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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 22-06-2023 16:21

Chaos in Jujuy just a taste of what’s to come

Protests and clashes with security forces in Jujuy are a snapshot from a film being projected in anticipation of Argentina’s next government.

The recent episodes of violence in Argentina’s northern province of Jujuy date back to December 2017, when Mauricio Macri's government moved forward with its fake pension reform project (it was just a change in the formula for updating pensions). It went down in history with the unprovable record of the "14 tons of stones" hurled against the National Congress building.

Macri had been legitimised two months earlier at the ballot box and seemed to have consolidated his long-term project. The pension reform initiative was being debated in the Chamber of Deputies while a crowd demonstrated outside the legislature. It soon led to an attempted assault on the building and a disproportionate response by the City police. The lower house almost reproduced that scenario within the chamber, with lawmakers at one point on the verge of physically attacking each other. Chaos.

Gerardo Morales has just won in Jujuy. His candidate, provincial Finance Minister Carlos Sadir, won almost 50 percent of the vote in May's gubernatorial election. He more than doubled the votes achieved by Frente de Todos, the main opposition in a province where the non-Kirchnerist left has been steadily growing for years. Like Macri in 2017, Morales had been politically strengthened and he moved forward with his reform agenda, which included a reform of the provincial constitution, before the handover of power, scheduled for December. The heart of the reform aims to regulate social protest and control over the lands of native communities rich in natural resources (namely the lithium business). The first wave of protests last Sunday was accompanied by repression and prompted the governor to promise to revise two articles of the bill. 

Morales is campaigning, it is not yet clear what for. With days to go before the closing of the lists for the PASO, the governor remained the best candidate that Radicalism had to dispute the internal Juntos por el Cambio primary for the presidential nomination but it is a rickety offer, a characterisation that includes him. For days now, his name has been mentioned as a potential candidate to join Horacio Rodríguez Larreta’s ticket that will face Patricia Bullrich. It seems to be his ceiling.

The escalation that Morales has imposed via his reform agenda is linked to this power struggle. A hawk assimilated to pigeons in the ornithological jargon of Juntos por el Cambio, the governor keeps showing signs of his will to regain control of the streets and the protests. The response so far has been... a spiralling of protests. There were arrests at the weekend march, including journalists, and further clashes at the provincial legislature. The opposition has organised itself logistically and discursively around this debate. Chaos.

The situation in Jujuy alters Rodríguez Larreta's plans on the threshold of the confirmation of tickets. The Buenos Aires City mayor’s way out, however, was to move forward. He took to social networks on Monday to support Morales and his decision to "bring order and apply the law" in Jujuy. He did it again a day later, blaming Kirchnerism for the incidents around the Legislature.

Rodríguez Larreta seems to have understood that the episodes in Jujuy are an opportunity to show a tough profile in the face of unrest. It’s a way of disputing the electorate likely to vote for Bullrich, who has become the champion of the narrative of order. A position she only disputes with the unclassifiable Javier Milei.

Will is an essential attribute of a political leader and it is nourished by votes. There is an undeniable shift of audiences – according to political scientist Bernard Manin's categorisation – to the right of the political spectrum; the polls and the silent majority say so. The political offer is responding to that demand.

What is happening in Jujuy is a snapshot of a film that is being projected in anticipation of the next government. The coming agenda will impose severe austerity on public accounts and a plan to stabilise the economy whose weight will fall on the shoulders of the whole of society, including the middle classes that feed these narratives. 

For whoever gets into government – hawk, dove or whatever bird – the reform agenda will have a reactive response. What we see in Jujuy shows that nothing ahead of us will be easy.

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Walter Curia

Walter Curia

Director de Perfil


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