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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 03-06-2022 10:50

Of white collar criminals and pissing off Peronists: the Macri card

Once again we are witnessing the presidential campaign strategies in full swing.

Few things can stir the ire of President Alberto Fernández like being criticised by his predecessor, Mauricio Macri. It’s one of the few things he still has in common with Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, formally his second-in-command and also the single most important reason why Alberto ever made it to the Casa Rosada. Despite a near complete break in their political relationship — they apparently haven’t spoken to each other in several months, with the exception of a congratulatory message on the occasion of the birth of Fráncisco, the President’s newborn son with First Lady Fabiola Yáñez on encrypted text-messaging platform Telegram — Macri’s different comments considering Alberto a nincompoop and asking Cristina to “take charge” of the mess she’d created with this coalition pushed the President into overdrive, as he asked the Judiciary to investigate those “white collar criminals” (“ladrones de guante blanco”) for “indebting the country.”

It isn’t common to see the president raise his voice in anger. He was anointed presidential candidate by Fernández de Kirchner for his moderation and capacity to build bridges with her eternal enemies, the Claríns of the world, and has stoically resisted the Kirchnerite onslaught against his person and his most trusted ministers, including the forcefully resigned Juan Pablo Biondi — in charge of presidential communications and publicly accused by Cristina of putting together media operations against her — and Economy Minister Martín Guzmán. Yet everyone has a limit, and for a good Peronist, that limit is Macri.

“I’m waiting for a judge to call those white collar criminals and ask them to give explanations regarding the debts they took on Argentina’s behalf,” Alberto yelled at a public works project he was unveiling, flanked by Lower House Speaker Sergio Massa and Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof in a rare showing of unity. “To explain the wind farms, the swindling of the post, the tollbooths. I’m waiting for the Judiciary to dignify itself and call on the powerful to account [for their crimes].” 

The president was referring to a series of corruption cases against Macri and several of his officials, including an investigation into the record US$44.5-billion bailout agreed with the International Monetary Fund. His calls for the Judiciary to investigate his rival sound metaphorically louder than his supposed attempts to deactivate corruption cases against Cristina, who is still at risk of being found guilty and sentenced to prison time that ultimately could only affect daughter Florencia, as both her and son Máximo have immunity given their official positions. 

The metaphorical volume is raised further when compared to Alberto’s minimal responses to the jabs thrown his way from the whole of the Kirchnerist field, from Máximo to Andres ‘the Crow’ Larroque, all the way down to corrupt former vice-president Amado Boudou, somehow recycled into a political leader once again. It was also interesting for Alberto Fernández – the president who was a major lobbyist for the most powerful companies in the country – put himself opposite “the powerful.” Once again, Peronism.

Macri appears to be changing his political strategy in a pragmatic manner. From his early days as mayor of Buenos Aires City, the former president of popular football club Boca Juniors has antagonised the Kirchenrs, first Néstor, then Cristina. This is part of a mutual strategy of polarisation that has served both sides. It was planned in part by Ecuadorean political advisor Jaime Durán Barba, who still works with the opposition coalition, Juntos por el Cambio, but is less influential under the supposed leadership of the current mayor, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta. 

Until very recently Macri had inflated the image of his former security minister, Patricia Bullrich, currently in charge of the PRO party presidency, at the expense of his once-protégé Rodríguez Larreta. She led the “hawks,” who pushed for a tough stance against the government, positioning themselves to the “right” of Rodríguez Larreta and the moderates who believe a broader socio-political mandate is needed to push reform, including some 70 percent of that group. He played with the idea of becoming a candidate, knowing opinion polls suggest he could snatch the nomination from Rodríguez Larreta’s — and other contenders’ — hands, but also accepting that a victory in the general election was nearly impossible given high levels of popular rejection. Just like Cristina, who in 2019 was astute enough to take the passenger seat on the ticket.

Now, former president Macri is saying he “hasn’t signed up” for a candidacy and that he’s “committed” because he loves the country. He appears to have inked an armistice with Rodríguez Larreta — the mayor had already won the arm wrestle regarding candidacies in the 2021 midterm elections — and is doing what he does best: pissing off the Peronists. While there can be no doubts that there’s a major conflict between Alberto and Cristina, Macri managed to put his finger in the wound and wiggle it around. Speaking of a supposed conversation with then-president Cristina when he was still mayor, Macri said: “I’ve never heard anyone speak so badly of Alberto Fernández as she did,” adding, “foul things she said of him, given her perception that he had betrayed her and Néstor.” He then brought the criticism to today: “She invented this government, put this president who has no relevance in Argentina, a secondary character without leadership. She needs to own what she’s done.”

At a time when the schism within the ruling coalition is part of a Kirchnerite strategy to “detach” from the “failures of Alberto,” Macri is trying to sew them back together. It appears part of this idea Rodríguez Larreta is working on, about creating a socio-political super majority that involves everyone except the Kirchnerites, and Alberto whose image has crashed and burnt. It isn’t clear whether involving Macri is a good move from a tactical perspective, but it’s also not clear whether he can be excluded from the space he essentially founded and led. Macri does bring to the table the support of certain groups and an affinity with the likes of libertarian economist Javier Millei, who could “steal votes” from the rightist extremes. Thus, Macri’s role would act as the opposite to Alberto’s in the coalition, bringing in “the crazies” rather than “the moderates.” It’s also a gamble in that Macri’s presence will foster the unity of the Peronists.

It’s still early to tell if it’ll work, but once again we are witnessing the presidential campaign strategies in full swing. It would be great if they focused the same amount of energy on fixing Argentina’s day to day problems, but that’s too much to ask of them.

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Agustino Fontevecchia

Agustino Fontevecchia

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