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ARGENTINA | 11-11-2023 04:23

Horacio Rodríguez Larreta: ‘I heard Patricia say Milei’s ideas are bad and dangerous – Mauricio is different’

Buenos Aires City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta on his PASO primary defeat, the future of Juntos por el Cambio, Macri and Bullrich’s decision to back Milei and what happens after December 10.

After suffering a heavy loss in the opposition coalition’s PASO primary, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta went into mourning, absorbing the emotional blow. 

Back in the political scenario, the outgoing Buenos Aires City mayor is engaged in a full process of reconstruction for Juntos por el Cambio after being knocked out of the run-off and sidelined by the heedless decision of PRO party heavyweights Mauricio Macri and Patricia Bullrich to back libertarian lawmaker Javier Milei.

Rodríguez Larreta, 58, has taken his time to reflect and attempted to understand how the forecasts anointing him as the next president passed so quickly to the bitter taste of a crushing defeat.

Now he is beginning to think of what his role might be after December 11.

 

What did it mean to pass from being the person everybody considered would be the surefire president of Argentina to losing the primaries?

It was a heavy blow. I had every illusion and expectation, preparing myself for many, many years. I have great experience of public life which I believe to be valuable and in recent years I was studying national issues intensely, crisscrossing the country at least three or four times, always anxious to learn. I had great conviction as to the path to carry Argentina forward via a broad agreement, as I always said during the campaign, on the basis of dialogue and consensus, ending the aggression, political insults and that mentality whereby anybody who does not think like me is an enemy. I believe that, independently of the electoral result, but I had plenty of illusions and it was a harsh and also surprising blow. Some might think that I already knew but no, not until 8pm that Sunday night when I was given the almost definite results, but until then I thought I’d won.

 

So on the eve of the voting, you thought you were winning. What was being indicated by the opinion polls and the information which you had?

Averaging out the eight or 10 opinion polls in the previous week, some of them ours and others not, pointed to a tie but I was moving up from behind so that the trend looked good. That final week was pretty turbulent with that little girl murdered in Lanús, somebody also died on Avenida 9 de Julio and then a doctor was killed in Greater Buenos Aires with crime very much occupying the public agenda in those days and campaign rallies suspended. So either the opinion polls were off-target or the scenario changed in that last week, one of the two things. And if it changed in that final week, the most striking facts were what I’ve just described, I don’t know what happened. It’s always difficult isolating variables, in an electoral context, saying what happened to make things change. I don’t know…

 

Are you a believer?

Yes.

 

Do you believe that some things are meant to be?

Yes, I believe that they serve for something, in that sense I’m always very optimistic and looking ahead and here I am, but you must also learn from situations. 

 

Converting liabilities into assets, somebody who has studied economics will know that both fit into the loss column of a financial statement, learning from what went wrong. What did you do wrong?

Firstly, the campaign was a maelstrom of wanting to cover the whole country. As mayor of this city, I could not go all week, only between Thursdays and Sundays, and running all over the place from La Rioja to Tucumán to San Luis in four days, you end up going nowhere. I was there but with my eye on my wristwatch so as not to miss my flight, that campaign maelstrom which sweeps you away. From one province or city to another. In the end you make no connection, that’s something to learn. To go to less places or less often but more in depth, listening more than talking ... 

Secondly, there was indeed a change of mood in people. In the 2021 midterms I went out with the same discourse of construction via agreement and we won and now with a similar discourse two years later we lost. There was a change of context, of popular demand. On my side I’m not going to change my convictions because the popular demand changes. If I believe that the path for taking Argentina forward is via a broad dialogue, I’m not going to change my convictions because people think otherwise. That in general terms but there is obviously such a thing as knowing how to tune into popular demand and I believe that we were very much stuck in our libretto of “This is what Argentina needs,” no matter what people think, no doubt about that ...

And thirdly, something which enlightened me considerably, I got to know a Frenchman who was helping our campaign and he explained how very difficult it is to be presidential frontrunner two years in advance. You run into two problems being so far ahead so early. Firstly, you become everybody else’s punching-bag in the campaign. [Javier] Milei kicked that off, punching and punching. We did not answer him, in reality we never climbed into the boxing-ring because we did not give him importance. He ran that extreme campaign for over a year, punching and punching and insulting me. He even said that he would like to run me over and kill me, any old nonsense. And afterwards in our primary, Patricia was not so far behind. And I always had this attitude of not answering back and in the end the bullets penetrated. First you are transformed into a punching-bag and secondly when you are so much on top so early, you turn conservative.

 

[Juan] Schiaretti got seven percent of the vote. If Juntos por el Cambio had made a deal with him, regardless of whether you or Patricia were the candidate, would they have reached the run-off?

That’s what the numbers say, over and above politics not being mathematics, but quite clearly it would have provided momentum. The truth is that he won a good number of votes and if you add it up, what you are saying is a statistical fact, not an opinion. But beyond all the mathematics, I always believed, both before and during the campaign, and continue to believe today in the need for a broader space.

 

Did it surprise you when [Sergio] Massa bounced back?

Yes, to be sincere, it did surprise me that, given the catastrophic economic situation being suffered by all Argentines, the economy minister could be electorally competitive.

 

Will you cast a blank ballot or vote affirmatively or what will you do?

I’m not going to vote for Massa, definitely not, and I don’t believe in Milei so I won’t vote for him either. The role of Juntos por el Cambio is to consolidate the biggest and most solid opposition possible in terms of legislative presence. Both the candidates now in Argentina are bad news. That reinforces our responsibility as opposition all the more and all we have to do is to try and keep the opposition as big as possible with the greatest number of deputies and senators in our caucuses to form an opposition to the winner. I insist, both are bad candidates for Argentina as we can see from the motives of each one. 

 

If we go back to the beginning of that 40 percent or so which Juntos por el Cambio won as from 2015, would you agree with the explanation of [former Cabinet chief] Marcos Peña in this series of interviews as to Cambiemos being an evolution of PRO towards a party more geared to the centre-right which, in order to be able to win a majority, needed to broaden towards the centre so as to make a reasonably consistent ethos with the Coalición Cívica and Radicals possible. And what we are seeing today from Macri, now without Marcos Peña or Jaime Durán Barba, is a reversion to the PRO prior to Cambiemos and Juntos por el Cambio?

So it would seem. What is more, if PRO, even in its origins, could arguably be said to represent the centre-right, today it is approaching and allying itself with an extreme rightist. Even at the start PRO had people coming from Peronism, Radicalism and the more liberal parties, a healthy diversity which one could catalogue as centre-right but never an extreme party. Today the positions being heard from Milei are the extreme of extremes, ratifying the market of [human] organs and the sanctification of dollarisation. Those are extreme positions never adopted by PRO, far more extreme than the genesis of PRO.

 

Do you talk with Marcos Peña?

Yes, I talk to Marcos Peña, I respect him greatly – he’s not only a very intelligent guy but very well-meaning, both things. 

 

Do you think that the fact that he is no longer at Macri’s side could somehow represent Macri’s return to his original essence?

I do not have the slightest doubt that Marcos exercised a positive influence. I do not know whether it is all over now that Marcos is not around nowadays but I greatly respect Marcos and have no doubts as to his very positive role with Mauricio.

 

Independently whether you share his position or consider it moral or not, why do you think Mauricio Macri pushed PRO even further right than it was originally, even before its need to move to the centre to form Cambiemos?

Firstly, I don’t share that position, let’s make that clear. 

 

I’m quite clear about that.

I feel very identified with the evolution of PRO to Juntos por el Cambio, which is what took Mauricio Macri to the Presidency, with which I not only agree ideologically but it is what also built power, that was quite clear. I’m somebody with a vocation for power because power is being able to do things. I’m not into being a testimonial party but that evolution took Mauricio Macri to the Presidency. I obviously believe in salvaging republican values but in a very diverse world where dogmatic positions have failed in one country after another so these far right positions which in some countries have won elections end up in failures. I don’t believe in that. As to why he’s doing this, the truth is that I don’t know. I would suggest that you talk to Mauricio. I don’t subscribe to extreme positions. 

 

You represent the most progressive wing of PRO and Mauricio Macri the most conservative. Why do you think he did not confront you in the PASO primaries instead of now making explicit what was already latent?

You’d have to ask him that. 

 

Could it be that he did not present himself because he thought he would lose with the number of negative votes from his presidency while via another person without that burden, like Patricia Bullrich, he might win?

I don’t know the real reasons for what he did or did not do but let me tell you that the differences with Patricia were more methodological than in the realm of ideas. I’ve heard Patricia say – and I quote–  “Milei’s ideas are bad and dangerous.” I haven’t heard her, at least, subscribing to his ideas. Mauricio is different, he said: “Yes, those are our ideas but …” So where the difference with Patricia does lie is in my vision that to take Argentina forward we need a broad agreement because the decisions to be taken are deep and difficult and must be sustained in time and that is only possible with a broader agreement. Hence [José Luis] Espert, Schiaretti, and my vocation for breadth. Patricia did not subscribe to that and there lay my main difference with her. Just like me, she thinks that Milei’s ideas are bad or at least that is what she has said. That is why I do not see a huge majority of PRO subscribing to Milei’s extreme right ideas. I can see some who might do that out of convenience or others backing Milei because they think he is the lesser evil, but I am not at all sure that there is a majority ideologically backing Milei.

 

Horacio Rodríguez Larreta.

 

Looking at what PRO is going to do as the future opposition, with what has now been made explicit and what is at stake, you are now telling me that you see Patricia with different ideas to Milei.

That’s what she said and I’m quoting her, Milei’s ideas are bad and dangerous. I agree with that. 

 

Did Macri use Patricia?

I don’t know if “used” is the right word. 

 

Took advantage of her?

More or less if she also lost.

 

But you were made to lose.

What seems weird to me, at least if that was the objective, is that the other loses too.

 

Don’t you think that the objective was that if you won and PRO passed to other leadership that he [Macri] would lose his central role within PRO?

But that way we all lost and without falling into arrogance, I would say that with these two alternatives, the Argentines lost too.

 

I’m talking about Mauricio, don’t you think that he believes he might win out via Milei?

If he believes that Argentina wins via Milei, that confirms... 

 

…that he is more interested in himself than in Argentina.

Worse still than that, I don’t know what he is imagining and not knowing is precisely a problem. I have no idea whether or not there is an agreement with Milei or what kind of agreement.

 

But didn’t you have your suspicions upon seeing that long before the elections, he was continually sending signals.

He was of course sending out positive signals to Milei from the start and that already shows different visions of the country we want.

 

Did it surprise you or cause any suspicions that Milei got after you more than anybody else, more than Cristina Fernández de Kirchner or Kirchnerism?

That comes from topping the opinion polls and being the man to beat.

 

Just that? Why didn’t he get after Patricia Bullrich, for example, as the other candidate?

As you were saying earlier, I was ahead in the opinion polls.

 

Why didn’t he get after her later when she was supposedly ahead in the opinion polls?

I don’t know. What I do know is that I did not respond at that time with the clarity with which I should have responded and that is one of the things I am now learning.

 

Let me now conjecture in my role as journalist, might not the basic question be that in 2021, after your candidates had triumphed in both the Province and City of Buenos Aires with the competitive incorporation of Radicalism with [Facundo) Manes and with Espert, not only in practical but also conceptual terms, the unresolved problem was the party leadership, for which it was essential to mark clearly your differences with Macri, which are now explicit but should have been made explicit previously with this dispute two years ago.

That might be, that’s one of the things I’m in the process of learning. I consciously took the decision, perhaps the wrong one in the light of the results, to let the election go by. I was, and still am, City Mayor, and, as you know, I always dedicate a great deal of energy to that, both now and during the presidential campaign which I also had to run. If on top of all that I had wished to exercise a leadership role not just within PRO but in the opposition, it would have become incompatible. You cannot do everything at once. I said that I would concentrate on the City, which is my responsibility, and my candidacy with a campaign growing over time. If, apart from that, I had occupied myself with heading the opposition, which presupposes coordinating positions in Congress and keeping it united, it seemed to me that I would neglect either the City or the campaign. Today, looking at it in the light of the results, it might have been an error, one of those errors which I am now revising. I should have sought to exercise a greater leadership role, not just in PRO but in the opposition.

 

That is what whoever heads PRO now will have to sort out… what is PRO?

And the other important thing is how to keep Juntos por el Cambio as united as possible. 

 

The questions which all Juntos por el Cambio partners will have to answer are who is to head PRO, what is to be done with PRO and, in essence, what is PRO? There’s going to be a percentage of people on one side and the other in PRO and they will have to sort out the leadership of PRO.

That can be be sorted out and I’m not saying what will happen, I’m hypothesising about an internal issue within PRO, where there are two wings, one representing this position of adhesion to Milei and his right-wing ideas and the other representing what I believe to be the historic essence of PRO and Juntos para el Cambio. That can be sorted out internally once the election is over.

 

Obviously you could not answer otherwise but there exist rumours to justify the question: Why didn’t Horacio Rodriguez Larreta definitely stand up to Macri two years ago?

I then put up the candidates whom I believed to be the best for the election and the results proved me right. Once the election was over, some told me that I should have slammed my fist on the table saying: “I’m the boss of the opposition” and shouted down Macri saying the same thing. I didn’t do that. I had my responsibilities in the City, to which I dedicate a great deal of time. That sometimes seems to be underestimated. The City is what it is because we dedicate a great deal of time to the job and I also had a presidential campaign ahead of me to which to dedicate myself so it seemed to me that leadership would go in detriment of one of those two things – big mistake. I was saying that you do not necessarily have to be the opposition leader to be a successful presidential candidate – there are many examples in politics both of arriving from the leadership of the opposition and in other cases not. I may have taken the wrong path.

 

There is a phrase of [former president Carlos] Menem to which I obviously do not subscribe and I’m sure you don’t either: “He lacks the dose of evil to be a successful politician.”

That may well be.

 

Do you ever ask yourself that?

It’s not so much a dose of evil as being able to think egotistically in some situations.

 

Can you imagine should Milei win and govern how PRO legislators should behave? I also ask you for both scenarios with one and the other winning.

I have no doubts as to our responsibility in either case, whoever wins, to be a constructive opposition backing anything which is done right. I remember we supported this Kirchnerite government’s agreement with the International Monetary Fund, an issue of enormous importance, we considered it something which needed doing and we backed it. That is being a constructive opposition, that is our responsibility even more now since, at least in my opinion, we are going to have a bad government for different reasons – either a government which gives continuity to this inflation we now have or an inexperienced government with whacky ideas. Either of the two is a leap in the dark. We have to be opposition, constructive but an opposition, also defending the position of our governors and the interests of the provinces we govern. That is why the governors had their double message, all united, a very good gesture and on the other hand saying that we are not the ones to tell the people for whom they should vote, which is the same as what I think.

 

What are you going to do on December 11?

As from December 11 I’m going to continue representing in public the ideas I transmitted in the campaign, which have not changed with the electoral result. I will work towards the greatest possible unity of a constructive opposition which makes proposals no matter who wins, updating our plan of government and giving foundation and depth to each one of the decisions of the government to come, which will mean in-depth study. I will continue covering the country to learn, also spending more time listening.

 

Concretely, will you be disputing the PRO leadership?

I feel you overvalue that because you have asked me so many times.

 

To resolve Juntos por el Cambio, you first of all have to resolve PRO so that Juntos por el Cambio can be strengthened by a stronger PRO.

I will work for such a resolution while trying to avoid it becoming a rupture. 


 

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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