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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 26-10-2023 16:24

Intimate diary of a day of rage: how PRO was blown apart

The secrets of the fierce internal debate inside Patricia Bullrich’s apartment, position of the opposition governors and the fear from mayors. The arguments against and in favour of backing Milei from the 24 hours in which Juntos por el Cambio began to fracture.

– We have to support Milei, Kirchnerism in front of us. We cannot be functional to Massa.

–  I don't agree, we can't be glued to him with the things he said. We have to give freedom of action. We have to be coherent.

– But we have to keep our republican values and Massa is the worst, it’s Kirchnerism. We always denounce corruption.

– We have always worked for the unity of Juntos por el Cambio and with this we are going to break up. This is not the way...

The mid-morning dialogue in Patricia Bullrich's apartment still echoes across the walls. The flat was a hive of activity. The hostess and former president Mauricio Macri summoned Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, María Eugenia Vidal, Cristian Ritondo, Diego Santilli, Jorge Macri, Néstor Grindetti and Federico Pinedo to discuss whether PRO should support Javier Milei or not in the run-off. The discussion became increasingly heated. The former president and the former security minister had already agreed to support the libertarian.

Rodríguez Larreta and Vidal pointed out that it was not convenient to accompany La Libertad Avanza, as Elisa Carrió and the Cívica Coalición, and even the Unión Cívica Radical plus the mayors and governors of Juntos por el Cambio, had said in their vast majority.

Rodríguez Larreta said he had to be "coherent" – he believes that Milei's ideas are "impracticable" and that he was the victim of furious personal attacks during the campaign. For her part, Vidal has not spoken to Massa for five years and said she still believes that the libertarian's proposals are "a leap into the void.”

Bullrich's flat, half a block from the capital's Botanical Gardens, was witness to some of the toughest discussions. Communication in PRO had broken down: Macri and Bullrich arrived with the decision in-hand after the meeting that the former president generated on Tuesday night that included the libertarian’s presence.

Macri summoned Milei to meet with Bullrich. The libertarian and the president of the PRO had not seen each other's faces for some time and the former security minister was still very angry, 48 hours after the defeat, with La Libertad Avanza. The libertarian candidate was meeting with a group of close collaborators at the time and got up to leave without telling anyone where he was going. Even Guillermo Francos, his likely interior minister if elected, did not know where he was going. There was no explicit talk of Cabinet posts during the meeting, although Bullrich had already said that she did not want to hold any post in an eventual Milei government.

But back to the yellow party: by mid-morning Rodríguez Larreta and Vidal had reached an agreement. It was based on the fact that Bullrich would speak in personal terms and not of PRO as a party in an organic way. Pinedo did not open his mouth: he was a luxury spectator.

Buenos Aires City mayor-elect Jorge Macri, and Grindetti said that they would not make their position publicly known, for now. What's more, the latter passed a disturbing piece of information to the group: "Look how Kicillof is calling all the mayors, he has already been elected." In other words: the municipal bosses, above all, are thinking about their relationship with the province over the next four years if Massa wins. It is already a gamble for them to decide in favour of Milei today.

Ritondo and Santilli decided to accompany Macri and Bullrich. The former has a good relationship with Milei (he also has a good relationship with Massa) but he could be a key player for the libertarian in the lower house Chamber of Deputies should he win. For his part, ‘El Colorado’ is going to continue to play an anti-Kirchnerist role and, although Santilli has doubts about Milei, he believes that he has to go against Massa at this point. 

After the meeting in her flat, Bullrich went to her offices in Irigoyen Street where she met with Luis Petri to lead the press conference in which she announced their decision to support LLA.

Prior to the PRO summit, sometime close to 8am at the Recoleta Cultural Centre, Rodríguez Larreta was expressing his discomfort at the fact that Waldo Wolff, his public affairs secretary, had sat down the previous evening alongside Milei for an appearance on the LN+ news channel. They are old friends: in addition to having both been goalkeepers when playing football, they have never cut off personal dialogue, even though Wolff played hard for Rodríguez Larreta in the internal PRO contest prior to the primary.

"I will continue working for the unity of Juntos por el Cambio," Rodríguez Larreta told his cabinet. For his part, Jorge Macri expressed, in the same vein, that "there is no need to rush" and that he believes that the opposition has to be kept "united," especially so as not to leave the coalition’s elected provincial governors isolated.

Wolff defended himself with an argument that was shared by all: "There is no room for discussion in the PRO." At that moment, the only UCR politician in the City Hall Cabinet, Economic Development Secretary José Luis Giusti, took the floor: "At this moment each one of us cannot go out on our own, until December we are Horacio's officials." The civil servant Paula Uhalde also spoke, but few heard what she said.

Juntos por el Cambio’s governors do not want, under any circumstances, to give a presidential verdict. Already a communiqué from the UCR has stated that they will not support anyone, a move that encouraged governor-elect Alfredo Cornejo of Mendoza Province to declare his neutrality.

"It is ridiculous, if they play with Milei and Massa takes over, they will have a bad time. Or vice-versa," a source with close knowledge of talks between the governors-elect told Perfil.

In this context, they prefer not to take a position. They are the territorial leaders who have four years of governance ahead of them. Several of their provinces need national help to sustain their finances. And not a few know that Massa can be a very vindictive person.

Given all this, Bullrich told the chairs of the groupings that make up Juntos por el Cambio – Gerardo Morales of the UCR, Maximiliano Ferraro of the CC and Miguel Ángel Pichetto representing the non-Kirchnerite Peronists – that a meeting scheduled for Thursday was was "unnecessary" as each had stated their positions loudly.

Relations have been damaged. What's more: the original idea of many opposition leaders was that on Monday or Tuesday there would be a summit of the Juntos por el Cambio’s national leadership. The meeting was suspended and the unknown nature of the coalition’s future has spread to all its spaces. Nobody knows if there will be a future together.

Ezequiel Spillman

Ezequiel Spillman

Editor de Política de Diario Perfil. Mail: [email protected]

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