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OP-ED | 11-05-2019 12:43

Editorial: The lady’s not for turning – or is she?

We now see Cristina Fernández de Kirchner pleading for a social contract (Macri’s latest hobby-horse in slightly different words) and boasting of distributing less social plans than her centre-right rival – even if she would attribute this to the creation of millions of jobs also boasted, rather than any lack of generosity.

All perfectly scripted but the lady in white is no more immune to black swans than anybody else, even if it is normally governments which suffer the consequences the most.

The timing was immaculate – in the week of the centenary of Eva Perón’s birth and on the 44th anniversary of her wedding to late ex-president Néstor Kirchner, whose loss was a personal tragedy fully exploited to produce her biggest political triumph (the 2011 landslide of 54 percent). But Thursday (the appointed day for the Book Fair launch of Senator Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s magnum opus Sinceramente) was already off to a bad start before breakfast – La Rioja Radical deputy Héctor Olivares was gunned down just outside Congress in a shooting which claimed another life, a shock to the whole democratic system which threatened to take the media spotlight away altogether from the evening’s book launch (and was no coincidence, insisted picket leader Luis D’Elía from his prison cell, attributing the shooting to President Mauricio Macri’s intelligence services, with the tact and caution he typically displays).

But as the deputy’s chances of survival mercifully improved and as it became clear that he was not even the target and that the crime was more a personal vendetta from a long extinct gaucho era than any paradigm shift in 21st century politics, political assassination faded as the chosen topic for today’s editorial. Yet not only black swans were stalking the ex-president that day but also black clouds – the heavens opened up with torrential downpours precisely during the build-up to the launch, threatening to turn the grand event into a washout.

But the show must go on and so it did. According to the original script – and also completely out of character. The talk began with absolute punctuality when as president she arrived around 50 minutes late on average for public events (even when as important as the G20 summit, once delaying the group photo by over an hour). The frequent flashes of lightning immediately preceding the launch seemed the perfect overture for rhetorical sparks at the Book Fair, but none came. A fairly vapid address delivered in measured tones lasted less than half an hour – a total contrast to the passionate harangues and nationwide broadcasts of her presidency with stateof-the-nation speeches lasting almost four hours (“No wonder her husband died,” an ambassador once confided to a Buenos Aires Herald editor a few years back).

Quite apart from the style, the content also departed from the expectations of friends and foes alike at times. There has indeed recently been a curious role reversal in both the main electoral protagonists (even though her candidacy has yet to be confirmed after Thursday night). While the market-friendly Macri has lately expanded price controls and changed his monetary policy to an extremely dirty float (if not yet the total curb of his predecessor), after already reviving export duties last year, we now see Cristina Fernández de Kirchner pleading for a social contract (Macri’s latest hobby-horse in slightly different words) and boasting of distributing less social plans than her centre-right rival – even if she would attribute this to the creation of millions of jobs also boasted, rather than any lack of generosity.

Yet at the same time pre-electoral moderation is nothing new to the twoterm former president, and nor was everything said on Thursday along those lines. On the contrary, her approach work to both presidential terms was meek and mild – in 2007 her slogan was “Cristina, Cobos y vos,” promising institutional consolidation to follow up economic recovery, while in 2011 she was the grieving widow. On Thursday the Unidad Ciudadana senator unabashedly confirmed herself to be a populist (“Neutrality is for the Swiss”) and proclaimed her growth model as the domestic market, thus reaffirming her faith in the closed economy which destroyed a third of Argentine trade during her second term (even praising Donald Trump’s version of protectionism) and explicitly disavowing the export-led growth pursued by Macri with modest success.

On this basis, it would be dangerous to judge Cristina along the lines of “what you see is what you get” – rather according to what you saw between 2007 and 2015.

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