Formosa has been occupying the centre stage of politics, with debate focusing on human rights issues and individual freedoms.
Senate Minority Leader Luis Naidenoff, a leading provincial Radical, describes the situation in his home province while making national projections. He says the silence of Máximo Kirchner, and the self-demotion of Alberto Fernández, concern him in particular.
Is the image we’re getting of Formosa from Buenos Aires real or anthropological? Is it a metropolitan outlook?
It’s not a metropolitan outlook, quite the contrary. What’s happening in Formosa has to do with the reality of many inland governments in Argentina, which are heavily authoritarian. The league of feudal governors has succeeded in imposing the extortionate idea of swapping governability for accompaniment, hand-in-hand with the surrender and loss of citizenry. Formosa is the model, a model of oppression, domination and patronage. That’s part of the 2021 agenda.
The pandemic in Formosa has exposed a kind of fracture within a process of institutional degradation, leaving in evidence the provincial government’s miserable treatment of its own citizens. The pandemic was a turning-point. That Black Friday on March 5, the day of repression, was a turning-point, showing that liberty can win over fear. It’s a symbol for the people of Formosa. Breaking the paradigm of suffocating state control with the eruption of youth, accompanied by their parents, was something absolutely new in Formosa politics, transmitting hope in an adverse context.
Formosa borders on Paraguay. Is there any historical relationship with Paraguayan politics with its dominance of the Colorado Party and presidencies like Alfredo Stroessner, re-elected continuously?
That’s possible. We cannot only analyse this phenomenon simplistically as co-optation by a state lacking alternatives in the private sector. The co-optation is cultural. State co-optation has been advancing alongside the professional and business sectors. The president of the Business Confederation [Ed.: Enrique Zanín] has for many years been the leading state contractor and supplier. There have also been advances on the trade unions. Formosa is the only province where a representative of the UPCN civil servants union both advises the government and defends the workers. It’s a well-oiled system of co-optation and also well-funded which makes for discipline. A successful model electorally and disastrous socially.
There are similarities between the authoritarian style of Gildo Insfrán and the Alfredo Stroessner culture. Stroessner triggered a process whereby the people expressed itself and produced the change. Insfrán’s biggest asset has been to change the ground rules, adapting them to fit his own circumstances with indefinite re-election via the ley de lemas [simultaneous primaries and election] – all with the protection and patronage of national politics.
There are no feudal systems in Argentina without the protection of a national government. We have seen over the years an enormous protection on the basis of the democratic and cultural degradation of the people. The press is censored and limited, the media depend on state advertising. There is no way out for students save to work for the state. The private sector has been practically wiped out. The indigenous peoples make demands for their dignity, marching on the Casa Rosada, knocking on doors and finding some accompaniment. We’re undergoing a process of democratic extortion.
This also happened to the Cambiemos government. When you’re a minority government, gaining parliamentary support for the approval of certain laws can only come from the consensus of a pseudo-federalism. It’s complex agreeing on predictable democratic rules which generate equal treatment. There is no such thing in basic republican principles. Governance via extortion was a tool polished by Insfrán and others of his type in Santiago del Estero, Tucumán or Santa Cruz. It’s not an isolated phenomenon. You have to view Formosa as a national phenomenon, as the shape of what is to come.
Nothing compares with the Insfrán style. It’s the province which exports the least, the province with the worst indicators for basic unsatisfied needs or child mortality. This process of cultural co-optation has to do with the distortion of the vision of the kind of country we need to build in Argentina. It’s a challenge looking towards the future. Formosa has a privileged geo-strategic location. We’re at the gates of Mercosur, but we need to change the state-dependent paradigm with patronage as its common denominator. There is no vision of the future which can work towards the idea of advancing towards a port for the Hidrovía Paraná-Paraguay waterway. Paraguay produces a surplus and Formosa cannot work on that.
In recent years Paraguay has developed enormously, at least in macroeconomic terms. Why has there not been a similar process in Formosa?
All the state’s resources have been directed towards generating dependence, not growth. There is no social progress in Formosa. That happens when you have expectations for the future. The expectations of our youth are entry into the security forces or moving south to look for work in the big cities. That’s the Insfrán model, which consists of state dependence, not only on the provincial state with precarious municipal or provincial contracts but also a heavy dependence on the national state.
Formosa is the provincia whose deputies voted most against the abortion law. Is it more conservative than the average Argentine province?
It was a vote strongly based on the faith of a people but with huge political hypocrisy on the part of the leadership. The indicators of my province mark an enormous inequality. Those women with the funds can be be attended by a health professional while the have-nots, the immense majority, are subject to clandestine abortions. If you do not prioritise public health, you fall into hypocrisy.
My vote was based on conviction. You need guts to govern. Argentina is not for the lukewarm. If you act with a marketing manual without taking into account basic questions with statesmanlike vision, the country is doomed to failure. We have a public health problem, that’s why I voted in favour of the voluntary interruption of pregnancy. And also to give women in the 21st century the autonomy to decide over their own bodies. You cannot speculate when it concerns broadening rights and far less in a province like Formosa with triple the teenage pregnancies compared to the rest of the country. You cannot look to one side or benefit only a few. You needed to bite the bullet and guarantee women access to health.
What was Macri’s relationship with Insfrán like between 2015 and 2019?
Cambiemos began a reconstruction of romantic federalism with very good results, celebrating fiscal agreements in consensus in meetings with the governors. In that romantic federalism Argentina advanced from 40 percent of automatic federal revenue-sharing transfers [to the provinces] to 49 percent. That was the great contribution of Cambiemos, thus gaining the comfort to guarantee governance. That’s the challenge of governing with guts in the face of extortion. When you’re a minority government, the votes of these lords, the Insfráns, the Manzurs [of Tucumán] or the Zamoras [of Santiago del Estero] or those who govern La Rioja or Santa Cruz are necessary to guarantee the [approval of] laws. That was via the Interior Ministry under Rogelio Frigerio which resulted in the minority government being accompanied in certain laws, Frigerio handled the political relationship. That’s why I spoke of your feet being planted firmly on the ground when you govern a country. You cannot govern Argentina going halfway.
Earlier this month Guillermo Moreno said that Gildo Insfrán was Argentina’s best governor, province by province, and he has been compared with Germany’s Angela Merkel for durability. Is it possible that Insfrán represents the Peronism of another era? Are Moreno and Insfrán the models of a backward Peronism?
It would not bother me if Insfrán represented the Peronism of another era. The Peronism of another era can feel very comfortable with a market in which the citizens are clients and not citizens – all with a repressive system based on extorting the citizenry to guarantee electoral results. The Peronists who worry me are the ones who call themselves ‘Renewal.’ I’m worried about La Cámpora as a new expression within the framework of Frente de Todos. Their banner is the defence of human rights but they kept quiet.
One might think that Máximo Kirchner disembarking in Buenos Aires Province to chair the PJ Peronism there, thus relegating the Greater Buenos Aires barons could be a qualitative leap but they rubberstamp the practices of Insfrán via the Interior Minister [Eduardo] ‘Wado’ de Pedro, who is their key figure. The outlook for the future of Peronism is not renewal. Moreno might be nostalgic for the Peronism of 1945 but I’m more worried about La Cámpora whose silence is complicity with the violation of human rights in Formosa.
Is there a parallelism between Insfrán’s style and the poorest districts of Greater Buenos Aires?
Not just the poorest. This is a conservative populist model but any system of perpetual re-election ends up undermining democracy. There are some Insfráns with better manners. That’s why I speak of the necessity of an integral political reform to guarantee this republican principle of term limits. As a Radical I cannot question the perpetuity of governments when that also prevails in areas governed partially by Radicals. We must go to the bone.
Is there a relationship between dependence or patronage and poverty?
Yes, directly so. Let’s talk about La Matanza. Last year in the depths of the crisis they obscenely displayed their fixed-term deposits with the levels of poverty and civic degradation there. Formosa also has a surplus, and also has funds. It’s not a problem of funds but directing them beyond creating jobs. We must change the cultural and institutional paradigm. The institutional strength of a country is its spine for making it predictable and generating confidence.
You have said: “What’s going on in Formosa cannot be analysed without considering the context. Insfrán has his merits while the opposition carry their share of the responsibility for not knowing how to construct an alternative.” How responsible are you for not being able to create an alternative?
Very much so. How good that you remember that quote. The first thing is self-criticism. The opposition do have a responsibility for not constructing an alternative which caught on socially. It’s not about names. I was the candidate in 2017 and in 2011. In the last election our candidate was the dissident Peronist Adrián Bogado. We have also ran with Father Francisco Nazar, a historic defender of the indigenous communities in the extreme West of the province. But that extra touch was missing, that spirit of healthy rebellion which is now appearing. The youngsters convoked their parents to march and to clamour for liberty, for free circulation, for the right to education. They have lost their fear of those who govern us. The first challenge for the people of Fomosa is to win the battle against fear but they also have to overcome resignation and the idea that nothing can change. I’d like to see Insfrán competing without the ley de lemas to give him votes from the mayoral lists. Things would be different then. You’d have to see if he dares. Behind this omnipotent man there are acts of political cowardice. Let’s see if they dare drop the ley de lemas.
San Isidro Mayor Gustavo Posse, who is seeking to chair the Radical party in Buenos Aires Province, said that during Macri’s government the Radicals were “servile.” How did the Radicals behave within Cambiemos?
The Radicals made an enormous contribution in Gualeguaychú [to the coalition’s creation]. Society was requiring us to regain alternation and put a halt to populism. With Gerardo Morales and other national leaders we considered that the idea of an agreement had to be applied to a much broader coalition where Margarita Stolbizer, socialist sectors and dissident Peronists like Sergio Massa could all participate. At that time this idea did not prosper and we ended up in a more limited coalition with PRO and the Civic Coalition.
I do not share what Posse said. The Radicals made things more predictable and generated alternation. But you have to say things as they are. We were a coalition which functioned very well in the parliamentary sphere, building up confidence through the proximity of the legislators of both forces over several years. But there was no common programme nor the affection generating the force to enable us to work shoulder to shoulder. There lies the big difference. The Radicals acted responsibly and organically, heeding the decisions of the convention. I took the decision of the convention in my stride and we moved ahead. But we were lacking the well-oiled mechanisms to generate a programme and a bigger role for Radicalism.
But I will not hold PRO responsible for Radical errors. It’s preferable to discuss that between ourselves. We need to be responsible there too.
Did you talk to Mauricio Macri during the Formosa crisis?
No, I talked to Patricia Bullrich, who accompanied us. I have a well-oiled dialogue in the parliamentary sphere with [previous PRO chairman] Humberto Schiavoni. But I did not talk to Mauricio.
What should Macri’s role be in the future of the alliance?
He’s an ex-president. There is a sector of society which identifies with him, with his personality, with the decisions he pushed forward, with his courage in some aspects. As an ex-president he should have the intelligence to accompany and articulate a force with the capacity to govern again. Greatness should also mean having sufficient vision to know what the state of play is and what one can contribute towards a collective construction.
What is the role of the Radicals in the growth of Juntos por el Cambio?
A central one for Argentina. Radicalism is the only force which has coherence and ideological identity within the framework of the coalition. It depends on Radicalism to construct with futuristic vision a programme with the capacity to reach the disenchanted. The dilemma lies between remaining stuck in the manual of polarisation for and against Kirchnerism or having the capacity to make a qualitative leap proposing a model of progress, of social inclusion and of approaching sectors in the middle ground, a model where the young feel represented. That’s the challenge, which goes beyond the party infighting which is so far from the reality of most people. We Radicals have to focus our energies on the construction of a vision to govern with courage and that implies the capacity to confront.