Sunday, May 26, 2024

ARGENTINA | 04-05-2024 06:38

Emilio Monzó: ‘The Milei phenomenon is rooted in being a means, not an end in itself’

Ex-lower house speaker and national deputy for Buenos Aires Province on the first 100 days of President Javier Milei’s government, the future of Juntos por el Cambio and why the state isn’t a criminal enterprise.

Lower House speaker between 2015 and 2019, Emilio Monzó represents a dissident, anti-Kirchnerite form of Peronism, but he began as a militant of the Unión del Centro Democrático (UCeDé) centre-right force before joining the Justicialist Party during the Carlos Menem Presidency. 

Today a national deputy for Buenos Aires Province, Monzó reflects on the first 100 days of the Javier Milei government, the attempts to pass the head of state’s ‘Ley de Bases’/’Omnibus’ bill and the debate over approval of the sweeping DNU emergency mega-decree. 

Monzó, 58, and his allies have expressed willingness to aid the Executive Branch to strengthen governance. For him, President Milei has broken through the polarisation of the last 20 years between Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Mauricio Macri, opening up the possibility of a new political order in Argentina. But what does this mean for PRO and the future of Juntos por el Cambio?


Reviewing your statements last year, you repeatedly use the word “dictator” for [Javier] Milei – “He should not behave as a dictator,” or “Milei is … a hidden dictator.” After three months of government, do you think that there are foundations for your statements? 

Yes, as far as his personality goes. More doubts regarding the context but the two things go hand-in-hand. Personality always influences. 


And possibly conditions making it possible. 

I believe that the Milei phenomenon is rooted in being a means, not an end in itself. At one point he was the means towards being the spoiler for Juntos por el Cambio, skillfully exploited at the time by Frente de Todos via promotion of his very disruptive and self-assured image. 

I think that self-assurance can be taken for granted because he remains ignorant about what he doesn’t know but in a sea of uncertainties that personality has burst onto the political scene. This is also a worldwide phenomenon. We may then go on to talk about the phenomenon of social networks, but that was the genesis. The aim was achieved because it damaged Juntos por el Cambio, quite apart from their own internal inconveniences. 

Once that aim was achieved, Milei began to be a figure moving in the same direction as Juntos por el Cambio or Mauricio Macri, but inversely, to stop Sergio Massa from winning. So his objective was always the destruction of somebody else. But now, instead of being a means of destruction, he has passed to the end of construction and towards that end he will have to change his political framework and also much of his personality. And there is where I have my doubts and where we in the Hacemos [Coalición Federal] caucus, along with a number of political leaders, are trying to be a guardrail against the excesses of a political figure arriving in that context. You always have to doubt the human element, that’s why the Republic exists ... 

That personality with its permanent emotional imbalance makes me think of the risks of what I might imagine happening. That’s why we have to reinforce the institutions and why we deputies in our caucus are there precisely to contain those outbursts. Yes, I have doubts, I believe that we need a President who displays greater calm and more capacity for reflection while aspiring more towards construction than destruction. So it’s always good to be suspicious and I remain on the alert. 


Do you think that Milei will change his character to transform himself into what is necessary for the role of President, which is different from the role of candidate, or do you think he will stay the same as he has until now? 

If he stays the same as until now and if we try to avoid [the conclusion] that this is something in his personality which he cannot change, we might think that he remains in tactical and electoral mode, which is the easier way out.


So it would be an error of electoral tactics rather than a psychological problem. 

I’d like to see it that way. If it is a problem of electoral tactics, you’d have to observe what has happened in these last three months in order to react and seek to change electoral tactics into a governmental strategy. I want to give credit and be constructive, as I’ve always sought to be, by helping this government. Our caucus wants to help the government. 

As an Argentine I’m worried about the situation of the country and as a product of our meeting [with the government], I’d like to extend a credit and think that the President’s outbursts are more a continuation of electoral tactics, an impediment towards making the transition to a governmental strategy.


So why don’t you project those things in both the DNU emergency mega-decree and the ‘Ley de Bases’ /omnibus bill which would be passed via an agreement with the moderate opposition and which not, what would be possible? 

I believe that everything is possible but also that everything is possible to change. Reforms must be accepted. This is happening with a minority government and a parliamentary system so there are worries. Diversity is enriching. There is broad agreement to vote for these reforms, the new mechanism for updating pensions and fiscal austerity. 

We all agree that the spending of an expansionist state in the last 20 years was almost pornographic. We almost moved in parallel with the rest of the world because the [global] financial crisis of 2008 followed the economic expansion of the United States after the Twin Towers [fell] with the fear of recession that produced because of the impact on the West. Crisis in 2008 and austerity. But be careful with austerity because every day we have fewer citizens living in democracy worldwide because that austerity has left the middle class barefoot while youth feel that their future has been stolen from them, making them indignant. Democracy is used for people’s votes to reflect that indignation but the problem which other countries have had is that such democracies risk being converted into autocracies immediately because those entering into government do not want any intermediaries. 

Our caucus, Hacemos Coalición Federal, is ready to vote for fiscal austerity because we are all aware that the state has exaggerated its spending. But our caucus also exists to protect the Republic and those who have the least. I believe in the capitalism which created the welfare state, in the previous liberalism and in the tyranny of merit. There is a social lottery and a genetic lottery into which we are born and from which we emerge. And there the state has to show up, for me that is not criminal. 

So we have to look after both sides of the question, taking care of the excluded who are not that many because that is what has happened in the world. What the 2008 crisis did to the West was to exclude people.


Has Juntos por el Cambio ceased to exist?

Yes, a long time ago.


A long time ago? 



And is PRO heading towards fragmentation?

Today PRO has one important district, the City of Buenos Aires under Mayor Jorge Macri, to sustain it in the public eye.


He has plenty of visibility. 

He does have visibility, which gives him the opportunity for a permanent candidacy. He has the possibility to administer a City which shines and is central to the Argentine public eye so he draws many advantages if they do things well in this City. 

It [PRO] has an ex-president taking over the party chair and I think this will give them volume. I think the party has one difficulty – for the first time they have lost their way due to the relationship with Milei. Patricia Bullrich, one of their political figures, has consolidated belonging to Milei with a discourse totally aligned with the President. Mauricio Macri is much more cautious but also uncomfortable because he was the main leader promoting the backing of the centre-right electorate to vote Milei into the Presidency. 

There are going to be difficulties there. A figure like Milei, with the personal characteristics which we described at the start, has a problem with the institutions but also with his own Cabinet. Let us look at the example of [fired ANSES social security administration chief Osvaldo] Giordano and there have been several more such cases in these months. When you have a personality which does not accept dissidents, you increasingly, and very quickly, become surrounded by flatterers. Permanence in a national government post depends more on flattering and pandering to the mood of those in government than legitimacy in the face of society, which naturally leads to a dissociation from reality. That happens to all governments but from the start in this instance with all his ministers looking more to their boss than to society. Those who look to society risk being displaced by a tweet … 

Juntos por el Cambio has not been a political force for a long time now, since 2019 I would say. It was a coalition which stayed united on the basis of having governed guided by pragmatism or opinion polls but was conceptually separated. What Milei has come along to do is to come clean with that situation, in my judgement, breaking through the polarisation of the last 20 years. It’s all over for Cristina and Macri. 


When you speak of fragmentation breaking through the polarisation between Macri and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, is the same thing happening to Peronism? You once said: “Cristina Kirchner can no longer handpick.” Is it all over too for Kirchnerism?

Yes, what has happened is very strong stuff. But not due to Milei, it's society, they’re sick of us and I include myself. Society has spoken: democracy has not given us solutions nor matched up to our expectations. It is mainly the kids who see no future. It's a worldwide phenomenon, aggravated here by an acute indigestion with poverty and inflation, but there is a clear disappointment worldwide, mainly among youth. When we were young, we projected our lives thinking that we would live better than our parents. We had a future which made sense if we studied and worked hard. Today’s kids have lost that sense, they’re out on their own.


That applies to all political activity. My question is if within Peronism, which you know very well, having held important posts within the post-Peronist coalition, do you think that this is the autumn of Cristina Kirchner’s leadership with another Peronism emerging? 

I would like to think that this Milei link is the last link of extremism in Argentina. That might be my illusion but I’d like the paths to be heading towards the centre.


But breaking through the polarisation.

A Peronism of [previous Córdoba Province governor Juan] Schiaretti or [current Córdoba Province Governor Martín] Llaryora or [La Pampa Province Governor Sergio] Ziliotto, a younger, newer and more centrist Peronism. The Peronism of Florencio Randazzo – I think that would be very good for the country. That’s what happened to the Partido Popular centre-right and the PSOE socialists in Spain, they were devoured by  Podemos and Ciudadanos and VOX when they went extreme and lost their own identity. Here Kirchnerism broke up the old normalcy, finishing off the old Peronism in permanent dialogue with the Radicals – the photo of [1983-1989 Radical president Raúl] Alfonsín, the photos of [Juan Domingo] Perón and Evita, Alfonsín with [1989-1999 Peronist president Carlos] Menem. 


You speak of “political fragmentation”...

It was society which was fragmented.


That fragmentation includes the PRO of this City, the Kirchnerism of Buenos Aires Province, the modern anti-Kirchnerite Peronism as a Group A, along with the socialists, the Radicals plus the Coalición Cívica, the libertarians and the left… a multi-party system like in Germany.



The two coalitions both had their wings of hawks and doves. Both have split up with at the same time the libertarians – the right in a different manifestation – and the left.

An era is approaching similar to that description. I understand that faced with those leaderships which today carry this almost analogical concept whereby we describe ourselves with some ideological substance, something disruptive might appear and sweep away such analysis. But while I can envisage this situation, the caucus we have assembled in Congress was pure coincidence, to be quite sincere.


How do you imagine next year’s midterms? 

That depends a lot on what happens this year. 


So what do you think is going to happen this year? 

The prime factor depends on the government because politics moves with the government agenda. 


With only four months in office, the government is already showing its character. 

I see difficulties in the construction of a government. It should be worried because its territorial and legislative construction is tiny. There is also a conditioning factor in its assembly which I never experienced with Juntos por el Cambio, which is fear.


You mean? 

Between 2010 and 2015 I left Peronism due to my friction with Kirchnerite ways. 


In 2009. 

But I did not leave out of fear whereas today there is a climate of fear. The tyranny of fear makes for a pretty interesting book. 


There is no tyranny without fear.

No, there is no tyranny without fear but there is a lot of fear nowadays. The social networks have changed all that because they reach homes, children, families. 


You say that people are terrified of being socially ostracised. 

They play dirty. The platforms today are horrible, impossible to read. That derision and the threat thereof paralyses many political leaders and that will have consequences for what can be put together, consequences which are not good because they are inversely proportional to bringing in good people. Today I see the fear as being so strong that it has wiped out the leaders with identity.


There is a fear of expressing oneself.

This most recent period since the Berlin Wall came down has belonged to the centre-left, The left had more identity, defending many collective causes, which also has to do with the fragmentation of society but seeking to recognise rights which had to be won  – feminism, abortion, etc.. Today all this is being cancelled, to use the current sociological term. They do not address the messenger because the government does not discuss ideas or their foundations, today they eliminate the messenger. They do not enter into any discussion with [Radical Senator Martín] Lousteau as to whether the DNU mega-decree is constitutional or not, they have tried to destroy him. He had a lot of what it takes to defend that position the other day but mainly as a human being and a person. I believe that very many people had the same opinion as Lousteau. Milei has called those who approve of abortion “green headscarf killers.” He tore apart a female teacher the other day and I do not see any reaction. And I want to locate fear as a conditioning factor for the political scenario next year. For the first time I’m observing protagonists with a very important degree of amnesia with regards to their track records. 


Let’s see if this metaphor helps you. A doctor comes along and tells you: “You have cancer, we’re going to operate” with no guarantee that the operation will turn out well but it is the only alternative. They operate and then tell you: “The operation has not resolved all the problems, now you need radiation therapy” with no guarantee of success for any of these processes and each time your situation gets worse. So as you become progressively accustomed to an increasingly worse situation, do you start to lose your capacity of reaction? 

Yes, but I think there is a limit. Society does not die and I see something final in your description. Society is always going to have the alternative of a reaction, it’s not going to die. I believe that we are going to end up with a reaction.


But if the middle class dies, people do not die.

Exactly. I believe that there are limits and reactions. Nor do I see the government in the process you have just described. I’d love to have that point-by-point logic and go changing the treatment accordingly because perhaps if there were a treatment and an objective to move ahead, the people would endure it better. But I believe that this government is completely tactical and attached to effects, not strategic or efficient because to implement public policies you need to be strategic and efficient. 


As [your deputy Miguel Ángel] Pichetto said, you have to win the [Congress] votes.

I think that the fallacy lies there. You can be tactical and amputate but where you also have to be strategic and efficient is in the implementation. The efficiency goes hand-in-hand with the capacity of those carrying things out. And I see much of the communication as camouflage for their own impotence. 


So you think that it could be worse still.

I think that they are here to save part of society, not us. The “caste,” all that is great communication, but you have to look after the middle class and the class which has the least but obviously also efficiently. I believe that the state overspent. I'm a liberal by training, not a neo-liberal. I don’t think that the state is criminal, the state has to act. I’m not the liberal of the Berlín Wall, I’m a more centrist person.


Let me take advantage of your territorial knowledge. You have been a municipal councillor and mayor in Carlos Tejedor, and a minister in the Buenos Aires Province government. In fact in some interviews you have said that you’d like to be governor of that province some day. What do you find in your region compared with last November?

Just as much an administrative disaster as before. Efficiency has not been the best friend of the governors. I liked the way Felipe Solá governed a lot because he tended to have objectives. I see it as a status quo, increasingly so in recent times. I do not like the way Buenos Aires Province is. I’ve turned the page on my ideas of becoming governor, which are a remote prospect, but I’m there to help anybody seeking that objective to govern or to think through ideas for Buenos Aires Province. 

The Conurbano (Greater Buenos Aires) saddens me, especially with the way that the social mobility lift known as education has broken down. Today you see austerity driving a lot of the middle class in my province into the public schools or a collapsed system of public health. And that is a pity because I insist on meritocracy, of which I have always been a defender, also by virtue of my training. But I believe that maturity has everything to do with the centre because it’s all about understanding other people. The middle ground is complex so you have to understand other people, it’s as simple as that. That has been my transit route all my life. 

Today the starting-point of our family and our children is not the same as for a person who does not even have security at home. So it seems to me that the state is not criminal there, the state has to show up. The state has to help especially that middle class which today has no access to private education and health. What is being paid today for a school or healthcare is impossible for the middle class so that today the state has to be there.


Do you think that the middle class and even part of the lower class are going to put up with the reduction of their capacity to consume which they are suffering at the moment? 

Yes, if there is an objective. The patient of whom you were speaking will say ‘yes’ if you offer them life. I understand that there were abuses and the worst of it all is that everything the state spent in these last 20 years did not get us anywhere. What was given in those years was the chance to buy consumer goods like sneakers and that was like a narcotic to sustain us but we could never aspire to buying a house or flat or a mortgage for that purpose and we could never be given a genuine decent job. 

The number of [social] plans is evidently the refuge of the lousy public policies to create genuine jobs, the evidence that everything was done wrong. So now we have to recover those people from their precarious, informal work and restore them to formal employment. Not even that but return them to the work ethic which so many have lost. So the state has to be there. 

How are you going to handle all that with an absent state? As I see it, if we do not understand that situation, the government could be in for a complicated situation in its next few months.

Production: Melody Acosta Rizza & Sol Bacigalupo.

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Jorge Fontevecchia

Jorge Fontevecchia

Cofundador de Editorial Perfil - CEO de Perfil Network.


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