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OP-ED | 07-12-2019 13:13

Hi Alberto...ciao Mauricio

Confidence-building is also crucial in the political sphere in the form of power-building. No analysis is free from speculation over his dependence on a future vice-president who named him candidate and will now anoint him president.

President as from Tuesday, Alberto Fernández will face challenges too numerous to list here but perhaps the biggest does not figure in most lists – to build confidence, which is more important than consensus. Thus everybody talks about the debt problem, but as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product Argentina’s debt is still not particularly high by international standards – what is lacking is the confidence to service it and (more importantly) attract investment. But the new president’s priorities are too urgently domestic to give full importance to international relations, as his choice of foreign minister might suggest, even if he has devoted an unduly large part of this transitional period to the Latin American region.

Confidence-building is also crucial in the political sphere in the form of power-building. No analysis is free from speculation over his dependence on a future vice-president who named him candidate and will now anoint him president – a dependence absolutely inescapable at the electoral stage but which may or may not change once he enjoys full presidential powers. There is a precedent here in which he was a central participant as Cabinet chief – the way Néstor Kirchner shook off a similar dependence on his mentor Eduardo Duhalde with astute powerbuilding. But his vice-president now is Néstor Kirchner’s widow, who was also a central participant then and, fully forewarned, will be flaun - ting her control of Congress this Tuesday. Fernández ca n a lways fall back on his numerous allies among provincial governors but here the problem of distributing scant funds arises with king-making Buenos Aires Province perhaps less inclined to take a back seat than usual.

All of this important but the urgent constantly displaces the important in Argentina – with problems like recession, inflation and rising poverty it will be difficult for the new president to think far ahead. Plenty more to be said but there is something absurd about writing up or writing off a presidency before it has even begun – 208 Saturdays still lie ahead to monitor the new administration.

In the last days of his presidency the figure of 40 percent must have a bittersweet flavour for the engineer Mauricio Macri – his presidential vote last October after an impressive comeback f rom Aug ust ’s PA SO primary disaster, but also the percentage of Argentines below the poverty line according to Thursday’s UCA Catholic University figures, the saddest possible epitaph to his 2015 campaign promise of “zero poverty.” The Macri administration had a post-modern passion for big data but the steady stream of mostly negative data, big and small, from INDEC national statistics bureau (transformed into credible figures, to Macri’s credit) doomed any re-election bid to failure once the Peronist opposition reunited. No space here for all that data but the sad bottom line is negative growth for three of the four years of the Macri presidency. One of Macri’s main lines of defence in last Thursday’s farewell nationwide broadcast was: “We’re leaving a state in which it is more difficult to steal,” but a cynic could twist this to say that he is leaving the cupboard bare.

Other lines of defence were presented in that broadcast (with perhaps more to come in tonight’s farewell rally) – integrating Argentina back into the world, increased exports (including energy and meat) and a bulging trade surplus (but also the result of shrinking imports from devaluation and recession), net Central Bank reserves of US$20 billion (but over twice that owed to the International Monetary Fund alone), homicides down 30 percent (but femicide a growing social concern), among others. Yet he did not state perhaps his best defence, which is, quite simply, the state of the state. A driver is as good as his car – place a Juan Manuel Fangio in say, Axel Kicillof’s Renault Clio or the Toyota Corolla of Alberto Fernández and then see how many races he wins. By the same token the best policies would be doomed to failure if implemented by the accumulated layers of bureaucracy.

One reason why Argentina has been on a downward spiral all this century with each presidential term worse than the one before since 2003 (even under the same person as between 2007 and 2015). If Macri proves another link in that chain, he will not be remembered as either good or bad but simply irrelevant. He now leaves office as a failure but a final verdict must wait – only time will tell.

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