A series of statements by a veteran business leader this
week epitomise the drama facing many Argentines
this year. His name is Héctor Méndez. He owns a
plastic containers business and he has been the president of the Argentine Industrial Union (UIA) three times over
the last few years.
“The [Mauricio] Macri government has
been a total failure,” Méndez said in a radio
interview this week. “The manufacturing
sector was better off with the previous government.” He continued, “I regret having voted
for him. In a way I was an accomplice to his
victory. Now I look at the state of the country
and I get depressed: we are an economic and
political disaster, it’s as if we had no future.”
But hang on, there’s a punchline coming
that defies logic. Asked who he would vote
for in the (likely?) event of a second round
run-off vote between President Mauricio
Macri and former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner,
he did not hesitate. “I would vote for Macri,” he declared.
Roughly half of Argentine voters, according to most of the
polls that are circulating in public and in private, feel like Méndez. Placed at a crossroads, having to choose between Macri
and CFK in a November second round ballot, they would reluctantly pick one. But mostly, they are hoping that day never comes.
Sergio Massa knows that too. That is why he threw a perfectly
orchestrated rally on Tuesday, April 2, presenting his “10 commitments for Argentina” in an hour-long speech at the premises of the Argentine Rural Society (RSA) in Palermo. It was a
decalogue that mimicked a governing platform for a presidential candidate.
At this early stage in the race, Massa is on a shortlist of five
people who are likely to be the next president of
Argentina, competing with former economy minister Roberto Lavagna and Juan Manuel Urtubey, the governor of Salta, to make it to the
“My place will be defined by votes,” said
Massa in Palermo, subtly attempting to
put pressure on Lavagna to agree to a
primary, in order to settle who will
be the main ‘anti-polarisation’ contender. However, the veteran economist and politician wants nothing
to do with that idea. He wasted no
time in responding:
“Massa and I are on different political tracks. He is running
for a party candidacy; I am looking for the consensus to govern
If logic prevails – which is not always the case in Argentine
politics, lest we forget – Lavagna, Massa and Urtubey should
reach an agreement to fill the empty space in
an efficient manner. If they do, one of them
might win the next election. If they don’t, they
run the risk of none of them qualifying for the
second round and missing out on a seemingly
unique political opportunity.
And yet still, these still potential candidates
believe they have a wild card up their sleeve.
What if, people in their ranks repeat, Fernández de Kirchner decides not to toss her hat
into the race? This is the biggest outstanding
riddle in the current political scenario, one that
has Peronists of all factions scratching their
heads. Only CFK knows. Does she?
According to people in her entourage, the former president
is deeply moved by the health and condition of her daughter,
Florencia, who is suffering from post-traumatic stress and
receiving medical treatment in Cuba. The 28-year-old is, like
her mother and her elder brother Máximo, facing court investigations on alleged money-laundering charges – yet she is the
only one among them who does not enjoy immunity from jail
as a sitting member of Congress (Cristina is a senator and
Máximo a deputy).
The only thing that will make Cristina Fernández de Kirchner
change an otherwise sure and set political course toward her
third presidential candidacy is a deterioration of her daughter’s
situation, either in medical or legal terms. Florencia is in trouble:
if she stays in Cuba, she would be declared in contempt of court;
if she comes back, she faces a potential prison sentence. Her
mother is aware of the trap the family faces.
Peronist bigwigs, meanwhile, are not indifferent to the former
president’s apparent hesitation. One of the rising stars in the
Peronist world, San Juan Governor Sergio Uñac, said after
winning his province’s primaries by a landslide last Sunday
that “the Macri government wants Cristina to run; it would
be silly to do them the favour.” The governor of Chaco, Domingo Peppo, said that if the ex-president ran, he would
support her, but he added notably that “the Peronist unity
process would be easier if she didn’t run.” They both are
openly supporting Lavagna.
Even Cristina’s staunchest supporters are growing
anxious about her dragging her feet about her candidacy.
The clock is ticking toward June 22, the deadline for registering
candidacies. The ball is entirely in her court, and she might
have to swing it back soon.