December 11, 2013
A young leader with lots of experience
Sergio Massa is dubbing himself as the ‘renewal’ but has ties to 3 administrations
After his decisive victory Sunday, Sergio Massa has emerged as a potential presidential candidate for the 2015 general election, a development welcomed by several non-Peronist leaders. But Massa, who has called his party the Renewal Front, is far from a new face in politics. In fact, just the opposite: a young man with a long career in what some could call “the old way of doing politics.”
The 41-year-old newly elected congressman has had key relationships with the last three Argentine presidents: Eduardo Duhalde, the late Néstor Kirchner and President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Massa knows full well how power works and has no shortage of ambition to get to the Government House.
Massa stepped into the national political field alongside former Tucumán governor and singer Ramón “Palito” Ortega, a Peronist linked to then-president Carlos Menem. In 2002, when Massa was only 29 years old, Duhalde, who was then caretaker president, tapped him to become the head of the ANSeS social security agency. It was a difficult time for Argentines: the country was in flames after the economic and social crisis that erupted in 2001 following a historic default.
Massa agreed and his term in office was successful enough for the next president Néstor Kirchner to keep him in the post when Kirchner took office on May 25, 2003.
Since then, Massa has developed good relationships with journalists, especially ones working for the country’s powerful media groups.
“Every time I said that he was doing something wrong at the ANSeS national security agency, he would phone me and say: ‘Mirta, I always do my best and you always find something to point out,’” journalist Mirta Tundis, who joined the Tigre mayor’s ballot for the midterms, told the Herald last week, referring to Massa’s good relationship with the media.
In 2007, he decided to leave ANSeS to run in Tigre’s mayoral race. It’s been said that Kirchner did not want to support his decision but President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner sponsored his candidacy. In the vote, Massa defeated the Vecinalista party, founded by former Tigre mayor Ricardo Ubieto, an ally of the Kirchnerite administration.
In 2008, a crisis with the agricultural sector over export duties weakened the Kirchnerite administration. Then-Cabinet chief Alberto Fernández resigned without even notifying President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Suddenly, somebody was needed to replace him, so the head of state called Massa.
At the time, the media reported that Massa was a breath of fresh air, mainly due to his good relationship with the media but also because of his hunger and willingness to appear on camera.
Massa says that his bad relationship with the Kirchners began when he refused to cancel an appearance on Mirtha Legrand’s TV programme. He was already sitting in the studio, waiting for the show to start, when he was told to cancel.
“Unless the president tells me to leave, I’ll stay here,” Massa remembers telling Néstor Kirchner at the time.
Massa was also part of a symbolic defeat for Kirchnerism. He joined the ballot as a “testimonial candidate” in the 2009 midterms, but Kirchner was defeated by Francisco de Narváez.
At that time, Massa’s wife, Malena Galmarini headed a separate ballot from the Kirchnerite slate for Tigre’s council, which won more votes than the Victory Front (FpV) ballot. Ever since that day, Kirchnerites branded Massa a “traitor.”
During his time as Tigre mayor, Massa kept his high profile and headed the so-called “group of eight mayors,” the first, embryonic state of what would eventually become the Renewal Front, which launched earlier this year and which these days includes 20 provincial mayors.
He has made crime prevention his hobby-horse and his idea of installing more and more CCTV cameras has become a trademark that he wants to broaden throughout the province. He is also promoting a bill to create municipal police forces, which is currently being discussed in the provincial Legislature.
Malena Galmarini, Massa’s wife, became popular in the run-up to the primaries when she insulted Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli after a strange robbery took place at Massa’s residence in the gated-community, Isla del Sol.
Massa and Malena’s love story is strongly linked to politics.
Massa started his political career as an activist at the conservative Union of the Democratic Centre (UCEDE) while studying Law at the private Belgrano University. His mother-in-law, Marcela Durrieu, introduced him to the Peronist Party when Menem ruled the country. Malena’s father, Fernando “Pato” Galmarini, served as Sports Secretary in Menem’s administration.
In the ‘70s, Galmarini and his then-wife were part of the left-wing armed organization Montoneros. Some have accused Galmarini of being one of the group members that proposed Menem pardon those who had committed crimes against humanity during the military regime that ruled the country between 1976 and 1983.
During Menem’s presidency, Massa was working for Graciela Camaño, a right-wing Peronist union leader and the wife of businessmen Luis Barrionuevo.
Massa used to visit Durrieu’s house and it was there that he met Malena. After five years living together, Massa and Malena got married in 2001. A surprising guest attended the wedding: former president Menem, who was accompanied by his wife Cecilia Bolocco.
Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, BA City Mayor Mauricio Macri’s Cabinet Chief, were also in attendance, as well as Merlo Mayor Raúl Othacehé, a right-wing Peronist currently aligned with Kirchnerism.
In 2002, Massa’s daughter, Milagros, was born and his son,Tomás, followed in 2005.
‘No politics, please’
When Massa decided to run for Congress, he became an editorial boom. Almost instantaneously, two books were published about him.
Juan Cruz Sanz, the author of MassaXMassa: Disclosure of the man who wants to change Argentina’s political course, includes an anecdote that says a lot about the Tigre mayor.
“Every time I used to ask him for an interview, his answer was: ‘Sure, but we can’t talk about politics,’” the author wrote.
In fact, Massa has avoided talking about politics for almost the whole of his campaign and he also certainly avoided ideological labels, as did his main rival, the FpV candidate Martín Insaurralde. Both decided to present themselves as “managers.”
In August, after his victory in the PASO primaries, Massa’s first words were: “We should stop looking backwards. We must focus on future,” a phrase often associated with the right-wing, which would rather forget about the crimes of the last military dictatorship.
Since that day, Massa has been forced to define his positions on a few occasions. He had to make clear, for example, that he supported taking the dictatorship’s perpetrators to court. So did his adviser, Santiago Cantón, a former executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, who told the Herald that Massa wanted to broaden his human rights agenda.
A message from heaven
Malena is not a Catholic, but her husband is.
When Jorge Bergoglio was chosen to be Pope in March, Massa was watching television. Tears of joy started rolling down his cheeks. Pablo de León, the author of Massa: El salto del Tigre, wrote that it was then that Massa realized this was not just a message for Pope Francis, it was also a message also for him... a message from heaven.
He knew that “he had to play in the national political field.” Massa wanted to go further. Now, with two years to go until the presidential election, he is already a frontrunner.