September 19, 2014
Conversation in the cathedral
Argentina is changing perhaps more rapidly than any potential presidential candidate could ever imagine, while the nation seems to be heading for a transition that will be different from the implosions endured since the return of democracy in 1983. There is no reason to believe that the ruling Victory Front coalition could not be defeated at the presidential polls next year after more than a decade in power, as issues like inflation, crime and corruption are likely to dominate the campaign. But the opposition should also be aware that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s credibility will not necessarily be destroyed. Therefore, just the opposite, the belief that Kirchnerism is out of the race would also be an abuse of predictive capabilities. The country at the same time is grappling to come to terms with the full dimension of having an Argentine-born pope, Francis, at the helm of the Catholic Church. In that regard, a notable development is that Fernández de Kirchner on Sunday attended the May 25 Te Deum at the Buenos Aires City Cathedral for the first time since 2006. An air of a transition was dominant at the Cathedral with the ceremony also attended by Buenos Aires City Mayor Mauricio Macri, the leader of the centre-right party PRO, and his Cabinet. What Fernández de Kirchner and Macri heard at the Te Deum, predictably, was a call for dialogue delivered by an archbishop, Mario Poli, carrying the word of Francis. Will politicians get the message? And, perhaps more poignantly, should politicians have to listen to a politically-loaded message in a church? Argentina is still a secular country.
The president on Sunday afternoon that addressed the crowd in Plaza de Mayo attending the May 25 celebration embraced the concept of national unity and even apologized rhetorically to those who find her confrontational style shocking. Yet the president also told the crowd that she was not interested in national unity if that meant sacrificing her progressive principles. At best, this was Fernández de Kirchner thinking out loud in front of her constituency while the conciliatory message of Francis lingered. At worst, the president was failing to comprehend that for national unity to actually work each party must sacrifice at least a little of its agenda. But it would be unfair to think that opposition politicians are more than willing to make sacrifices in the name of unity. Are they, say, prepared to allow for a smooth transition until 2015 if that works against their own personal political ambitions?
The debate now raging, after the president’s decision to attend the ceremony at the cathedral on May 25, is about the meaning of such a debatible issue as national unity. It’s a start.