Argentine Political Outlook (Feb-24-20)
Feb-24-20, by Rosendo Fraga

1. The same week that the government completed two months in office, the differences between the President and the Vice President became evident, which the former tried to mitigate. The triggering factor appeared last week, when Cristina Kirchner presented her book "Sinceramente" at the Havana Book Fair with the presence of the Cuban President (Díaz Canel) and strongly criticized the IMF, demanding that the Argentine debt with the agency has a considerable cut. The position was taken by Kirchnerism and her son Máximo last week ratified it saying: "The IMF financed Macri's campaign, it now has to get in line" (to get paid). That is not the stance taken by Alberto Fernández during his European tour, nor the one he raised in the face of the arrival of the IMF mission in the country, whose authorities said that according to their statutes, their credit with Argentina could not have any reductions. After the arrival of the Vice President from Cuba, the President started to align his speech with hers. He began by saying "the funds also have to lose." The comments that were made led him to say "there is no double command, I decide at the end" and added, "but I discuss everything with her". On Friday, the President had breakfast with the Vice President, after which the former said "we went over everything." The next day he leaked in the newspapers "Cristina never talks nonsense". Despite Alberto Fernández' efforts, he failed to resolve the widespread perception that there is a "double-headed" power in government.


2. At the same time, the President tried to close the debate about whether or not there are political prisoners, which showed another division within the ruling party. When he started last week, he tried to put an end to the discussion by saying: "It bothers me that people say there are political prisoners." But none of his ministers who said otherwise -the Minister of the Interior (De Pedro) and that the Minister of Women, Gender and Diversity- resigned or took their words back. Nor did the Governor of the Province of Buenos Aires (Kicillof) moderate or change his position. The position of the President had been supported by his Chief of Staff (Cafiero) and the Foreign Affairs Minister (Sola) but no more leaders or officials joined it. The CGT and the governors remained silent. Led by Julio De Vido - who is under house arrest - former Vice President Boudou, militant Milagros Sala and Luis D´Elia among others, detained and convicted claimed their freedom and the reform of the Constitution for it. At the same time, the legal cases that affect Kirchnerism are delayed or diluted, while those that affect Macrism (Mail, Roads, National Bank, etc.) are advancing.


3. The double-headed power also became evident in the management of public security. The Minister of Security of the Province of Buenos Aires (Berni) -appointed by Kicillof under Cristina's indication- demanded that the Minister of National Security (Frederic) - imposed on the President by the Vice President - that the federal forces deployed in the Buenos Aires suburbs - mostly from the Gendarmerie - will operate under provincial command, that is to say under his control, otherwise they should retreat. It should be noted that Berni was number two of the Ministry of Security under Cristina's second term and that weeks ago he said publicly "Alberto is the President, but Cristina is my political leader." Seeking a fact to strengthen himself politically, the President demanded that the Governor of Buenos Aires replace his Minister of Security. But he stated that Cristina had to be asked about it. The President's request was rejected. A "coordination" was decided between federal and provincial forces, which was actually a triumph of the Buenos Aires Minister. From the political perspective it was a new evidence of differences between the Administration and the Buenos Aires Government. While this controversy was going on, the picketers won the street again, after two months of government. The "hard" side, gathered around the PO, got together and demonstrated against the IMF and the national government on 9 de Julio Avenue. On the next day, the moderate sector did the same, articulated around the Union of Workers of the Popular Economy (UTEP) - with greater convening power - did it in the same place, against the IMF but avoiding criticizing the government directly. Violent clashes are taking place within some guilds (UTA and SOEME). The grassroots farming organizations are pressing for a national strike and the pensioners affected by the increase began protests, starting at the gates of the Government House.


4. This week the Congress starts operating again, the first meeting of the year of the national authorities of the PJ takes place and the campaign in favor of the legalization of abortion is launched with a ‘hankie' demonstration. The Senate is expected to approve the appointment of 14 political ambassadors and the appointment of the Ombudsman for Children, a position for which a militant in favor of abortion is proposed. But the central issue to be discussed is the agreement for the ruling party candidate for Attorney (Rafecas) that, as with all agreements, requires two thirds. If Cambiemos is held together, the ruling party will have to negotiate, but if divisions arise, it might be imposed. The first meeting of the PJ leaders takes place within the framework of the renewal of authorities that will occur at the end of March. Cristina is expected to impose her candidate for the Presidency, which could be the Governor of the Chaco (Capitanich) or her son, Máximo. In the middle of the week the campaign is launched demanding the legalization of abortion "now", with a "hankie" demonstration. As it happened last year, the bill -there are several from the ruling coalition- would be approved in the Lower House, but can be rejected in the Senate. 

5. To conclude: 

a) The cut in the IMF debt was a key issue that showed the dissent between the president and vice president for one, but the former's decision to finally align himself behind her. 

b) The conflict over whether political prisoners existed or not shows another difference between Kirchnerism and the Administration, as the president ratified his stance, though without his officials -who state otherwise- showing any change. 

c) A third area of difference is the management of Public Security between the Nation and the Province of Buenos Aires, as the president failed to remove the minister supported by Cristina. 

d) Congress resumes activities this week as the farming sector increases pressure for a strike, the clashes in unions escalate and retirees' start protests.