May 18, 2013
Hugo still boss?
At some point, when you monitor the politics of Argentina, you suddenly realize that most of the time the whole deal amounts to one big power struggle in the Peronist “movement.” Even Buenos Aires City Mayor Mauricio Macri, the leader of the centre-right party PRO and a potential presidential candidate in 2015, has a “Peronist leg” to his organization.
That’s the way it is. Non-Peronists, especially Radicals, will get a shot at ruling Argentina every now and then, but then things quickly go back to that Peronist power struggle. In the nineties, the Peronist governor of Buenos Aires province (Eduardo Duhalde) felt that he had a right to eventually take over from the Peronist president of Argentina (Carlos Menem). Yet Menem made one last botched bid to reform the Constitution ahead of 1999 in order to allow himself the chance to run for a third consecutive term in office, ingnoring Duhalde’s ambitions. Arguably, the clash between Menem and Duhalde did a lot to ruin Argentina’s situation until everything exploded in the face of a Radical president (Fernando de la Rúa) in 2001. Think about it for a minute. Duhalde, who had lost the election to De la Rúa, was named caretaker president by Congress in 2002 and everything was in place for the Peronist party to start arguing again.
The current confrontation between President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and truck driver Hugo Moyano is not only about Peronist party politics. Moyano, the secretary-general of the CGT labour confederation, is calling for income tax breaks for workers and family benefits for all. But essentially at stake between Fernández de Kirchner and Moyano is who will get to lead the Peronist party in the future.
Caught in the middle of this crunching argument is Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli, still technically the head of the Peronist party and currently refusing to cut all ties with Moyano.
Scioli inherited the formal leadership of the Peronist party when Néstor Kirchner, the President’s husband and predecessor, died suddenly of a heart attack in 2010. Yet all orders are issued by Fernández de Kirchner and Scioli rarely begs to differ in public. Moyano recently quit all his positions in the Peronist party, saying it is now an “empty shell.”
The President before the elections last year in October refused to meet Moyano’s political demands and complained about “trade union extortion.”
The news now is that Moyano is complaining that many workers are charged income tax due to inflation. But back in 2011 Fernández de Kirchner and Moyano were strategic allies and what the truck driver really craved was more political power.
A worker, Moyano declared in 2011, should one day be president of Argentina. Which worker? Moyano was probably referring to himself when he made the comment about a worker becoming president. Fernández de Kirchner got the message: Moyano was only a strategic ally who had amassed so much power for himself after enjoying direct access to the Kirchners that he had political dreams of his own. At some point in 2011, there was speculation that Moyano’s CGT wanted Fernández de Kirchner to name a trade union leader as her vice-presidential candidate. Moyano also demanded key positions in the Peronist party lists of congressional candidates.
The President denied practically all of the CGT’s political demands, and scored a landslide victory last October with 54 percent of the vote. Kirchner, the night before he died, was purportedly on the phone with Moyano arguing about Peronist party politics (not the income tax threshold).
Moyano had taken over the presidency of the Buenos Aires province branch of the Peronist party after the province’s lieutenant governor, Alberto Balestrini, suffered a stroke. Moyano was also a vice-president of the national leadership of the Peronist party. Yet Moyano quit all his positions when it became evident that Fernández de Kirchner would not deliver. Not only that, it soon also became obvious that Moyano did not have the backing of the President to seek re-election as head of the CGT at a convention scheduled for July 12.
Moyano rose to power after opposing the market-friendly reforms introduced by Menem in the nineties, and by also opposing the leadership of the CGT at the time. In the nineties, Moyano was the leader of an anti-Menem faction of the CGT called the Argentine Workers Movement (MTA). The MTA soon became more strategically important than the CGT because Moyano had the backing of all the transport sector unions.
When Argentina imploded in 2001 it was only a matter of time before the pro-Menem “fat cat” leaders, in 2004, lost control of the CGT to Moyano.
The union boss controls touchy things like the distribution of cash to ATMs, fuel, newspapers and garbage collecting. Supposedly politicians, including Kirchner and Macri, feared Moyano’s clout. Until, that is, Fernández de Kirchner said basta last year. Again, what seems to have irked Fernández de Kirchner were Moyano’s growing political demands and his defiance of her authority in 2011. Moyano was still not totally humiliated last year. Facundo Moyano, one of his sons, was elected as a lawmaker for Buenos Aires on the President’s Victory Front ticket. But clearly what the President was demanding from Moyano was complete political loyalty. Moyano has declared that he “wasn’t born to follow orders” and has spent most of this year trying to halt an offensive by most major unions, with the backing of the CFK administration, to force him out of the CGT.
It’s in this context that Moyano called the strike by the fuel sector truck drivers last week and on Wednesday a national strike by all truck drivers with a rally to Plaza de Mayo. About 50,000 people marched on Plaza de Mayo on Wednesday. Moyano launched personal attacks against the Kirchners on addressing the crowd in Plaza de Mayo, saying that they had sought “exile” during the dictatorship in Patagonia to make quick bucks as lawyers from people unable to pay mortgages. He has also likened the CFK administration to “a dictatorship,” saying it does not accept dialogue and dissent. What is difficult to say right now is if Wednesday was the beginning of the end for old Moyano or the start of a new confrontation that will continue long after the dispute for the CGT leadership is settled and still have him as a key political player in the months to come.
Moyano clearly has clout because he controls the truck drivers union. But it’s also clear that some of his closest allies in the CGT are now not game to direct confrontation with the President.
For instance, the lawmaker Héctor Recalde, a CGT lawyer close to Moyano, attended a ceremony in Government House on Tuesday — the day before Moyano’s rally. The President thanked Recalde for attending in what effectively signalled a major defection from Moyano’s CGT.
Fernández de Kircnner on Tuesday also refused to give in to Moyano’s demands to alter the income tax floor. She also complained bitterly about a strike at an oil field in Chubut province by a breakaway faction of the construction workers’ union known as Los Dragones. The national government deployed Border Guards to Chubut to deal with the violent protest at the Cerro Dragón field. Nine Border Guards were killed in a bus crash on Tuesday on their way back from duty in Chubut. Fernández de Kirchner on Tuesday expressed her sadness about the deaths and announced that Border Guards would no longer be deployed to deal with conflicts in provinces.
Moyano was also forced to overrule one of his loyal CGT officials (Juan Carlos Schmid) who had declared that the Plaza de Mayo demonstration would be lifted if the President agreed to open some kind of negotiation.
Moyano on Wednesday told the crowd that he will seek re-election at a convention on July 12, which has been contested by other CGT trade unions. The CGT, like many times before in the past, is heading for a split. Moyano will have to put his immediate political ambitions on ice. But he will still control the strategic truck drivers and will try to hammer out an alliance with Scioli, who has said that he will seek the Peronist presidential nomination in 2015 if the Constitution is not reformed to allow the President to shoot for a third consecutive mandate.
The President also seems to be scrambling to deal with Scioli’s presidential plans. Fernández de Kirchner, without naming Scioli, complained about governors who mismanage their provinces. On Thursday, national Economy Minister Hernán Lorenzino gave Scioli a headache in the form of an announcement. The national government, Lorenzino said, would transfer one billion pesos to the Buenos Aires province government — enough to pay for salaries, but not enough for midyear bonuses. Scioli had reportedly asked the national government for 2.8 billion pesos in aid.
Now Scioli has been forced to make the unpopular announcement that the bonuses will be covered in four payments and is bracing to deal with strikes called by provincial state workers, including teachers. The confrontation between Fernández de Kirchner and Scioli (now with Mo-yano as strategic ally) has only just started. No, wait. It’s just another chapter in the long, long power struggle in the Peronist party.