha Legrand. What was even more pathetic than this attempt to distract the public was the fact that it was the Kirchnerites who defended a system of public subsidies that was regressive in nature. Blame the rich and famous.

The “Super” Minister has promised to tackle inflation, end the monetary financing of the deficit, help the Central Bank increase its reserves and keep the economy growing. It’s hard to envision how we’ll get it done but at least he doesn’t have the president and vice-president fighting in the background, using him as their punching bag. Alberto appears to have finally lost all semblance of power while Cristina has once again receded into the background, apparently giving Massa the rope to either hang himself with or pull the economy out of its vortex of doom. Her main preoccupation has now moved back to the judicial front, where prosecutor Prosecutor Diego Luciani has gone on an impassioned accusation against Fernández de Kirchner and alleged business associate Lázaro Báez.

While it is difficult to imagine Cristina behind bars, one of the versions gaining steam among those “in the know” is that she will be found guilty of leading an illicit association by the Second Oral Tribunal. Accusing the Judiciary of “lawfare,” her legal team would then appeal and the case would be taken up by the Cassation Court, which would confirm the ruling leading to another appeal and the throwing the ball at the Supreme Court. The Cassation Court ruling wouldn’t be ready before 2024, which would give CFK time to execute her strategy of retreating to Buenos Aires Province ahead of next year’s election, gaining a seat in the Senate and most crucially, immunity, until at least 2029, by which time she’ll be 76 years old and, even if finally convicted by the Supreme Court, would only face home detention.

As Massa tends to the Economy Ministry in order to try to pull the rabbit out of the hat and become a palatable presidential candidate, Cristina focused on the Judiciary and Alberto in zombie mode, the opposition seems to be mimicking Count Ugolino in Dante’s ninth circle of hell. The aforementioned count was thrown there for political treason and his punishment consisted of eating the back of an enemy’s head like a wild animal for all eternity. Dante’s contrapasso could be used to illustrate what is happening among the ranks of the Juntos por el Cambio opposition coalition too, where infighting has become the name of the game. Elisa ‘Lilita’ Carrió has been the latest to take up arms against her kinsmen, while Macri has been toying with a candidacy that Horacio Rodríguez Larreta has considered his ever since his once-mentor lost the 2019 election. Fragmentation is a very real possibility, and that could even pave the way to an unlikely Peronist victory, or the emergence of an outsider like liberal economist Javier Miliei. Time will tell. Until then, it’s Massa’s ball.

Agustino Fontevecchia

Agustino Fontevecchia

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