In the first interview conducted after his strong showing in Sunday’s PASO primaries, presidential hopeful Alberto Fernández argued Tuesday night that President Mauricio Macri is to blame for the turbulence in the markets.
However, the Frente de Todos candidate was vague on what policies he would enact should he win election in October, preferring to use the opportunity to further criticise the government.
“Macri didn’t understand anything and he will continue to do the same, despite the fact that two-thirds of Argentina’s population rejected the government,” Fernández said in an interview with NET TV’s Corea del Centro programme.
“It wasn’t a bad election, it was a terrible government. He deserved the punishment of the people,” he added.
Prior to the primaries, Fernández was tipped by most pollsters to emerge from Sunday’s vote with a thin lead. However, voters instead hammered the president at the polls, handing the Peronist leader a 15-point lead over the incumbent and crucially pushing him over the 45-percent benchmark that would see him win in the first round, should such numbers be repeated in October.
Fernández argued at one point during the interview that Argentina needed to change its economic model, though he was unclear on details, saying only that the economy does not export enough and that the agrciultural sector isn’t selling enough grains, due to the instability of the peso against the dollar.
He also criticised the government’s record US$56-billion credit line with the International Monetary Fund. Previously he has gone on record as stating Argentina’s repayment plan would have to be restructured.
“I will not declare the cessation of payments nor do I want to fall into default," said Fernández in a nod to the markets. "But Macri has left us in default. If we did not have the help of the [IMF] Fund, we would be in default. But Macri's use of the Fund's money was pathetic,” he declared.
“Nobody believes Macri can pay back the debt,” said Fernández. “Bond prices indicate investors see the country in default.”
‘He is responsible’
Interviewed by journalists María O'Donnell and Ernesto Tenembaum and quizzed about the so-called ‘Black Monday’ meltdown in the markets – which saw the peso slump severely against the dollar and Argentine assets lose value in the financial markets – the Frente de Todos presidential candidate said he was “worried like any Argentine about what happens in the country."
"Macri says that I am responsible for all his ills, but he is responsible for what happens," the candidate responded.
Questioned as to the likelihood of him sitting down with the president in order to come up with a plan to calm markets and investors, Fernández said he was willing, though he argued the responsibility lay with the man in office.
"I want the Argentines to stop suffering and this government only makes them suffer. If my intervention serves to stop suffering, I would do it, but I am nothing, not even an elected president. I am a simple candidate,” he said.
"The channel of dialogue is absolutely open. If Macri needs me I will talk to him tomorrow," he added, confirming that Interior Minister Rogerlio Frigerio had contacted him in the wake of the results, but not the president.
Fernández said pointedly, however, that dialogue between the opposition and government would be pointless if no action were taken.
“I don't manage the state’s keypad, how can I help Macri, who also wants to do the same and is proud of the four million [new] poor people he has created? And he says that in the world they are scared for us,” he said.
‘They will continue to do the same’
Criticising the president’s press conference on Monday afternoon, Fernández said Juntos por el Cambio would not change their approach ahead of October's crucial showdown.
"What we saw in Macri’s press conference was that they will continue to do the same and say the fault is with Kirchnerismo,” he said.
"What one sees is a huge difficulty on the part of the government to find a solution to the problems it faces. And the worst thing is that it not only does not solve the problems, it makes them worse. And in the middle are we, the Argentines." said Fernández.
"Half of Argentina voted for us and he continues to insist that we will have the same problems as Venezuela [if we’re elected]," he charged.
The presidential hopeful did make some statements that seemed designed to calm fears about extreme policies, at one point declaring “I am not Venezuela,” in reference to the ongoing economic meltdown in that country.
Indicating his own personal view on Venezuela, which differs from some in the Kirchnerite coalition he leads, Fernández criticised the Nicolás Maduro administration.
“I have always said that Venezuela is an authoritarian regime and it is difficult to defend it. It is a government of democratic origin because people vote for it, but they have committed excesses,” he said.
He said he was concerned by a recent UN report citing examples of torture carried out and accused the Maduro government of doing enough to guarantee the Venezuela's institutions.
Relationship with Cristina
Fernández, who some see as the frontman for former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s policies, later spoke warmly about his running-mate, critiquing attempts to prosecute her for alleged corruption offences.
“If the justice system works, she should not have problems ... if I believed [the allegations], I would not defend her,” he told NET TV. “She is not a thief.”
Fernández said that his running-mate deserved praise, saying his coalition exists because “Cristina had enormous generosity.”
He added: “I think she read better than anyone what is needed in Argentina and realised that she had to step aside.”
Responding to probing about previous comments he made about at the former president and her 2007 to 2015 governments, Fernández admitted that he had once distanced himself somewhat from Kirchnerismo, before moving on to highlight the portrayal of his criticism as part of the polarisation evident in Argentine politics.
“I was in la grieta,” he said. “I was a victim of that crack, [but] I did not promote it.”
Addressing polarisation in general, he said “It is impossible for society to move forward with this level of confrontation. We have to regain respect for the other.”
Fernández was also quizzed about his political plans moving forward, with one question referring to the potential of those outside his coalition – such as former economy minister and fellow presidential hopeful Roberto Lavagna – forming part of a potential government.
“What president would not like to have Lavagna as economy minister?” he responded. “He is a man who you show a programme to and he brings you three solutions. But I don’t know what he wants to do.”
The Frente de Todos presidential hopeful was also asked about his opinion of world leaders such as Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, who yesterday expressed fears about the return of the Peronist-Kirchnerite government in Argentina.
“You have to tell Bolsonaro to free Lula,” said Fernández. “We will always get along with Brazil, but Brazil is at a juncture in the life of Brazil, as Macri is for Argentina.”
Responding to criticism from the Brazilian leader, the former Cabinet chief said he was proud that “a misogynist and violent [person] speaks ill of me – all he is saying is a huge nonsense.”
As for Trump, Fernández said the US president was “not a good leader for the world.”