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Elisa Carrió: champion or catastrophe?

Elisa Carrió has always been good at building political alliances but has always lacked of patience to maintain them, experts say.
By Mariano Parada López
For The Herald

The controversial UNEN front leader’s profile is outlined by allies and detractors

At 10.36pm last Wednesday, Elisa Carrió made one of her trademark appearances on TV. A Dos Voces, the most important programme on the Clarín Group-owned news channel TN, was her stage. In a 20-minute interview, Carrió criticized AFIP tax bureau chief Ricardo Echegaray and slammed President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner for not issuing a Christmas greeting and asked the country for a period of mourning for “the 30 who passed away” during the recent looting and heat waves.

During such moments, the tone of her voice went up and down, depending on what she was saying. She winked her right eye, was silent when necessary and kept her eye on those off-camera. Finally, she ended the interview by paraphrasing an Alain Touraine quote: “Without honesty, the world is unfeasible. Without honesty,” she added, “Argentina is unfeasible.”

The origins, the path

Elisa Carrió rose as a political leader during Argentina’s political crisis in 2001. Since then, she has run for presidential elections three times. Born in Chaco province, Buenos Aires City is her main political district, where she took 32.21 percent of votes in last year’s election. Her best tally was 23 percent in the presidential elections of 2007 (37.7 in the City). But 2011 was her Waterloo: she ended up with just 4.3 percent in the country’s main city (1.8 nationwide). Her main ally changed from former teacher union’s leader Marta Maffei, to CRA’s President Mario Llambías, who played an important role in the farmers strike in 2008.

Fernanda Reyes, who ran in the midterm election as a UNEN senatorial candidate, behind Fernando “Pino” Solanas, believes Elisa Carrió has always been the same politician.

“Carrió is a person who you can talk with. It does not matter who you ally (yourself) with, but what you think,” said Reyes. “We have the same vision about honesty and the distribution of wealth. Some people say “Lilita” changed in 2007, I see the same person that I saw in 2001. Sometimes, people’s perceptions of her are not the same,” Reyes told the Herald.

In political analyst Gabriel Puricelli’s opinion, “once she started strengthening her anti-Kirchnerite position, Carrió convinced the right-wing voters, who did not support her in 2001 or 2003. Some of those voters became her hard-core supporters.”

“She is good at building alliances, but suffers from a lack of patience to maintain them. She started in a progressive alliance, the 2001-2005 ARI. After that, she believed that Kirchnerism had occupied the centre-left space, so she took a turn to the right,” Puricelli added.

Former UCR Deputy Ricardo Gil Lavedra says that “Carrió represents her voter’s point of view, those who follow her and who identify with her anti-corruption and honesty initiatives.”

Gil Lavedra, who once stated that the UNEN coalition should “tame” her, now regrets those words: ‘It was not a fortunate statement. Up to now, she has been constructive in her work. We have lots of agreements.”

“Carrió was a leader who declared her principles: no to corruption, no to unfair agreements. But you cannot build a political party to head the country only with negatives. You should state what you want to do and what you need to do it,” a former lawmaker who used to work with Carrió told the Herald. They asked not to be identified.

According to an article written by Herald’s journalist Mariano Beldyk, Carrió voters have changed from residents in middle-class areas of Buenos Aires City to those in high-income neighbourhoods. In 2003, her votes mainly came from Almagro, Boedo, Villa Crespo and Caballito, the core of middle-class in this City. In the presidential election of 2007, Recoleta, Belgrano and Colegiales mostly brought support for the Chaco-born deputy. In 2001, in Recoleta, she just garnered 13 percent of the vote, her best performance in her worst election. But Núñez, Colegiales, Palermo and Belgrano clearly gave her a vote of confidence last year, with her proportion of the vote reaching between 40 and 45 percent.

Denouncing corruption

Carrió made her political career by denouncing crimes of political corruption.

“After the Once (rail tragedy — when a train crashed into the station and 52 people died), the people understood that corruption affects our day-to-day lives, and that Carrió fights against it,” Reyes told the Herald.

On the other hand, Kirchnerite adviser Fernando Braga Menéndez believes the deputy has failed to advance her own cause and is in fact helping the opposition with her campaigning. “Carrió built her reputation on getting others dirty. Once time passed and it was seen that nothing she said was true, the result was beneficial for Kirchnerism. It is highly probable she has improved the government’s credibility,” he said.

From his point of view, Braga Menéndez believes that “in the beginning, she seemed to be a centre-left, progressive woman.” Reyes also concurred that. In the early days, Carrió was considered to be “definitively a centre-left person. It is thought that your allies indicate your political convictions. After all the bills we endorsed, it can be seen that we are far from a centre-right party.”

The show-woman

“It is clear that Carrio’s performance proved to be better in front of a camera than in institutions. In that sense, she is similar to Cristina Fernández de Kirchner,” said Puricelli Yáñez, the president of the Public Policies Laboratory. “Heading a bloc is rather difficult for her,” he declared, underscoring his point with a comparison to an Italian politician. “In the rest of the world, Beppe Grillo (leader of the Italian political party, the Five-Star Movement) has a similar profile to Carrió.”

Guido Bastrocchi, a journalist and producer of Nelson Castro’s TV programme, which also airs on TN, spoke about the importance of Carrió in a recent broadcast. “Carrió makes a big contribution when there are heavy institutional issues (on the agenda). When she talks about republic-related topics, is difficult to be her equal. Journalists create a reflection of what society thinks. If the journalist realizes Carrió has something to say, it is because the people want to listen to Carrió.”

“In some moments, Carrió is very lucid; in others, when she tries to foresee (what’s going to happen), she loses credibility. Who does she resemble? Aníbal Fernández. Both Carrió and Fernández know how to use words, (how to) make them hurt others and hit hard,” Baistrocchi pondered.

Time will tell whether Carrió may convince more people to accept her “ethical contract.” In Puricelli’s words, “a less catastrophic way of speaking will help her win.”

@mparadalopez

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