This year began by looking ahead to two main dates as the key to 2019 – the general election on October 27, followed by a possible change of government on December 10 – but two other dates ended up deciding events, May 18 and August 11. On the former, the new Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner turned the election campaign on its head by nominating Alberto Fernández as her presidential candidate in defiance of the invariable sequence of the top half of the ticket defining the bottom, thus confronting then-president Mauricio Macri with the double whammy of a reunited opposition and a faltering economy. Evidently too much as the 16-point PASO primary landslide of Fernández-Fernández showed on August 11, also vastly compounding economic crisis as markets panicked at the prospect of a populist comeback – a result which flattered to deceive since that margin was halved on October 27.
Even if the period between the kickoff Neuquén provincial election and this month’s inauguration occupied 275 of the 365 days, 2019 was not limited to one long electoral process or a steady stream of negative data in an economy shrinking by an estimated three-plus percent. Corruption trials with Kirchnerite graft very much to the fore were a constant backdrop all year – it remains to be seen if they will also be the shape of things to come. Just as in any year, mortality claimed its quota of famous names ranging from ex-president Fernando de la Rúa (81), business tycoon Franco Macri (88), yesteryear sex symbol Isabel Sarli (89) and forensic icon Osvaldo Raffo (84) to footballer Emiliano Sala (28) although not even Radical deputy Héctor Olivares being shot dead outside Congress can compete with the strange death of starlet Natacha Jaitt (41), drawing infinitely more online traffic than any of the above in this medium at least – perhaps a sign of the times.
Yet we felt one other death most deeply – plenty more to be said about 2019 (and plenty more to be found in the rest of this newspaper) but we would like to dedicate this year to the memory of the late great Andrew Graham-Yooll.
The professional optical term for normal or perfect eyesight is “20/20 vision” yet the year 2020 lying ahead of us is anything but normal, perfect, visionary or clear. Not in this country, let alone elsewhere (with Brexit and a US presidential election among moments awaiting us next year). To fore- cast this year would be like writing in the sand of holiday beaches, starting with that summer vacation period – it could be the traditional (although increasingly less frequent) seasonal lull, it could be the “100 days of Alberto Fernández” as the new government takes strong action to jerk the economy into a revival which might or might not prove sustainable or Argentina could be plunged into deepened crisis early on, perhaps with a default in Buenos Aires Province three weeks from now.
If the first year of the Mauricio Macri administration at least offered a clearly defined option for gradualism, no such certainty exists now (not even entirely ruling out a new form of gradualism). Much will depend on whether the measures to jumpstart the economy will prove reflationary or inflationary with fiscal and monetary policies as important as the economic – the impact of higher taxation and lower interest rates. The debt negotiations could be even more momentous but also almost irrelevant in terms of this year – it took the Néstor Kirchner administration almost two years to define its debt-bond swap out of default and the International Monetary Fund another five months to consider it, whereas this government is proposing neither default nor haircut. But the economy is not everything – if impunity from corruption were as automatic a consequence of electoral success as some in this government might like to think, a Macri presidency trapped by stagflation would never have polled anywhere near 40 percent.
It’s impossible to look ahead to this new year with 20/20 vision it seems – which does not mean that some statesman-like (and global) vision would be out of place amid the ultra-pragmatic approach of this brand-new presidency.