There is a political maxim, and therefore unquestionable, which says that only Peronism can govern a country as complex as Argentina. Those who proclaim it give examples: when the government of the radical Raúl Alfonsín was sinking into hyperinflation in 1989, Carlos Menem arrived to accommodate things. In 2001, after the fall of another radical, Fernando de la Rúa, Peronism was in charge of pulling Argentina out of the well, this time at the hands of Eduardo Duhalde and Néstor Kirchner. Almost 20 years later, Mauricio Macri left the country in default, with a debt to the IMF of 44,000 million dollars and inflation above 50%. The Argentines embraced once again the saving table of Peronism. But the facts now call into question the party’s ability to resolve the deepest crises.
Argentines have gradually lost faith in the president, Alberto Fernández, and his deputy, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. The discouragement in the street was already evident before last Saturday, when the accelerated resignation of the Minister of Economy, Martín Guzmán, revealed the depth of the Palacio crisis. The minister’s slam was the consummation of the slow but persistent process of demolition that Kirchner had undertaken against the president and his most faithful entourage. The election of a new minister took almost 48 hours due to the lack of agreement between them. The duo had not spoken in private for months. Finally, the name of Silvina Batakis emerged, an economist close to Kirchner who, at the same time, promised to obey Fernández and comply with the agreement with the IMF signed by her predecessor, Guzmán. A political oxymoron.
Fernández and Kirchner have spoken to each other again. They did it at least four times in the last week. The fear of a definitive debacle ended up convincing them of the fragility of an alliance that was born in 2019 against nature, with a vice president with votes imposing a president without them in the Casa Rosada. “We Peronists are like cats. It seems that we are fighting and in reality we are reproducing ourselves”, Juan Domingo Perón used to say to justify the tensions inherent to political construction. What is in question now is that capacity for reproduction that the founding father boasted so much about. “This crisis hits Peronism very hard,” warns Pablo Touzón, political scientist and director of the Scenarios consultancy. “We are facing a historic round in which it does not seem that this crisis can be resolved through Peronism,” he says.
Vicente Palermo, founder of the Argentine Political Club, is one of the political scientists who has studied Peronism the most. He is of the idea that the party’s ability to resolve crises “has no historical foundation.” “Peronism is structured in a way that carries within it the conditions to produce or deepen crises, so that they self-generate and reach a situation of explosion that they cannot control later,” he says. And he gives the most recent example of the debacle that followed Perón’s death in 1974, with the inauguration of his widow, Isabel Martínez, and the 1976 coup d’etat. That idea that Peronism includes the workers, those who more can sustain a government, it can be applied in certain stretches of history, but not always”, he says.
Claudio Belini, an economic historian at the University of Buenos Aires, agrees that part of the problem is that the social base of early Peronism has been lost, the one that in the 1950s seemed unstoppable. “Argentine society is no longer that industrial society organized in unions,” he says. “The first Peronism showed a greater capacity to resolve some questions of the power dispute. But now the Argentine State is different, it has lost the capacity to intervene in the economy and to discipline large social actors. That is why it is more complex for Peronism to address crises.”
The crossroads of Kirchnerism
The markets welcomed the new minister Batakis with a drop in the peso and debt bonds and the spike in inflation. Meanwhile, Fernández secluded himself in the Casa Rosada and Kirchner reappeared in public after a month. The vice president joked that she was not planning to “throw up any other minister” in the Cabinet and, for the first time, she did not publicly humiliate Fernández. She charged, yes, against Minister Guzmán, whom she accused of destabilizing the Government with his resignation. A truce had been consummated, the result of the need for survival. Kirchnerism is at a crossroads. She hates Fernández because he considers him lukewarm, but if he makes him fall he knows that the crisis will explode in his hands. The objective is, then, to reach 2023 alive, when the presidential elections will be held.
“The problem is that Peronism is a coalition of a supposedly radical sector, in the classic sense, which is Kirchnerism, and an extremely conservative sector, which are the non-Kirchnerist governors and tribes,” says Palermo. “And governing that coalition is very difficult, because it is inconsistent. Many opposing interests have to be reconciled,” he explains. Minister Batakis is caught up in these internal tensions. Everyone recognizes her ability as an economist, but there is consensus that the seriousness of the situation requires names with more political scrolls. In fact, the discussion in the Casa Rosada is whether it will not be necessary to undertake a profound reform of the Cabinet as soon as possible to give oxygen to the management.
“The economy has its reasons”, says Touzón, “but the first motor is politics”. “A year ago nobody talked about hyperinflation, like now. It is not clear to what extent Kirchner’s perception that this will be a disaster makes it a disaster,” he adds. Touzon’s concern is that beyond Peronism there doesn’t seem to be much else. “In the crisis of 1975, with a broken Peronism, the military party was crouched to assume bloodily. In 1989, Peronism had already resolved its internal affairs and Menem was there. In 2001 we had the agreement of the province of Buenos Aires, with Duhalde and Alfonsín. Today, the question is who sustains the power vacuum, if the opposition is willing to occupy the centrality”, says Touzón.
Whether the situation is terminal remains to be seen. There are 15 months left for the elections and Peronism will fight. Palermo recalls that the party still has “a very strong territorial base in the cordon of the province of Buenos Aires.” The governors, the essence of power in the interior of the country, are increasingly aligned with Kirchner, evidence that they perceive migration in the Casa Rosada. They will be months of much noise within the party.
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