In this bizarre nation that likes to borrow pages from Gabriel García Márquez and Jorge Luis Borges books and turn them into real life, it has now become cool to be a Peronist. In the upcoming presidential election, both of the major tickets have decided to appeal to the historical concepts of General Juan Domingo Perón to seduce the electorate, while Roberto Lavagna’s Consenso 2030 offering counts on the governor of Salta Province, Juan Manuel Urtubey, a Peronist, as its vice-presidential candidate. Even the so called ‘círculo rojo’ or group of decisionmakers made up mainly of the business community has asked for more Peronism, pushing for Lavagna and eventually accepting President Mauricio Macri’s choice for VP, who is none other than eternal Peronist, Senator Miguel Ángel Pichetto. Even Wall Street has turned Peronist! The markets have rallied strongly since Pichetto’s surprise selection, which came weeks after the announcement of Alberto Fernández to lead Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s ticket.
While Peronism’s chameleonic capacities should surprise no-one, it is interesting that the exhaustion with the Kirchnerite brand of Peronism that had worn out the vast majority of society in 2015 has given way to a more inclusive, all-round version of the historic political trend. We could even argue that Macri’s economic disaster, coupled with his political fragility should be read as a cultural victory for Peronism. Yet, we should also note that a rich businessman traditionally associated with frivolity made it to the Casa Rosada in a country like Argentina, with its ingrained distrust of the market and anyone wealthy, and if that same person still has a chance at re-election even after an economic meltdown, then maybe we should revise our previous assessment of Macri as culturally defeated.
Macri’s decision to take Pichetto as his VP is a pragmat ic one t hat should be attributed to C abi net Chief Marcos Peña and Ecuadorean political guru/spin doctor Jaime Durán Barba. W h i l e t h e president’s decision not to ink a deal with Renewal Front leader Sergio Massa in 2015 was seen as suicidal at first, and genius later, it by no means indicates an aversion to Peronism. Macri, like every politician, will do whatever it takes to win, if he thinks he has a chance. He had already teamed up with Felipe Solá, a former Buenos Aires Province governor who is also a Peronist, and businessman Francisco De Narváez to overtake Néstor Kirchner, electorally unbeaten at the time, in the 2009 midterm elections. Back in 2003, Macri was also courted by none other than Alberto Fernández too, who tried to secure a place in the nascent Compromiso para el Cambio party’s (later renamed PRO) legislative ticket. Ultimately, conversations fell apart and Fernández stayed with the Kirchners.
Pichetto represents an opportunity for Macri, who knows he gains zero votes but massive political capital within Congress, one of the major obstacles in his first term. The senator is a man of ideals if ideals can be defined as working with every politician who has waved the Peronist flag since the return of democracy. Leading the Justicialist Party (PJ) bloc in the Senate throughout the Kirchnerite era, he defended key pieces of legislation such as the controversial Media Law and the infamous resolution 125, which sparked a political battle with the agricultural sector that marked the beginning of the end of the Kirchner reign. With Macri in the Casa Rosada, Pichetto was the voice of resistance, blocking the president’s public utility price hikes alongside Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s political bloc, for example. Now, with the Casa Rosada in sight, Pichetto has become a disciplined Macrista. His approach to Peronism is probably more based on loyalty than social and economic policy though, as he is in favour of home imprisonment for sentenced human rights violators, criticises free healthcare for foreigners, and believes in the free market.
Alberto Fernández is a different kind of Peronist. Or maybe he’s not. After being Néstor Kirchner’s Cabinet Chief from 2003 to 2008, he left widow Cristina and became a staunch critic of his former political bosses. He worked with Massa to defeat CFK in the 2013 midterms and headed the man from Tigre’s campaign in 2015, in which Macri ultimately beat Daniel Scioli in the run-off. Typically a centrist with close ties to media juggernaut Grupo Clarín, Fernández has now become radicalised. He adds no votes to Cristina’s base but, like Pichetto, he guarantees negotiating power, particularly with provincial governors who would lose face if they supported Mrs. Fernández de Kirchner publicly. Alberto has no problem denouncing the perils of the EU-Mercosur deal, despite not having read a single detail about how it will work out (as those haven’t been made available), and has said a presidential debate with Macri is useless because “he’s a liar.” He tells the electorate to be wary of Macri as he will bring more austerity through labour reform, while economist Guillermo Nielsen — expected to be Fernández’s economy minister should he emerge triumphant — says the reforms are necessary. Pure Peronism.
So what brand of Peronism can we expect in 2020? While a Macri victory would have Pichetto in charge of the Senate, the final lists for legislative spots were made up of pure members of the PRO party and several Radicals (UCR). But the “political wing” made up of the likes of House Speaker Emilio Monzó and Interior Minister Rogelio Frigerio lost out. A second term for Macri won’t necessarily mean open dialogue with the opposition. In terms of a Fernández-Fernández victory, Cristina’s son Máximo Kirchner had a major hand in the make-up of the legislative lists, while Alberto appears to have been relegated to a supporting role. Even Massa seems to have been granted greater concessions.
Whether he will be a puppet for Cristina, with a marked return to populism, remains to be seen. Either way, if there is one thing we can say, it’s that Peronism’s many faces make it unpredictable. Hopefully, the move to the centre by both Macri and Cristina means whoever takes the Casa Rosada will seek to build on the past rather than destroy it. If García Márquez and Borges taught us anything though, it’s that time is circular.