May 22, 2013
All about Eva
Right, what will this weekend be all about? You can either, say, watch the Olympics or ponder on the bitter infighting, in the form of a cold war, that is once again unfolding in the Peronist party. Can’t decide? Maybe you can do both. The Peronist cold war, after all, could pass as entertainment were it not for the fact that real people, the citizens of Argentina, often get hurt when the bigwigs of the party established by old Juan Perón start arguing. There’s plenty of economic questions to be asked about Argentina. How will President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s decisions to regulate the economy, including the move to practically ban all dollar purchases, work out in such a volatile nation? There’s other economic questions like that one. But save them for another day. It’s becoming apparent once more that all the big questions about Argentina are political. Fernández de Kirchner, under the rules of the current Constitution, is not allowed to seek a third consecutive term in office. Technically this means that the President, at least for now, has no heir-apparent and it’s not even clear that she wishes to anoint one so soon after her landslide win last October.
Yet some Peronist party officials, including Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli and Córdoba Governor José Manuel de la Sota, are already behaving like Peronist presidential hopefuls. Scioli, a moderate Kirchnerite with a conservative background, has already stated that, if the Constitution is not reformed, he will make a bid for the Peronist presidential nomination in 2015. Also showing political ambitions beyond CFK is the teamster Hugo Moyano, the head of the General Labour Confederation (CGT).
A pile of subtext comes with each burst of arguing in the Peronist party especially because Thursday marked the 60th anniversary of Eva Perón’s death. On Wednesday, Fernández de Kirchner unveiled, as a tribute to the late former first lady, a new 100-peso bill that will have Eva Perón’s portrait on it.
The new 100-peso bill was originally planned as commemorative, but the President on Wednesday declared that it will eventually replace the current ones that carry a portrait of the late former president Julio Argentino Roca.
On Thursday, the President headed a rally in the Greater Buenos Aires district of José C. Paz, a working-class Kirchnerite bastion, to mark the 60th anniversary. The local Peronist chief, the Kirchnerite loyalist Mario Ishii, complained in his speech about “saboteurs” who were out to destroy the CFK administration (meaning Moyano). The President picked up on the comment, but told her supporters that the Kirchnerites will prevail. The stage was set for confrontation with Eva Perón’s legacy as the backdrop.
Also on Thursday, Moyano marked the day at CGT headquarters. Paying tribute to Evita and criticizing Perón, Moyano said, was inconceivable. There would have been no Evita without Perón.
So where is the subtext? The subtext is that Fernández de Kirchner continues to portray herself as a member of the leftwing Peronist youth groups that in the seventies clashed with the trade unions and Perón over policies while at the same time exalting Evita (one of the main Kirchnerite groups based in Greater Buenos Aires is called Movimiento Evita). On Thursday, Moyano, who considers himself an “orthodox” old school Peronist, said that those who praise Evita’s legacy and deride Perón are the “worst type of anti-Peronists.”
It is an old argument reloaded. The CGT still behaves like the trade union wing of Peronism. Moyano recently quit as Peronist party vice-president and as head of the party’s Buenos Aires province branch declaring it an “empty shell” after the President refused to meet his political demands ahead of the presidential elections.
Scioli is technically the head of the Peronist party (also known by its initials in Spanish: PJ) after Néstor Kirchner, the President’s late husband and predecessor, died suddenly of a heart attack in 2010. But the President recently named a so-called Political Action Commission (CAP) that calls the strategic shots in the PJ, which does not include Scioli.
The Kirchnerites effectively control the Peronist party even when the potential challengers include Scioli and De la Sota, who has been openly demanding owed pension funds by the national government and criticizing the currency exchange controls. If Scioli, Moyano and others want to effectively take control of the PJ they will have to defy Fernández de Kirchner in primaries ahead of next year’s midterm elections.
Scioli, unlike Moyano, has refrained from engaging in any open confrontation with Fernández de Kirchner. But Scioli’s statement about running for president in 2015 was bold enough to get him on the wrong side of Kirchnerism fast.
Scioli still attended the José C. Paz rally on Thursday and has kept mum. Florencio Randazzo, CFK’s interior minister, has declared that Moyano is now “in the opposition.” But Fernández de Kirchner still considers Scioli, who according to polls is the most popular politician in the land, a key strategic ally. Scioli, Randazzo has said, is still a member of the “national people’s movement.”
Yet the President appeared to lose her patience with Scioli when she initially refused to send 2.8 million pesos in aid that the province desperately needed to pay the salaries and a midyear bonus to half a million provincial state workers. The President, without directly naming Scioli, complained about “mismanagement” by some provincial governments when she initially limited the aid.
But who was hurting? The President eventually summoned Scioli to Government House on July 19 and extended a loan, using ANSeS social security agency funds, of 600 million pesos to the province. The national government also allowed Buenos Aires province to issue debt for another 900 million pesos to pay the bonus.
Did the President’s bid to make Scioli hurt and pay a political price for his mismanagement backfire? The President and Buenos Aires City Mayor Mauricio Macri, the head of the centre-right party PRO, have often cancelled each other out by locking in fierce arguments. Macri recently refused to accept the transfer of the Buenos Aires City subway system from the national government, after signing a preliminary agreement to that effect in January, accusing the CFK administration of failing to deliver on pledged investments. Macri also blamed the national government when two private power utilities pulled the plug on buildings and monuments, including the Obelisk (on Wednesday), claiming that the municipal government owed 60 million pesos in unpaid bills. The power went back on when Macri reached an agreement with the companies to pay the bills.
But Scioli, even when his administration was denied money and was left facing a major crisis, has refused to lock horns with the President.
“The teflon governor,” “the zen-like” politico, that’s what the international news agencies are now calling Scioli, a speed-boat racer who launched his career in the Peronist party when it embraced neoconservative economic policies in the 90s. The Kirchners have lambasted Scioli in public on a number of occasions and not once has the governor lost his cool and sent to hell his strategic alliance with them.
Can Get Together? Moyano’s decision to openly clash with CFK has come with consequences. A group of large pro-government trade unions no longer accept Moyano as CGT boss. The pro-government unions have called a convention for October to elect a new leader of the CGT. There will be, like so many times before, two CGTs come October. But who will head the pro-government CGT? Antonio Caló, the head of the UOM metal workers union, confirmed on Wednesday that he is still a candidate to lead the new CGT. Caló attended the unveiling of the new Evita bank note on Wednesday in Government House thus quashing speculation that he was not on good terms with the President. Caló had failed to attend a meeting of pro-government unions headed by Fernández de Kirchner on July 16. But Caló, after dealing with family issues, is a candidate once again.
Yet the pro-government faction of the CGT, like Argentina in general, is full of contradictions and could still have problems in settling for one leader. The faction includes the so-called “fat cat” Peronist union leaders (mainly electricity workers union leader Oscar Lescano and retail store workers head Armando Cavalieri) who in the nineties negotiated market-friendly labour reforms opposed by Moyano. The pro-government faction also includes the so-called “independent” unions like the UPCN civil servants and the UOCRA construction workers union.
All these unions put together, especially the large industrial unions like UOM and the SMATA auto industry workers union, look more powerful than Moyano’s faction. Yet their support for the government is not blind. Caló and other union leaders have criticized the inflation rate as reported by the state-run INDEC statistics bureau and they have also said they agree with Moyano’s demands for a minimum salary hike and income tax breaks for salaries.
The President has called for a meeting of the Minimum Wage Council and Moyano’s faction is already stating that it will have a right to attend. President and teamster are no longer strategic allies. But what about Scioli? Scioli on Tuesday announced an increase in electricity rates of about 20 percent in the La Plata region. The national government’s reaction? Federal Planning Minister Julio De Vido said that those provinces that unilaterally increase rates will lose national government subsidies for the sector.
While scores are being settled in the PJ, like so many times before, the President continues to move ahead with sweeping reforms to regulate the economy. On Friday, Deputy Economy Minister Axel Kicillof was granted sweeping powers to put into effect, in De Vido’s words, “the intelligent planning” of the fuel industry after the expropriation in April of the energy company YPF. There you go. One man’s regulator is another man’s intelligent planner. Now, back to the Olympics.