December 9, 2013
‘You want to build bridges in democracy’
By Aigul Safiullina
Buenosairesherald.com met Iván Petrella, the academic director of the PRO caucus think tank Fundación Pensar and the party’s first candidate for the City Legislature.
In a perfect English, Petrella stated that he was honoured by the role he’s been given by PRO leader and Buenos Aires City Mayor Mauricio Macri and highlighted the public policies that seek the “equality of opportunities.” He said he would prioritise the “most vulnerable” in the City and “build bridges” with other political parties. At the same time, Petrella blasted the national government for what he considered the “lack of transparency” and the “climate of conflict.”
What motivated you to accept the candidacy?
I must say it is a great honour and responsibility to Macri, who is giving me this opportunity, the PRO caucus, and also the people who live in the city of Buenos Aires who I hope will trust in the party and in me.
On a more personal level, my background is academic. My work is focused on the relationship between public policy and poverty, specifically something called the preferential option for the poor and how public policy can be grounded in the needs, desires and perspectives of those in society who are worst of. That has been my academic research for the past 10 years. For me this is the opportunity to step out of the classroom and try to apply these ideas in the real situations, and see how these ideas work in practice and hopefully make life better for some people in the City.
Having said this, how do you see yourself on the political scene of the Buenos Aires City now?
I see this process as exciting and challenging, because it’s new for me. But I don’t see myself as having to work wonders. The reality is that I am a part of the team that has been working in the City for the past 5-6 years. I think I am joining that team with a clear direction and clear ideas. It’s a great learning experience now and in the future. I don’t see myself as leading the ballot but part of those people who I’m learning from. It’s a mixed group of people coming from different experiences and who want to spend time of their life making the difference.
Speaking about the PRO administration, how do you evaluate the current state of public hospitals, schools and transport in the City?
I think the public policy profile of the city government has two axes: one of them is equality of opportunity, a mixture of social inclusion and creating the backgrounds so that everybody can develop their own life project. The other axis is the focus on the future so that the solutions we try to implement now remain valid. And if you look at the key things that the city government has done, every policy has those two parts.
For example starting English in the first grade gives the same tools to the kid in the public school to compete with the one in the private school. Metrobus is another example, as many can’t afford to buy a car. It’s the future, because this transport is more environmentally-friendly.
To sum up, this government has really emphasized, with limitations and more things to be done, a focus on the poor. But the focus on the poor hasn’t been based on clientelism. In opposite, our focus is generating the real change and investments so that people can design their life projects for the long run.
How does this coincide with the existing conflicts like the subway dispute, or decreasing the number of free education programs?
As for the subway, I would disagree that it was a two-sided responsibility. The subway has been always run by the national government which has always tried to get rid of problems, basically dumping them on the City. Obviously, the subway system needs a massive investment that hasn’t been done in the past 10 years. The City government for its part has enabled a renovation of 70 percent of the subway system.
The subway was passed to us without subsidies and we had to readjust the budget accordingly. We don’t have the luxury of the national government, printing money whenever you want to.
As for the education programs, I need to check these figures.
How do you plan to work with other political parties? Are you expecting specific challenges?
One of the things that needs to be highlighted about the City Legislature is that in the past years it has functioned much better than the National Congress, which passed laws fueled mainly by the national government. And they passed many of those laws without debate.
On the other hand, the City Legislature has passed an immense number of laws, many of those presented by the opposition. There have also been laws presented by the PRO, which doesn’t have a majority. Those laws have been passed through debate, discussion and reaching a sort of consensus.
So the Legislature has been an example of a well-oiled and functioning democracy.
When you look at the names in the lists, you see people of prestige, like Jorge Taiana, María Eugenia Estenssoro. These are the names I look forward to work with in terms of discussing and enacting policies in the future.
This sounds very positive…
True. Right now Argentina is experiencing a political climate of conflict. I think it’s something that shall be clearly overcome. Top of the debts that we have (with voters) as a democracy is strengthening the democratic culture, opening discussion, negotiation. I think in the last 10 years we’ve gone backwards in this sense.
Democratic institutions stand upon that culture and those institutions are only that strong as that culture. This needs to come from the political class and also from the citizenry, when they vote not only specific policies, but also the style of leadership which is as important as the public policies.
What are the projects you plan to drive in the City Legislature? What are your term goals?
My goal is to be a productive part of the team, which I think is working already very well. I would like to pass laws which make a difference, especially to those who are most vulnerable in the City. But I can’t say now, what’ll shape that law. There is research to be done, people that I have to meet, discussions need to take place.
What would be your first step after assuming the new role?
It’s a good question. I think the first thing I’ll do is trying to meet with different figures of other political parties in the Legislature. In democracy I think you want to build bridges. My conviction is that if you establish a face to face relationship, it will be harder not to work on good ideas just because of political prejudice.
How do you see yourself after your term?
I see the politics as almost a priestly vocation, where you try to make people’s lives better. This is one opportunity. I don’t have a specific goal, but I would like to continue my academic work, teaching. And if other opportunities emerge that I believe in, I would go for them.
What is your expectation for these legislative elections on the City level?
I have no idea. If we hit 30 percent it would be fine. Whatever the elector of the City of Buenos Aires decides to trust in, that is what we go with.