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Argentine Political Outlook (Ene-13-20) PDF Imprimir E-Mail
Ene-13-20, by Rosendo Fraga

1. The first month of Alberto Fernández's presidency is leaving a positive balance. Especially since he has managed to calm the markets with his first economic measures. Secondly, because he was moderate, both in words and gestures. What remains to be solved is his relationship with Cristina. The Minister of Security of the Province of Buenos Aires, Sergio Berni said "Cristina is my political leader, Alberto is the President" It is a statement that reflects the political attitude that predominates in Kirchnerism. Second, the foreign policy has been complex and somewhat contradictory. Being in good terms with Maduro and Evo Morales and at the same time with Trump is not feasible. The short-term challenge (2020) is to prevent the country from hitting default, when there are strong and justified social demands simultaneously, in a year in which the recession is set to continue. In the mid-term (2021-2023), the challenge is to make Argentina grow again and improve social indicators such as poverty and unemployment. 

2. In the short term, the price and salary agreement with businessmen and trade unionists is a good start. But it is an emergency system, which is only effective if it lasts a few months. In addition, inflation will determine its success. If it is not possible to prevent inflation from going up, it will be difficult to maintain such agreements. It is not yet clear the scope of some of the measures taken as part of the emergency, nor the guidelines or terms of debt rescheduling, which will be done separately with the IMF, creditors under foreign law and those subject to local legislation. As for who will suffer from the cost of the measures, the middle class affected by the exchange control and the tax increase, which makes up the 40% that voted for Macri. Fernandez was voted by the lower middle class, which is less affected by these types of measures. So far, the decisions taken seem to affect Macri's voters the most: farming sector, senior citizens and middle and upper middle class. As for the visit of the IMF mission, it will not be crucial or definitive. In 2020 and 2021, the maturities with this international organization are low. The problem comes in 2022 and 2023, when payments are higher. For this reason, negotiation is not urgent until the end of 2021 with the international organization. Until then, Argentina has funds to pay the maturities of this debt. 

3. In gestures and attitudes, Fernández has shown signs aimed at closing the "crack" with sectors such as the media, the Church, the industry and the political opposition. The gestures have had no effect with the farming sector and the "hard" Macrism. In terms of the legacy, Fernández could say much more than he says. The question will come when Judiciary starts with the legal cases that affect Macri's government. Cristina has let Fernandez, during the first month, occupy the center of the scene. But at the same time, in addition to controlling Congress, she has held key power positions in important areas of the Executive (Justice, Security, Intelligence, ANSES, PAMI, etc.). She has taken distance from the economic management, perhaps because she prefers to wait for results before committing herself too early. Regarding foreign policy, in South America all governments, except for Venezuela and Argentina, have center-right positions, challenge Chavism and maintain a relationship with the US. Fernández intends to be somewhere in between Venezuela and Brazil, something that will be difficult to achieve. 

4. On January 10, Axel Kicillof completed one month as Governor of the province of Buenos Aires. His job has not been easy. First of all, he faces the same dilemma as President Alberto Fernández in the Nation: how to deal with a large debt, which also has been taken in dollars on the one hand, and on the other, meet the legitimate social expectations of the population, after four years of a stagnant economy in Cristina's second term and another four with an average fall in Macri's four years. The debt increased considerably in the province of Buenos Aires - as well as in the Nation - 80% in dollars. The devaluation increased the value of this debt, compared to the revenues of the province that are in pesos. It is not the only case: Córdoba, Santa Fe and the City of Buenos Aires have a similar situation, since more than 80% of their indebtedness has also been taken in dollars. Avoiding default is a priority and one of the reasons why taxes increase in the province, a measure that is never nice, especially for the middle and upper sectors of society, which must bear this burden. 

5. But this increase, for now, is more destined to pay debt interests and cover the deficit, rather than to a necessary distributive policy. It should be remembered that 38% of the country's population lives in the province - and accounts for 40% of the GDP - than in Buenos Aires province - which has one third of the province's inhabitants and a quarter of the country's total - unemployment and poverty, are above the national average. Half of the children and adolescents in this area are below the poverty level. According to social movements linked to Peronism, organized today as unions through the Union of Workers of the Popular Economy (UTEP), the governor has been too shy in raising taxes and has had "fears" in facing the rich. For the farming sector, the industry and commerce, this increase will prevent reactivation and may increase the recession. This is the basic dilemma faced by Kicillof. The policy is to solve dilemmas and this may be happening in the province at the end of the first month of the new Administration. The Peronist mayors of the suburban areas, suspicious of the Governor, began to lower their resistance, prioritizing the need to pay the salaries of municipal workers. Something similar happens with the mayors of Cambiemos. Through the dialogue with the mayors of both, the ruling party and the opposition, that Kicillof seems to be solving his basic political dilemma, since they play a relevant role in social containment and in the decisions of the legislature. 

6. To conclude: 

a) Alberto Fernandez' first month in office shows a positive balance, as he managed to calm down the markets and adopted moderate measures in the political side, which is key to a K-based government. 

b) In the short-term, the price and salary agreement and the emergency measures are effective as long as they last for months. If the government wants to extend them, things may get complicated. 

c) In gestures and attitude, Alberto Fernández has been open to "closing the crack" with messages to the political opposition, the media, the Church and the industry. 

d) In January 10, the Governor of the BA province, Axel Kicillof, also completed one month in office though facing greater political difficulties than the president. 

e) But the tax hike he finally managed to impose, by agreeing with the opposition, is more aimed at paying the debt interest and covering the deficit than at a redistributive policy.

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