Ogden Nash was not thinking of Peronism when he remarked that “Big fish eat little fish. They swim around and bite’m. Little fish eat littler fish, And so on, ad infinitum,” but he must have had in mind something like that voracious monster which, over the years, fattened itself by devouring progressives, reactionaries, fiery leftists and stern neoliberals until it had much of the country churning around in its capacious belly.
Has Peronism just swallowed Mauricio Macri’s political organisation, Pro, plus a juicy chunk of the Radical Civic Union? By getting Miguel Angel Pichetto to be his running-mate and agreeing to give the currently ruling coalition a new name – it will be called “Let’s change together” or something catchy like that -, the president has in effect announced that, should he survive the forthcoming elections, his government will have card-carrying Peronists heading key ministries.
Had something like this happened four years ago, Macri’s keenest supporters would have protested bitterly against his having anything to do with Pichetto, a party loyalist who had backed Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s administration to the hilt. As far as they were concerned, the reasons for the country’s wretched performance since the Second World War could be summed up in one word; Peronism. In their view, Macri was an antidote to a disease that had kept the country in the emergency ward for as long as all but a handful of near centenarians could remember.
But times have changed. Macri and the people surrounding him have learned that, to ram through the drastic and, for many, unpleasant changes Argentina must undergo for her to get out of the mess she has been wallowing in for at least three-quarters of a century, her government will need far wider backing than they are able to provide. And Pichetto, along with such Peronist provincial governors as Córdoba’s Juan Schiaretti, knows that were the Kirchnerites to return to power, the economy would in all probability collapse even if they promised to do everything “the markets” wanted. It would also be quite extraordinarily corrupt, a failing which would make foreign investors keep their distance for fear of getting into trouble back home.
To justify his decision to join forces with Macri, Pichetto insists that on this occasion the electorate faces a stark choice between democracy and authoritarianism. People close to Macri think much the same when they say it is between common decency and corruption plus an anarchic disregard for whatever rules democratic governments are supposed to respect. They all have good reason to fear that yet another Kirchnerite government would be even worse than the last one.
Are they exaggerating? Allegedly “moderate” politicians like Roberto Lavagna, Sergio Massa and even Juan Manuel Urtubey think they are, hence their willingness to give Cristina a hand by taking votes from Macri and Pichetto. Their objective is to win enough of them to continue to play a major role in politics, but unless they astonish everyone by actually coming out on top, thanks to their endeavours the Kirchnerites could soon be back in their old haunts.
As Alberto Fernández and Eugenio Raúl Zaffaroni have let it be known, a Kirchnerite government would quickly put a stop to all that judicial probing into what its leader and her cronies did before December 2015 when she or her late husband were in the Pink House; the evidence that has been accumulated so far by jurists out to nail them could hardly be more damning but from their viewpoint that is just a minor detail. It would also be likely to give free rein to bands of club-wielding “activists” and trade union heavies like the lorry-drivers’ Hugo Moyano and his son who would be more than willing to silence their critics in the media by any means they thought necessary, in addition to making life impossible for businessmen who refused to let them share any profits that came their way.
Pichetto hopes that many Peronist leaders, who in previous weeks had shown an increasing interest in Cristina’s Fernández-Fernández ticket because she had plenty of votes in the bag and they wanted to get their fingers on some of them, will start asking themselves if it is really in their interest to associate themselves with people who, if elected, could put Argentina back on the road to failed statehood that Venezuela is rushing along under the leadership of Cristina’s friend Nicolás Maduro. Something like that could well happen. Without money to throw at problems, a Kirchnerite regime would claim, as it did when fighting against the “vulture funds”, that the country is a victim of a remorseless imperialist onslaught, but massive street protests and impassioned harangues would not help it stop the economy from crumbling away as it already has in Venezuela.
For political operators who assume that the only thing that matters is their own immediate future, speculating about what might happen three or four months from now may seem a waste of time, but others could be willing to think in strategic rather than tactical terms. Should they reach the conclusion that, by and large, the country envisaged by Macri and Pichetto in which politicians must play by the rules would be better than one under the thumb of a lady whose priority these days is keeping herself and her children out of jail and cares little how she goes about it, they could turn against her.
The upcoming elections do not offer a choice
between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Argentina’s
future is at stake. It is not just a question of whether
or not to continue much as before or to make a genuine effort to remove the many barriers to growth
that have been built by corporatist interest groups
opposed to meaningful change and which, so far, have
foiled all attempt to dismantle them. It is, rather,
whether or not to resist the temptation to say
to hell with it all and go on a wrecking
spree in order to give vent to the frustration that, for understandable reasons, so many people feel while
refusing to think about what almost certainly would come next.