Wednesday
October 22, 2014

#Politics and the press

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Kicillof like Messi

By Marcelo J. García
For The Herald
A month ago, the government was confident that by the time the national team was playing its second World Cup Soccer game today the public agenda would be much friendlier than it is. But the ball is not bringing the administration much of a relief. Messi & Co. have not been able —so far — to overshadow Boudou and the holdouts.

It might comfort President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to know that she is not the only one. Brazilians booed Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff during the Cup’s opening game, both at the stadium and elsewhere.

Beyond a discussion on whether heckling the President is a good thing to do when the entire world is watching you, Latin American societies are showing that circuses are one thing and bread is another. As an editorial by the Brazilian daily Folha de Sao Paulo said on World Cup opening day: “Supporting the national team does not mean ignoring the country’s problems. Glory on the field says nothing about governments.”

But back here, the Fernández de Kirchner administration is seeing its soccer break spoiled by the court investigation targeting Vice-President Amado Boudou and the court blow handed to the country by the US Supreme Court in the case filed by the holdouts of Argentina’s 2005 and 2010 debt swaps. The combo could hardly be any more explosive: corruption plus potential economic array.

As she enters the last 500 days of her second term, the President has been struggling to stick to a positive agenda. She appears on every new urban train launched on city rails by Transport Minister Florencio Randazzo, who also happens to be a presidential hopeful. She also announced last month an increase in the AUH children’s allowance and a new plan to expand retirement benefits to cover up to half a million Argentines without a pension. She was even joyful at the news that her government clinched an agreement with the Paris Club to repay some 10 billion dollars in old debt. A good World Cup performance by Argentina was meant to turn around the public’s mood, which turned bitter after the January devaluation of the peso and the stubborn high inflation.

Losing grip on the agenda places the government on the defensive, a situation where it does not feel comfortable.

***

Economy Minister Axel Kicillof is arguably the government’s Lionel Messi. Often a reluctant captain, Messi made an unexpected press appearance a day after Argentina’s opening match against Bosnia and said the team should be more on the attack than coach Alejandro Sabella had initially planned. Messi will be right as long as the team continues to win — and plays better. Should a strong team beat the team four-nil in the quarter finals as happened in the last World Cup, the fans might start to wonder whether defence was not a good idea after all.

Kicillof has reportedly been the one talking the President into sorting out the multiple foreign economic fronts the government has opened over the last two years. The menu includes a new inflation index elaborated with IMF cooperation, a settlement with Repsol over the nationalization of YPF and the Paris Club deal. His victory will also be measured by results, i.e. getting the economy to grow again. The Supreme Court ruling against Argentina’s case seemed like a last-minute goal against the government’s plans. There is still some extra time to play and the economic team might find the spirit to fight for an equalizer.

As the news coming from Washington, New York and Buenos Aires unfolded this week, the local and foreign media agendas seemed to move on separate tracks. Ambiguity of messages, likely the result of unresolved strategies, led to multiple interpretations. When the local press was saying Argentina was committed to settle with the “vulture funds,” international news agencies and the US press interpreted that the country was bracing for a new default. One was on the defence, the other on the attack.

***

In any case, the government’s language on the holdouts issue was better at explaining the genesis of Argentina’s debt trauma and in looking ahead and explaining future action. This is arguably a recurring problem for Argentina’s leadership, which at times seem incapable of picturing and narrating a vision. The ruling party’s slogan celebrating “the decade won” instead of projecting the decade ahead dangerously borders on nostalgia. The syndrome also affects an opposition more keen on slamming the bad of the administration, which is less imaginative than describing the country they would like to build if elected.

If you care about symbols, the World Cup frenzy is full of examples. The latest cheering song by Argentine fans crowding Brazilian cities recalls a round-of-16 game won by Argentina against Brazil in the 1990 Cup in Italy. Argentina won 1 to 0 after an almost miraculous goal scored by Claudio Caniggia after Diego Maradona dribbled past three Brazilian players. Brazil had dominated most of the game. The game happened 24 years ago. The Argentine fans believe their Brazilian fellows cannot forget that day. Brazil won two World Cups since then. In football as in politics, it is all about results.

@mjotagarcia

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