Wednesday, August 17, 2022
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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 08-07-2022 09:38

Last supper with Guzmán

Guzmán backed the laws which increased taxes but not those increasing spending … to reduce or not to reduce the deficit is the question separating the vice-president and the ex-minister.

While the ex-guerrilla Gustavo Petro, soon to be Colombia’s first leftist president, was picking a Columbia University economist and disciple of Joseph Stiglitz – José Antonio Ocampo – as his economy minister, Martín Guzmán, a man with similar credentials and economic perspective, was being dumped in Argentina.

This third wave of the Latin American left, as incarnated by Gabriel Boric in Chile and Petro in Colombia, flags a social democratic moderation which Buenos Aires Province Development Minister Andrés Larroque consigned to the past a few hours before Guzmán’s resignation. “The moderate phase is exhausted, Guzmán’s cycle is over, it remains to be seen what he opts to do in all conscience and what the president defines, but we will not have long to wait,” said the La Cámpora secretary-general.

And while Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was onstage at her Ensenada rally, saying: “[Carlos] Melconian thinks more like Guzmán” about the fiscal deficit, Guzmán was resigning with a timing that was symbolically defying the vice-president. It was something which he could not have been premeditating for more than a few hours because only the previous day the 39-year-old had announced a trip to Europe to renegotiate the Paris Club debt without thinking of resigning. 

Guzmán’s letter of resignation again defied Fernández de Kirchner by marking out his vision – and not the vice-president’s – as the correct one for Argentina. He concluded his farewell by saying: “With profound conviction and confidence in my vision as to the path Argentina must follow, I will continue working towards a fairer, freer and more sovereign fatherland.” Guzmán thus serves notice that his public saga does not end here.

As the media began to spread the news of the resignation, changing the focus of interest from Cristina’s speech in Ensenada, from her rostrum the vice-president kept bashing President Alberto Fernández, who the previous day, at a rally of the CGT umbrella labour grouping, had said that power did not lie in the pen to sign decrees but in the ability to convince.

Fernández de Kirchner appealed to the Perón Manual of political leadership, reading out page 73, where the leader wrote: “I did not persuade with words because words have scant persuasive power. I persuaded people with deeds and examples.” The vice-president continued: “Perón never laid aside his pen, signing the statute for farm hands, the midyear and Christmas bonuses, paid vacations and the Constitution of 1948.”

If Cristina herself had that insistently mentioned pen today, would she have done different things with the economy? That is what I asked Martín Guzmán 10 days ago at a private dinner we shared with Editorial Perfil CEO Gustavo González.

Will she print more money with more fiscal deficit to create a complementary universal wage, as she mentioned in her speech last weekend? Martín Guzmán would be opposed to that since he was aspiring to reduce the fiscal deficit, not the opposite.

It is no coincidence that bills like extending pensions to 800,000 people paying no contributions and tax relief for four million self-employed should originate and be approved in the Senate.

Guzmán backed the laws which increased taxes but not those increasing spending. Nor was it a coincidence that Cristina should mention Guzmán in her speech as having a similar vision of the fiscal deficit to Melconian (with whom she met, by the way). On the contrary, she urged detaching the deficit from inflation: “I do not believe the fiscal deficit to be the cause of Argentina’s disproportionate structural inflation which is unique in the world.”

To reduce or not to reduce the deficit is the question separating the vice-president and the ex-minister. Whoever heads the Economy Ministry (for now Silvina Batakis) will have a herculean task since the now definitely empowered leader of the ruling coalition is demanding more deficit, while the agreement with the International Monetary Fund calls for it to be reduced.

At that dinner 10 days ago with Guzmán it became clear to Gustavo González and myself that firstly, that the ex-minister would not let each new dart of Kirchnerismo be fired without response and secondly, that he has political vocation. At the age of only 39 he wants to continue in the public sphere (“being Economy minister is politics”). As he also says in another way in his farewell letter, they did not come looking for him but he worked towards being chosen economy minister.

That the media close to Kirchnerismo dedicated the first hours after Guzmán’s resignation to reviling him, saying that resigning while the vice-president was talking was childish, shows how much they are confronted with him.

It is a merit of Guzmán to be criticised with equal intensity by Kirchnerismo and the opposition.

Jorge Fontevecchia

Jorge Fontevecchia

Cofundador de Editorial Perfil - CEO de Perfil Network.

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