If it is right to judge people by the company they keep, City Mayor Mauricio Macri does not emerge too favourably from Tuesday’s huddle with the abrasive teamster Hugo Moyano and the even seedier trade unionist Luis Barrionuevo (notorious for once saying that nobody makes money by working in Argentina). Macri could always argue that the meeting between the opposition union leaders and the helm of his PRO centre-right party was in the interests of national dialogue but the fact remains that the encounter unfolded with far more agreement than differences (largely limited to Senator Gabriela Michetti’s advocacy of union democracy which irked most of the labour bosses present) — it is also true that the two main presidential hopefuls from the Peronist movement with such close historic links to organized labour, namely Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli and Renewal Front leader Sergio Massa, have thus far shunned contact with this dubious duo of trade unionists (although not, strangely enough, Hermes Binner’s Socialists, who have agreed to meet them next week).
Macri is widely hailed by his admirers as Argentina’s most serious alternative to populism while demonized by government supporters and most people left of centre as the most electorally successful voice of the reactionary right but could it be that both sides are wrong about this man? Rather than being a free market purist like, say, Ricardo López Murphy, his flirtation with Moyano and Barrionuevo makes him come across as a total opportunist with little enough to distinguish him from Peronist stereotypes — an impression by no means banished by examining his record over the last seven years while running City Hall where he has built up as formidable a propaganda machine as the national government and where he has shown as much zest for squeezing money out of the citizenry as any populist (municipal highway tolls are the latest example this week). Nor is there anything new about his dealings with Moyano — the two men have a running agreement over this city’s garbage disposal, for example.
In short, the “Macri 2015” campaign arouses both hopes and fears of a far more rightist and free market style of government for Argentina but both his mayoral record and such political stunts as Tuesday’s meeting suggest that Macri basically offers more of the same — that petty politics whose end the citizenry was loudly demanding a dozen summers ago but which is still very much around.