Wednesday
July 26, 2017

The week

Friday, July 14, 2017

Let the games begin (they already have)

Who gains more from the Pepsico eviction? The ex-employers or the government?
Who gains more from the Pepsico eviction? The ex-employers or the government?
Who gains more from the Pepsico eviction? The ex-employers or the government?
By Michael Soltys / Senior Editor
Today is the first day of the rest of our lives — until the October 22 midterm elections at least. Nominally at least because if today marks the official start of the campaign for the PASO nationwide primary in one month from yesterday, numerous candidates (including some from government parties) have been blatantly active for some time now.

This week will surely have seen the last of Congress until PASO but they did at least go through the motions of sessioning before entering winter recess. Not that there was any anxiety to reduce the legislative backlog ahead of campaigning — the Senate indulged in mutual obstructionism over minor bills while in the Lower House the issue of how best to weed out former Federal Planning Minister Julio De Vido from its ranks acquired a sudden urgency.

While Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is supposed to have enshrined adversary politics in Argentina, the Mauricio Macri administration does not fall behind when it comes to demonising opponents — all guns blazing against Attorney General Alejandra Gils Carbó early in the week, only to revert to De Vido when Macri’s maverick ally Elisa Carrió expressed misgivings about removing any legal authority by decree, even a “criminal” like Gils Carbó.

Such institutional scruples seem to be the exception rather than the rule in the ranks of the Let’s Change coalition because proposing De Vido’s expulsion from the Lower House on the grounds of various corruption cases without any conviction (unlike Lula in Brazil) does not seem any more correct than changing the chief prosecutor by decree. If there were any doubts about political and electoral logic prevailing, they should be removed by the way Lower House PRO caucus leader Nicolás Massot insistently used the Kirchnerite minister as an argument against dissident Peronist Sergio Massa on the grounds that Massa had been De Vido’s Cabinet chief during one of his 12 years in the Planning portfolio — Massa is a prime target to squeeze out with the aim of polarising anti-Kirchnerism into some tactical voting behind Macri’s candidates (the Justicialist Party’s Florencio Randazzo seems almost the preferred vehicle for fragmenting the Peronist vote).

Not that Massa is any better with his gesture politics of waiving his parliamentary privileges — these are inseparable from the seat as a functionally essential protection of legislative independence. And it is not as if these privileges stand in the way of trials — ex-president Carlos Menem has been a senator almost all the time since he left office and this did not prevent him from being convicted for gun-running to the Balkans and Ecuador (not that this conviction seems to be blocking him from being a candidate this year either).

If last week the onslaught against De Vido (briefly replaced in the firing-line by Gils Carbó for a couple of days at the start of the week) had been based on the misallocation of funds surrounding the Patagonian Río Turbio coal-mine, its resumption this week was pure character assassination in the form of presenting De Vido’s “moral incapacity” as reason enough to expel him from the Lower House. But this criterion is hopelessly subjective. There seems a broad consensus that De Vido is as crooked as they come but an expulsion on this basis sets a bad precedent for any kind of witch-hunt from which hardly anybody would be immune — immorality is almost as natural for politics as breathing for normal people.

In any case aside from constitutional principles and legal norms there is also Realpolitik and here is where any bid to advance the drive against De Vido beyond the purely rhetorical becomes sticky. If it were merely a question of exposing the spider at the heart of a Kirchnerite web of crony capitalism, it would be all so simple but it goes much further. We have already seen how the IECSA construction company (under Macri’s cousin Angelo Calcaterra until recently) occupied a privileged place in De Vido’s scheme of things — this was no accident but stemmed from the need to have all construction players on the take because anybody clean would enjoy a potentially dangerous edge over competitors (Federal Judge Claudio Bonadio’s list of 251 businessmen is only the tip of the iceberg).

But De Vido’s role also goes beyond being the man who knows too much within the local network. The many innovations of this 21st century include the consolidation of China as a global economic superpower and in Argentina most of that century so far has been under Kirchnerite presidencies with De Vido as the public works minister — he is thus a key nexus for much of that strategic relationship while much of the groundwork was performed by Macri’s father Franco setting up base in Beijing. The current Congress frenzy thus looks like another example of “fools rush in where angels fear to tread” (in the words of Alexander Pope).

HUMBUG IN HAMBURG

Macri was close enough to the Chinese leadership at last weekend’s G20 summit in Hamburg but does not seem to have done too much on that front or any, apart from bringing back some positive noises towards a European Union-Mercosur agreement. Despite being next year’s host (presumably the reason why he appeared next to German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the group photo), Macri did not attract much attention — his G20 colleagues were mostly preoccupied with the disruptive anarchistic protests outside while behind the closed doors they were more concerned with getting their heads around the problem of how to live with and without United States President Donald Trump (intent on abdicating world leadership to China). A quiet Independence Day last Sunday aboard the training frigate Libertad and then Macri was already homeward-bound that evening.

Not too much happened during the presidential absence. Vice-President Gabriela Michetti duly replaced Macri for a low-key Independence Day ceremony in Tucumán with little to report apart from some Kirchnerite heckling. A volatile first week of July for the dollar was not continued into the second with the greenback finding a new equilibrium for now in territory above the 17-peso mark. The US government named names in the Odebrecht graft scandal (with De Vido’s name confidently expected to top that list) to half a dozen Argentine judges and prosecutors in Washington but no further information had reached this column at time of writing.

Apart from the legal offensive against sundry Kirchnerites and the dissolution of the Communications Ministry (both subjects of editorials on page 16 and 17) the main developments this week since the G20 summit have been the midweek sessions in Congress (discussed above) and yesterday’s uproar in and around the occupied Pepsico plant in Florida.

LABOUR EFFERVESCENCE

The Pepsico saga began on the first day of winter when the multinational announced the closure of its Vicente López plant and the transfer of all manufacturing operations to Mar del Plata but came to a head this week. The Pepsico plant (which despite its name actually manufactured snacks, not the famous beverage) seems to have relocated its white-collar staff in Mar del Plata but the 500 blue-collar workers were made redundant — they were offered a voluntary retirement severance package which many accepted but others opted to occupy the plant.

Yet perhaps the most interesting question here is the origin of yesterday’s order to evict. The obvious explanation is that the owners wished to reclaim their property but if they had already taken the decision to abandon the plant, why should they care if some of their ex-employees wished to turn it into a worker co-operative? Instead it seems more probable that the initiative came from the government determined to play the tough guy against disruptive protests for electoral purposes.

The following week will determine whether yesterday’s eviction was the begininng or the end of this story.

The labour front is relatively calm — most trade unions have concluded collective bargaining with wage increase settlements of 20-25 percent (even Labour Minister Jorge Triaca admits to an average of 21 percent with several unions above that percentage) and are unlikely to act up until inflation overtakes that hike. Even CFK, often a firebrand, is urging CGT moderation so that she can project a campaign image of stability for her senatorial run.

Teachers are probably the least happy sector. The 24.7 percent pay increase won earlier this month by Buenos Aires province teachers sparked the envy of their City colleagues, who had earlier settled for 19 percent — they are now seeking 30 percent and went on strike on Tuesday. But their brethren in Buenos Aires province are not content either. Buenos Aires province Governor María Eugenia Vidal had gone back on her resolve to dock pay for strike days but only if these are compensated later in the year — many teachers now balk at this condition. But these problems are minor compared with the fury of unpaid Santa Cruz teachers, who are occupying educational offices around the province.

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