Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Argentina's turn to the right (Nov. 24, 2015)

In Argentina all eyes are on the new president-elect, Mauricio Macri. After running on a platform of "Let's change," and with only two weeks until he actually assumes office, the big question is what will change.

Economic and foreign policy are the obvious targets. In a press conference yesterday, Macri promised spending cuts and free-market policies that will end the Kirchner period of protectionist economic measures, reports the Los Angeles Times.

He has also promised to ease currency restrictions that limit access to dollars and effectively fix the exchange rate. The measures represent a "tectonic rightward shift," reports The Guardian.

Economic measures will be closely watched. Macri intends to create an "economic cabinet," with seven ministries, including Treasury, Labor, Energy, Production, Transportation -- but not the traditionally powerful Ministery of Economy, reports La Nación.

He said he will declare a state of emergency against the "unpardonable" rise in violent crime across Argentina spurred by an increase in drug use and trafficking.

He will begin governing with a challenging political scenario: he won with a very slim majority (see yesterday's post) and doesn't have a majority in either house of Congress. And he will likely assemble a team drawn largely from the ranks of his conservative PRO party. "But most are from the same white, rich, Catholic, conservative Buenos Aires elite as Macri. Running a city was one thing. Representing the geographical and class diversity of a nation will be a very different challenge," cautions The Guardian.

The question is how he will enact the challenging set of economic policies intended to reduce inflation, encourage foreign investment, settle accounts with holdout creditors and reduce the government deficit, without causing a backlash in Congress and society, explains The Guardian.

However, while he inherits a complicated economic situation, it's better than the outright insolvency face by his non-Peronist predecessors, notes the Wall Street Journal.

"He may have to deal with social resistance in the form of union protests or spontaneous social unrest, or unrest intentionally generated by the more radicalized Kirchnerist groups,” sociologist Sergio Bernezstein told The Guardian. "A lot will depend on whether he applies a gradualist economic solution or goes for a shock treatment of problems like Argentina's overvalued currency, inflation and cutting back the generous subsidies for home energy bills."

Macri will meet with current President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner today to begin the transition before assuming office on Dec. 10. The Guardian notes that Macri's fortunes may rest with the outgoing president -- who remains popular among Peronists, union members and her supporters in Congress. 

Since the restoration of democracy in 1983, no president has ever completed a full term of office without belonging to the main party of Peronism. 

In foreign policy he has promised to pressure to remove Venezuela from Mercosur (see yesterday's post), and that he would raise the issue of that country’s "human rights abuses." Though he has said he would seek Brazil's support in pursuing that course of action O Globo published that he would not have the support of the Brazilian government, as it considers that Maduro was democratically elected.

Macri also intends to nullify a memorandum of understanding signed with the Iranian government, intended to move forward trials against citizens of that country in relation with a 1994 bombing of an Argentine Jewish center that killed 85 people.

And he has announced plans to improve diplomatic ties with the United States, which became strained in recent years over Argentina’s international debts and Washington’s sway in the hemisphere, reports the New York Times.

The Guardian notes that he is likely to take a less strident tone regarding the Falklands/Malvinas Islands, though he is not expected to let the subject go entirely. Yesterday, just hours after Macri's victory, two Falkland Islands oil exploration firms have announced a £57m deal, reports The Guardian in a separate piece.

Human rights, specifically truth and justice policies regarding violations during the 1976-1983 military-civilian dictatorship, have been a central platform of the Kirchner governments. Under Nestor Kirchner amnesty laws were struck down and initiated a process of trials against military and civilians involved in the "Dirty War." Human Rights Watch notes that as of last year over 121 trials have been conducted for crimes against humanity originating from the dictatorship, resulting in 503 convictions. The Center of Legal and Social Studies (CELS) has reported that 42 people have been acquitted during the trials, and another 1,611 suspects are under investigation. 

But the fight to dominate the historical narrative is far from over. An editorial yesterday in the leading conservative newspaper La Nación called for an end to the policies of "vengeance," in reference to ongoing trials against perpetrators of violations in that era, in which 30,000 people were "disappeared." It revives the theory the military was responding to the threat of armed guerrilla groups -- "no different" from the terrorist groups who perpetrated attacks in Paris earlier this month. Perhaps that was to be expected of the newspaper. In a sign that times have changed, the paper's journalists gathered yesterday to repudiate the editorial, saying it doesn't represent them. Senator Norma Morandini, who was cited in the editorial and is touted as the incoming administration's possible Secretary of Human Rights, also came out against the piece, reports Página 12. In a press conference yesterday, Macri assured citizens that trials against repressors will continue. 

The episode shows that some changes wrought in the past years are here to stay. In an article in Página 12 Horacio Verbitsky notes that the episode reflects a deep change in society that goes beyond political support for Kirchner and marks a point of no-return.

But who cares what happens with the dollar and human rights? Enjoy the "dad dancing!"

News Briefs

  • Several articles about what Macri's election means on a regional level, and the potential ebbing of the "pink tide" of leftist governments in Latin America. (See Nov. 6th's post.) Economic challenges are undermining governments that "had joined forces to oppose the United States and "neoliberal" capitalism," notes the Washington Post. "While some populists, such as Bolivia’s Evo Morales, remain popular and firmly entrenched in power, others are now fading thanks to the decline in commodity prices that fuels the region’s exports, a string of corruption scandals, economic mismanagement and voters’ desire for change," celebrates the Wall Street Journal. Sources in the piece predict that left-wing governance in Venezuela will fall next, followed by Brazil in 2018. "A shift to the center could have profound consequences for the region, opening the door to a more pragmatic brand of politics, but also raising risks of instability if the poor see no benefit. Countries struggling to pay their bills amid the commodity downturn may open up more to foreign investment and trade. Ties will likely improve with Washington."
  • The abduction of 43 students from a rural teachers' college last year, by local police drew attention to a remarkable fact of life in Mexico: Police are responsible for many disappearances, reports the Associated Press. Mexico's deputy attorney general for human rights, Eber Betanzos, told The Associated Press in August that municipal police had participated in scores of abductions around Iguala during the term of Mayor Jose Luis Abarca, who faces charges in the case of the 43 students.
  • The Dominican Republic issued arrest warrants yesterday for a member of the European Parliament and two other French citizens who allegedly helped a pair of French pilots convicted on cocaine trafficking charges flee by speedboat in October, reports Reuters. (See Nov. 2nd's briefs.)
  • Most Brazilian oil unions agreed to resume work yesterday, ending a three-week-long strike that cost Petrobras some 2.29 million barrels of oil production, reports the Wall Street Journal. Workers were protesting against Petrobras’ planned divestment program. 
  • Chile's government has increased the presence of armed forces on its northern border with Peru and Bolivia in response to increased crime in the area. Criminals come in from Bolivia to assault, rob and steal, according to the Minister of Defense. Bolivian authorities say its an attempt at intimidation and say the crime is an "excuse," reports TeleSur.
  • The Guardian has a fascinating feature on an isolated hunter-gatherer indigenous tribe in Peru that has suddenly started emerging from the jungle to make contact with the outside world. The greatest immediate peril for these isolated peoples remains infection by common illnesses – such as influenza or the common cold – to which they have little or no immunity. The Mashco Piro are believed to have fled into the jungle during the Amazon rubber boom (1880-1914), and had rejected all contact with outsiders until now.
  • More than half of the Amazon's tree species are endangered, according to a study cited in The Guardian

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