When a country’s economy breaks down, its politicians can either make an effort to repair it or do their best to take advantage of the ensuing difficulties. For the Peronist administration that Cristina Fernández de Kirchner set up, this makes for a very unpleasant dilemma. Most of the people who occupy positions in the official hierarchy have got to where they are by exploiting the country’s many economic and social problems which, according to them, should be blamed entirely on the crimes and follies of the miscreants who over the years have treated them with contempt. Alberto Fernández and those who say they are on his side are still at it, which is why they go on so much about the horrors they say were perpetrated by Mauricio Macri and that evil man’s supporters, but even though they look forward to the day when they will be in opposition, until then they will have to try and govern a country which is slipping out of their control.
Cristina and her supporters share their dislike of Macri but, unlike Alberto and company, they have no desire to govern a country which has run out of money. In their view, asking them to share responsibility for what is happening is grossly unfair. Why should they? They see themselves as brave idealists fighting against the evils wrought by generations of oligarchs, liberals, radicals, military tyrants, Anglophone imperialists and other vile reactionaries, not as the sort of people who can be called upon to perform the unglamorous tasks ordinary politicians feel obliged to undertake after winning an election.
Kirchnerite activists desperately want the world to hail them as left-wing rebels against the sickeningly bourgeois status quo. Many have more than a soft spot for Che Guevara. So when it became clear that the government she had put in place was getting deserted by much of the populace, Cristina and her acolytes decided the time had come for them to move out and seek refuge back in their comfort zone where they could remind the electorate that they, not the talkative men and women of the “Together for Change” (Juntos por el Cambio) coalition, represent the real opposition to what some zealots suggest is a barely legitimate regime which, they say, has betrayed them by selling out to the sinister neoliberals of the International Monetary Fund.
If one overlooks the appalling consequences it could have for the country, Cristina’s strategy does have its merits. The coming months are certain to be extremely hard for a great many people, so it makes sense for her to reposition herself in order to make the most of what could be a tidal wave of discontent.
However, while it is in her own personal interest to distance herself from the country’s official president, it would be very dangerous for her to make a clean break with him. Were Alberto to call it quits, she would have to take his place in the midst of a very painful crisis, with inflation going through the roof and purchasing-power dropping like a stone, or let someone else move into the Pink House. As things stand, the next in line after her is a little-known lady from Santiago del Estero, who just happens to be the wife of the local governor, who would be unlikely to survive for more than a couple of days, followed by Sergio Massa who, as Cristina is uncomfortably aware, would surely prove to be a far tougher piece of work than the obsequious individual she chose to head the Peronist electoral ticket because pollsters had told her that in a run-off with Macri she would probably lose.
That is one alternative. Another is that Alberto could finally decide to behave like a proper president and do whatever it would take to put an abrupt end to the political career of the woman who is not only making his life a misery but is also threatening to do more harm to the country by sabotaging all his attempts to prevent the economy from disintegrating, a disaster which would impoverish millions who despite everything have so far managed to keep body and soul together.
To save himself, Alberto could purge the government of which he is the formal leader of the loyalists Cristina has placed in key posts, where they behave like political commissars in the Soviet Union by giving orders to their alleged superiors, and signal to members of the Judiciary that they should take the many corruption charges that have been levelled against her rather more seriously than they have been doing. No doubt such steps would set off an almighty uproar, but so too would the turmoil Cristina and adherents such as Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kiciloff assume is fast approaching and, by issuing dire warnings, are in effect encouraging. Either way, the coming weeks are sure to be eventful.
The battle for what financial resources remain available is getting fiercer by the day. Organisations that have been allowed to take charge of what here passes for a social-welfare safety net fear that the government is about to cut back on the handouts they have grown accustomed to distributing and are determined to scare it into changing its mind by staging big demonstrations and turning parts of the centre of Buenos Aires into campsites. Opposition politicians insist that taxes are already ridiculously high and should be brought down. Businessmen big and small agree. The farmers, who know the government wants to ensure they are not among the beneficiaries of the surge in food prices caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, are once again up in arms, as are a great many others, among them lorry-drivers who have seen fuel prices shoot skywards. With winter on the way, the predicted gas shortage is bound to add to the hardships of a huge number of people.
As far as some are concerned, the government has no choice but to spend whatever is available on the “social programmes” that have been improvised because if it refuses to do so, the many people who depend on them will have to choose between going on a rampage in search of bare essentials and dying of starvation. No doubt they are right, but so too are those who point out that depriving the productive part of the economy of the funds it needs to stay afloat would be suicidal. With the short-term prospects of the country looking terribly bleak, anyone who tries to take a longer view risks coming across as either irresponsibly utopian or heartlessly authoritarian, but it is because of the reluctance to do so that the country has got itself into its present state. Unless the politicians who are currently in opposition come up with a realistic recovery plan and acquire the power and authority to carry it through, the future could be far worse than even the most pessimistic dare to imagine.