Argentine Political Outlook (Mar-09-20)
Mar-09-20, by Rosendo Fraga

1. The meeting held over the weekend between Trump and Bolsonaro is a central reference for the Argentine foreign policy. It hinged around three themes: the chance of a bilateral trade agreement between the two countries, with which Uruguay and Paraguay seem to coincide; actions to increase pressure on Venezuela, which Maduro denounced as a "preparation" of Washington and Brasilia for a military incursion into Venezuelan territory and the advancement of the Chinese company Huawei, in G5 technology in both Brazil and Argentina. Bolsonaro also visited the headquarters of the US Southern Command, which is responsible for all operations in Latin America, establishing mechanisms to increase the bilateral military relationship. Argentina did not have a central place in these meetings. But the two presidents seemed to have agreed on supporting the Argentine President, in the face of the more "radicalized" positions of the Vice President. Argentina's position regarding the re-election of the OAS secretary and the support for the candidate of Evo Morales in the elections in Bolivia are some of the issues on which Trump and Bolsonaro disagree with Fernández. The President of Brazil said days ago that he supports Argentina in the renegotiation of the debt and the Trump Administration says the same, but in both cases without giving details.


2. Politically, the central theme has been the meeting of the National convention of the PJ, which launched the process of renewal of authorities that ends on May 3. A single list has been agreed to avoid internal confrontation and maintain the unity of Peronism, which was the electoral key to the victory of the Fernández-Fernández ticket. On the one hand, Kirchnerism urges the governor of Chaco (Capitanich) for the Presidency of the PJ, while some governors promote the re-election of the current President (Gioja). Between both positions, the alternative of choosing President Alberto Fernández for the party leadership has gained some terrain. It was said a couple of weeks ago by the Minister of Defense (Rossi) and it was repeated a few days ago by the general secretary of the janitors' guild (Santamaría) and the Governor of Tucumán (Manzur) spoke in the same direction over the weekend. Less than two months after the election of authorities, the situation does not seem clear and a negotiating space opens, the outcome of which is still uncertain.


3. Meanwhile, the ruling party builds fronts of conflict when completing 90 days of government. a) The farming sector entities are carrying out four days of trade stop this week without blocking roads. The decision has been a result of grassroots pressure and the government maintains that it is part of the electoral strategy of Juntos por el Cambio. b) The bill to legalize abortion - which the government hopes to pass in a couple of weeks - confronts it not only with the Catholic Church but also with other religions. In the Lower House, the pro-abortion stance would be imposed, but there are doubts in the Senate, where the more conservative opinion of the provinces seems to prevail. The demonstration of Catholics and evangelicals began on Sunday, March 8 and will continue with new protests, while the same will be done by the abortion support sectors c) The pension reform of judges and diplomats is another conflict front for the government, which seeks to promote a drastic judicial renewal with this initiative. It is likely to get the approval in both houses of Congress. The initiative to reform federal justice is not so easy, an issue in which there are differences between the President and the Vice President. d) A fourth conflict front is breaking into the relationship between the government and the media, which could emerge in a few weeks. e) There are those who think that the lack of concrete results in the negotiation of the foreign debt can lead to a fifth front that are the bondholders from abroad, who have not received a clear and concrete proposal, after the meetings held last week in Buenos Aires.


4. While this is happening, the so-called "crack" that shows Argentine politics, between "enemies" and not between "adversaries" seems to deepen, and the coronavirus breaks into politics. The request of intervention to the Judiciary of Jujuy - supposedly to free Milagro Sala - sparked a march of support to the governor of the province (Morales) who was supported by the entire opposition leadership. Former Senator Pichetto has said that "lawfare" is the persecution initiated against former President Macri and his family. The complaint of "fraud" against former Vice President Gabriela Michetti, by her successor in office (Cristina Kirchner) is another expression of the conflict escalation. At the same time, the release of Julio de Vido increases opposition criticism that the attempt is to establish "impunity" for the acts of corruption of the previous administration. The reality is that since the open primaries, the counts against Kirchnerism have been delayed or diluted and those that affect the Macrism have been resumed. In terms of security, this week begins the trial of police officer, Mr Chocobar, accused of "easy trigger". The government maintains at the same time a "guarantee" policy with the Minister of National Security (Frederic) and a "hard-handed" policy with the Buenos Aires province Minister of Security (Berni). The first death by coronavirus that has been reported in Argentina - the cases detected would be 12 - implies that the issue has had political significance. Usually - it has happened in China, as in the US and Italy - the political cost is paid by the one in power, for not having perceived the seriousness of the problem. 

5. To conclude:    

a)  The Trump-Bolsonaro meeting confirms the creation of a dominant axis for the region, whose view is that it is convenient to strengthen the Argentine president versus the vice president. 

b)   The renewal of PJ leaders shows Kircnerism promoting Capitanich, some governors supporting Gioja, as the president himself emerges as the third option. 

c)  The ruling coalition faces three fronts of conflict (farming sector, abortion and the Judiciary) and two imminent problems (the media and bond holders) as it seems to not fear their accumulation. 

d)  The Argentine politics unfolds between enemies rather than adversaries; security is a weak point for government and the coronavirus begins to have a political impact.