By Roberto Guareschi
Mauricio Macri is taking office after defeating the Peronist candidate in Argentina’s presidential elections earlier this month. This marks one more step towards the end of populism. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is leaving office after twelve years, counting the four during which her husband Néstor was president. The couple had devised a plan that outsmarted democratic alternation in power: they wanted to each take turns ruling the country every four years. In fact, they ruled together; but Néstor died and she continued on her own, being elected to serve an additional term. They wanted to perpetuate themselves, like Evo Morales in Bolivia and Rafael Correa in Ecuador.
Macri comes to power because of his ability to personify a change, and because half of the population got tired of the confrontational and angry style Cristina had imposed and her unfulfilled promise of a redistribution of wealth. It is true that there was some redistribution but no structural changes were made. That is why poverty has increased again, despite the fact that the country has enjoyed several years of economic growth at Chinese [growth] rates, thanks to soy exports.
A list of the challenges Macri will now have to face can be read in the article, “Fin del populismo en Argentina… (por ahora)” that I wrote for this blog in May, 2015.
What does Macri’s victory mean for Latin America? First, it speeds up the end of populism because of Argentina’s political and economic influence in the region despite its recurring problems.
The populist administrations in Ecuador and Venezuela are also in decline, and Brazil’s (a much more moderate version) is starting to turn towards orthodoxy.
The end of populism in Argentina is not the main cause of this downfall; but rather, the global drop in the price of raw materials. Populism cannot survive during economic crises unless there is great administrative efficiency. That is why Evo Morales seems strong: his country’s economy is in order thanks to his vice president, while he focuses on what he most likes and knows: maintaining, with his charisma, his political base.
Inefficiency (and second, the tension the administration has generated) is the main factor leading to the demise of “Kirchnerism”, not corruption or the administration’s encroachment on other State Powers. Its greatest achievements are a thriving cultural and scientific policy, and having reinstated the idea of a strong State capable of intervening in a lifeless and denationalized economy. And I say the idea because it was not able to accomplish this. For example, the renationalized state airline loses more than one million dollars a day (!) because of corruption and inefficiency.
Macri has a tough job ahead: to come to terms with a struggling economy with almost no monetary reserves after years of reckless spending. How will he manage to carry out an inevitable economic adjustment while up against traditionally Peronist unions in a society that has a strong political awareness?
He will need great skill and influence to avoid violent social conflicts. For now, he is lacking charisma. As for efficiency, Macri is a businessman (son of a millionaire businessman) who has shown efficiency as the governor of the city of Buenos Aires. We will have to wait and see how he does in the “big leagues.”
With Macri a new political generation, possibly capable of understanding the complexities of current times, comes to power. Cristina is just six years older than Macri but her world is that of the 70s, when the concept of “imperialism” explained everything; and her vision of present times is a messy update of this.
Cristina comes from the middle class and from Peronism, which is by definition an alliance of classes. Macri was born into the upper class but knows how to handle himself in any context: he was a successful president of the Boca Juniors soccer club. Nonetheless, most of his collaborators and ministers are upper class businessmen. He will have to look beyond his own class if he wants to lead a politicized society that knows its rights.
Roberto Guareschi es a columnist and consults for digital media. He was the managing editor for the newspaper Clarín and a Visiting Lecturer at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.