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Argentine Political Outlook (May-21-18) PDF Imprimir E-Mail
May-21-18 - by Rosendo Fraga

1. President Macri’s address on Tuesday, May 15, underestimated and overestimated the crisis in Argentina. It was pronounced once the favorable result of the Lebacs’ reschedule was announced, an important challenge in the context of the economic volatility that hit the country. On the one hand, he considered the currency "turbulence" of recent days was over, underestimating a crisis that is the most difficult moment for his government in two and a half years, whose outcome, including the agreement with the IMF, has yet to be resolved. On the other hand, he said that "a crisis like that of 2001 was avoided". That was the most serious economic-social crisis in Argentine history and the most important policy since the restoration of democracy. The President consequently, after denying the magnitude of the crisis for several weeks, assumed that the country was on the verge of the cliff in those days. If the currency run occurred in the coming weeks -which cannot be ruled out- Macri's statement would suggest that the country is once again facing the risk of a serious crisis. Conceptually, Argentina experienced two economic "debacles": one was the hyperinflation of 1989 and the currency board crisis, and the default between the end of 2001 and the beginning of 2002. The country faces a serious crisis; the question is whether it will prevent collapse.

2. The immediate political conflict is generated by the President's intention to transfer the cost of the tightening to the provinces. The opposition governors are willing to allow the Executive to agree with the IMF and make the necessary adjustment, but will not accept to share the cost of it. The Chief of Staff (Peña) called for a "Great National Agreement" to support the tightening. This is not viable. The Governor of Salta (Urtubey) said that 90% of Argentina's deficit is from the national State and not from the provinces. Most provincial governments have surpluses or are in balance. Few provinces are in crisis, including Tierra del Fuego, Santa Cruz and Chubut. None is a "big" province. The governors are willing to allow the Executive branch to sign the agreement with the IMF, but don’t welcome the decision. The Executive will keep on trying that governors prevent the Senate from giving final approval to the "rates emergency" that has half approval in the Lower House. It does not seem easy to prevent it. In case it is law, the Executive will veto it. Macri wants to avoid it, fearing the political cost involved. For his part, the Chief of Cabinet will attend the Lower House next Wednesday 23 to give his monthly report before the Congress, which for the first time in two and a half years, was postponed for a week. It will not be an easy time.

3. Despite the crisis, Macri has not changed his team and will not do so in the short term, limited only to a reorganization. The decisions are made in a "small table" composed of the President, a business executive who is his "brother by heart" (Nicolás Caputo), the Governor of Buenos Aires (Vidal), the Mayor of the City of Buenos Aires (Larreta) and the Chief of Staff and on a second level, the "political table" has been organized, where the decisions taken at the previous level are discussed. It is composed of the last three, plus the Minister of the Interior (Frigerio), the President of the Lower House (Monzó), the head of the Civic Coalition (Carrió) and several leaders of Radicalism (Sanz and Morales). To this organization of small table (decisions) and political table (execution), adds the Chief of Cabinet’s team integrated by the Deputy Chief (Quintana) and the Secretary of Planning (Lopetegui), also joining this team the Secretary General of the Presidency (De Andreis). Finally, Minister of Finance Dujovne - in charge of the negotiation with the IMF – is also responsible for the coordination of the remaining eight ministries of the economic area: Finance (Caputo), Energy (Aranguren), Agro-Industry (Etchevere), Production (Cabrera), Modernization (Ibarra), Interior -including public works- (Frigerio), Transport (Dietrich), Labor (Triaca) and Tourism (Santos). But there is no decree that establishes this role. It is also unclear whether Dujovne will report directly to Macri or will continue to do so to Peña as he has done up to now.

4. Meanwhile, the devaluation that has been 20% in the last month now begins to affect food prices. Prices have been marked up. Basic food, such as flour by-products (bread and pasta) as well as rice, show increases that exceed 20% in the Greater Buenos Aires area. June will be a difficult month in social terms, for this reason it will be the lower-income sectors, which consume only basic food, which will have the greatest loss of purchasing power. As for trade unionism, the united CGT, headed by the three triumvirates, backed the truckers' union, when the lawsuits against Moyano. The federal march for public education, convened by the teachers' unions is slated for May 23, and a national sea-port strike will take place on the following day. On May 25, the F21 Movement, composed by Moyano, combative unions and social movements, will carry out a rally against the agreement with the IMF. The government fears a general strike and tries to negotiate with the pro-dialogue union leaders to avoid it. Meanwhile, on Sunday May 20, a crowded march against abortion was held, which may anticipate the rejection of legalization in the Lower House. The crisis in Argentina removed public relevance from the meeting of the G20 foreign ministers that takes place in Buenos Aires.

5. To conclude:

  1. In his speech on May 15, the president underestimated the crisis by saying that the "exchange rate turbulence" had passed, but he also overestimated it by saying that "a crisis like 2001" had been avoided.

  1. Macri intends to transfer the economic and political cost of the tightening that the agreement with the IMF will require onto the provinces, but the governors will hardly accept it.

  1. The President does not change his team and only reorganizes it, creating a "Political Table" to accommodate the opposition and the political wing of the government, giving Dujovne the role of economic coordinator.

  1. June will be a difficult month in social terms, as the devaluation will affect the basic food price, which will deteriorate the purchasing power of the lower income sectors.

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