June 19, 2013
Underground or underdog?
By Michael Soltys
Buenos Aires Herald Senior Editor
There is an African saying: “When two elephants fight, it’s the grass which suffers” — the mutual refusal of the national government and City Hall to shoulder responsibility for the metropolitan subway leaves the hapless commuter as the ham in the sandwich, even if there was a last-minute stay of execution on strike action as from tomorrow (merely a truce while nobody agrees to sit down for collective wage bargaining with the workers). There is everything to recommend an “a plague on both your houses” approach to this deadlock (a curse which both sides would richly deserve) except for the fact that this moralistic position does not bring us anywhere nearer a solution — something (and somebody) has to give.
Our considered opinion is that this somebody and something should be Mauricio Macri’s City Hall. This is not to ignore the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration’s political malice in so abruptly dumping the subway like a hot potato in Macri’s lap but the transfer has since become a law of Congress as well as a presidential whim and political gambit against a potential 2015 rival. This law might be maliciously unfair but who says that other laws such as the exchange and import controls are fair (or life in general)? Macri cannot go cherry-picking among the legislation of an elected government to only heed what he likes any more than he can go court-shopping. Moreover, Macri set a precedent against his current rejection when he initially accepted the transfer at the start of the year, increasing subway fares. His aversion to assuming a potentially 10-digit burden from a national government bent on undermining his fiscal independence and to placing himself at the mercy of trade unions ruthless enough to hold the ordinary citizen hostage is all too easy to understand but he has the funds to heed the law — both a budget surplus and notorious underspending in various areas (not to mention residual national subsidies).
Macri can only claim the moral victory of being victimized by an unscrupulous national government after accepting the political defeat first — “no pain, no gain” applies to playing the victim along with various other areas in life. Nor would capitulation necessarily mean even political defeat (Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli could give lessons on how to gain ground by yielding it) — if Macri is the first to swallow his pride, he might well come to be seen as the saviour of the subway against an uncaring and self-serving national government.