September 18, 2014
Scioli in a state
The lynch mob violence forces the governor to make a move
The presidential race of 2015 has not started. Or has it? No, it hasn’t. But there are legions of spin doctors out there getting their engineering ready for the ultimate showdown.
The jury, especially if you ask the critics, is out on the significance of the Kirchnerite decade. If you ask President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, since 2003 Argentina has seen the longest period of economic growth of its 200-year history. Maybe that’s true, the critics say, but the money raked in has been squandered.
Yet Argentina has changed. Politicians are now far more professional than they were ten years ago. Fernández de Kirchner, during one of her public appearances, has stubbornly declared that she is the kind of politician that says what she really thinks and does not simply try to please public opinion by chirping the tune favoured by the majority. But the rest of Argentina’s major league politicians have an upcoming presidential race to think about. They will not contradict the polls.
Those polls are now consitently showing that the public’s main concern is crime (and “drug trafficking”). That’s old news. But what is relatively fresher information is that lynch mobs are now inflicting violence on muggers and suspected muggers.
Argentina has a history of violence. It has a specific history of political violence. Yet the page of political violence seems to have been turned with the return of democracy in 1983. Relatives of the dictatorship’s victims have always pursued justice and have not sought personal revenge. But suddenly what you have here are vigilantes enraged about crime and doing something violent about it, to the point of beating suspected muggers to death. In one neighbourhood in the city of Santa Fe residents put up signs saying that robbers would be “lynched.”
Sergio Massa, the rebel Peronist who defeated the president’s ruling Victory Front coalition in last year’s midterm elections in Buenos Aires province, has an explanation. The lynch mobs are out because the “state is absent.” Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri, the leader of the centre-right party PRO, had a similar take on the violence. What the public wants, Macri said, is to see a “strong state” fighting crime.
And Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli, a moderate Kirchnerite hoping to run for president next year, yesterday declared Buenos Aires province in a state of emergency. The reason? Crime.
Scioli said that fresh funds worth 600 million pesos (from “Banco Provincia utilities”) will be injected for the task of fighting crime and that 5,000 new police officers will be recruited for “more intense” patrolling, especially in Greater Buenos Aires.
“This declaration of an emergency,” Scioli said at yesterday’s press conference, “will serve to use the full weight of a present state on murderers and delinquents. We must be dynamic to chase, catch and jail criminals.”
The governor also said that 10 new prosecutors’ offices will be established to fight drug trafficking and announced that municipalities will be allowed to regulate the use of motorcycles, which are often used by robbers.
Scioli said that motorcyclists with two riders will have to wear fluorescent vests and the registration number plate of the motorbike on the helmet. The governor called for the reform of legislation to prosecute juvenile delinquents. During the state of emergency decreed yesterday, Scioli said, the Security Council will session permanently.
Scioli is being tested by the latest wave of concern about crime because he rules over Buenos Aires, the nation’s largest district.
The governor already felt the heat during the 17-day strike by Buenos Aires province school teachers to demand a pay increase. That strike ended last week after a salary agreement was reached. (Significantly when polls showed that the public was blaming the national government for the walkout.)
Yet Scioli, who presently does not have CFk’s endorsement to run for president next year, is already facing another crisis. Scioli, by calling a press conference to make headline-grabbing announcements on a rainy Saturday when not much else was happening, is trying to regain the initiative by looking in charge.
Massa, the former mayor of Tigre who currently holds a seat in the Lower House of Congress, is in a more comfortable political situation than Scioli, who is directly responsible for what goes on in Buenos Aires province.
Three potential presidential hopefuls (Macri, Massa and Scioli) are monitoring the political developments and looking at those public opinion polls complaining about an “absent state.”
Scioli specifically said that the new measures are designed to show the population that the “state is present.” Argentina is heading for a presidential election without Fernández de Kirchner in the race next year and the contenders are already jockeying for position.
Scioli is running against history: a Buenos Aires province governor has never been elected president of Argentina.
The long teachers’ strike and now the crime crisis are the kind of pressure Scioli will be under, especially because hardline Kirchnerites (and the president herself) have not spoken in favour of his presidential bid.
Yet Scioli, a former powerboat driver who lost an arm in a racing accident, is all about resilience and political stamina. Macri and Massa, who are both contesting the centre-right vote, had a field day all week by condemning the lynch mobs, but at the same time blaming the “absent state” for the situation.
It’s not clear whether Scioli’s new set of policies trumpeted yesterday have the support of the president and the national government in general. But Scioli, if he is to clinch the presidential nomination of the Victory Front, will be forced to make similar decisions under pressure that could irk Fernández de Kirchner.
The president, during a public appearance on Monday, took a thinly-veiled swipe at Massa and Hermes Binner, the socialist lawmaker, for purportedly justifying the vigilante violence. Fernández de Kirchner spoke about a “thirst for revenge” and compared the mobbings with the Nazi violence unleashed in Adolf Hitler’s Germany.
The president addressed the nation again on Wednesday, a national holiday to mark the 32nd anniversary of the Malvinas war. She made passing remarks about the bloodshed, but obviously the main issue was Malvinas.
Fernández de Kirchner accused the United Kingdom of using the disputed Malvinas Islands as a South Atlantic “NATO base.” She also alleged that the UK has nuclear weapons on the islands (an accusation that was formally denied by the Foreign Office on Friday).
Fernández de Kirchner complained about the UK’s military spending in Malvinas and said that it should concentrate on battling youth unemployment instead. CFK also unveiled a new 50-peso bank note to celebrate Argentina’s claim to sovereignty over the Malvinas islands. But the holiday was soon over. The lynch mob violence issue did not go away. It stuck around for so long that Scioli yesterday was forced to make a move to deal with the potential political fallout.
All presidential hopefuls will have to run in the compulsory PASO primaries next year. But Macri and Massa are leaders of their party and are not expected to have rivals in the primaries. Scioli meanwhile could be forced to run against other Kirchnerite presidential hopefuls in the primary of the Victory Front, the coalition that includes the Peronist party (PJ). The PJ is trying to stay united even after it was humbled by Massa’s victory in Buenos Aires province last year against the president’s handpicked candidates.
Massa is showing his political reflexes by addressing the mob violence issue and also when he recently criticized the planned reform of the Penal Code, which he said is softer on crime. Massa’s performance could be a sign that Argentina’s political pendulum is swaying to the right. But the presidential elections are not now, or are they? They are next year. The uproar surrounding the crime issue could be simply a sign that all candidates are over anxious. This is not the year 2015 just yet.