Argentine Political Outlook (Feb-17-20)
Feb-17-20, by Rosendo Fraga

1. Alberto Fernández completes two months in office, having made a successful tour of Western countries in recent days, which is the necessary condition to renegotiate the debt. He started with Israel - the strongest strategic ally to the US in the Near and Middle East -, he continued with the Pope and then with the heads of state and government of Italy, Germany, Spain and France. Finally, President Trump received in advance the credentials of the new Argentine Ambassador (Arguello) showing a gesture of goodwill towards the country. In all cases, the government was willing to support Argentina in renegotiating with the IMF. This tour allowed the Argentine President to differentiate himself from Latin American populism, which Kirchnerism -with which he shares power- supports. The backing received is the necessary but not sufficient condition for the renegotiation of the debt, but without it, there is no possibility of achieving it. The Trump Administration will now look at the Argentine position in the face of the Venezuelan crisis and the Bolivian election. At the beginning of the week, the ParlaSur - the Mercosur parliament - meets in Buenos Aires for the first time. There is a populist majority in it, although in the group there are three center-right governments (Brazil, Uruguay -the next- and Paraguay) and one that attempts an intermediate position (Argentina). It is the kind of challenge that the Argentine government now has, to consolidate the relationship with the US. 

2. But the debt issue also generates domestic policy problems to solve. The government has achieved the final approval in both Houses of Congress, with the vote of the opposition, of the "debt sustainability" law that implies good political support for renegotiation. This week will be key, given that on Wednesday 12 an IMF mission arrives to begin exploring such renegotiation. On the same day, the Minister of Finance (Guzmán) will present a fiscal plan for the Congress by 2020, which will begin to reveal his position regarding the question of what the government's economic plan is. The "Dual Bond" issued by the previous government also expires; it will test the concrete capacity to solve the minister's distrust in markets. The renegotiation of the debt also highlights the differences within the ruling party. They are in style, such as Guzmán's moderation and Kicillof's low flexibility, but also political. Although the latter publicly says that everything he did was coordinated with the national government, it is not so clear that it was so. To this add the statements made by Vice President Cristina Kirchner in Cuba, in which she criticized the IMF -when Fernández avoids doing so- and said that the debt with the international organization should have a considerable reduction, she called to investigate the debt incurred by the Macri government and demanded a "never again" in foreign indebtedness. But in this field, the President said that Cristina does not make "any decision" but that "he consults to her". 

3. At the same time, the differences between "Albertism" and "Kirchnerism" become evident in several subjects, as the latter advances in the Judiciary. The debate over whether there are political prisoners or not in Argentina (Boudou, De Vido, Milagro Sala. D´Elia, Jaime) publicly divides the ruling party. Those who say they are not are the President, his Chief of Staff and the Foreign Relations Minister. Those who say that they are, include the Minister of the Interior, the Minister of Women, Gender and Diversity - the lawyer of Milagro Sala- the Governor of the province of Buenos Aires and leaders of human rights organizations. The issue of abortion shows nuances. The Administration talks about "decriminalizing it" and the Secretary of Strategic Affairs (Béliz) prepares a series of bills to assist young mothers who do not want to abort. For her part, the aforementioned Minister of Women, Gender and Diversity argues that the government's bill is to "legalize" abortion, making a difference regarding the position of the Presidency. As Vice President, Cristina Kirchner ordered that all proposals for the appointment of judges from the previous government be withdrawn, to cover them with new candidates. Of the 12 federal judges of Comodoro Py, three were appointed by the Kirchnerism in 2004, four in 2014 and now three vacancies will be filled (Bonadio's due to his death, Rafecas' as he moved to the Attorney General's Office and Torres' as he was moved to the Buenos Aires Court. Only one of the twelve has been appointed by Macri (Capuchetti) and there are still some cases from the Menem (Canicoba) era. Out of twelve, ten would come from Kirchnerist governments. Officials who have investigated Kirchnerism are being removed from the AFIP and the General Inspection of Justice -which controls companies-, the situation of the Vice President in justice improves and the investigation into the Post Office case that affects the Macri Group advances. 

4. In the social field, the government intends a truce during February and March while debt negotiation unfolds, while tensions escalate. The traditional Peronist trade unionism represented by the CGT, accepts the truce, but in fact does not abandon the "trigger clause" and negotiates agreements above the fixed amounts of the government. Critical unions as truck drivers follow this line more openly. The combative official unions (such as Buenos Aires teachers) seek agreements over fixed amounts as is the case mentioned. This week, the social protest takes up the street. On Wednesday 12, the official social movements will protest at the Obelisk, stating that "the debt is with the people and not with the IMF." A day earlier, the opponents - grouped under Polo Obrero - demonstrate in the same place, questioning the government for its first two months in office. The "trade union struggle" will win the streets, with a strike and demonstration of the UTA sectors (drivers) opposed to the guild's leadership. "Self-convened" farmers return to the side of the roads and the differences between the Minister of National Security (Frederic) and the Buenos Aires Minister (Berni) are becoming more public every day. 

5. To conclude: 

a) Alberto Fernández' tour has allowed him to establish relations with the Western world, differentiating from the Venezuelan model, a necessary but not sufficient condition for the debt renegotiation. 

b) Different styles are evidenced between Guzman and Kicillof but also content-related differences between the members of the presidential ticket. 

c) Differences also appear in the political field, such as the discussion over whether there are political prisoners or not, while Kirchnerism moves in the Judiciary. 

d) Trade unions give a truce to the national government while it negotiates the debt but in reality it goes beyond fixed amounts as social movements resume the protests in the streets.