Argentine President Mauricio Macri has a Trump problem, partly created by himself and his right-wing political movement.
Macri is one of several right-wing Latin American presidents who have staked their countries’ futures on the promise of being able to attract foreign, chiefly U.S., corporate investment. Others include President Temer of Brazil, President Kuczynski of Peru, President Cartes of Paraguay, President Peña Nieto of Mexico, as well as the presidents of Guatemala and Honduras.
In order to achieve this supposed bonanza of investment, these heads of state have trashed the social safety net for their working class and poor citizens, reversing the gains in living standards achieved by the Bolivarian “pink tide” that brought left or left-center governments to power in numerous countries in the Western Hemisphere, including Argentina. They have imposed the full neoliberal program of austerity, privatization, and deregulation and are working to undermine labor unions and workers’ rights in their countries.
In Argentina, where Macri’s right-wing presidency replaced the left-leaning government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s Victory Alliance coalition as a result of the October 2015 elections, the impact on the working class has been drastic. As the cost of living has shot up for the working class, up to 150,000 government workers and tens of thousands of private sector workers have lost their jobs.
This has led to massive protests by workers and their allies. It has brought unprecedented tactical unity to the notably fractious Argentine labor movement. But Macri has plowed on, claiming that eventually the attraction of new foreign investment will create more jobs than have been lost. He does not mention that foreign companies only invest in countries like Argentina if they can be guaranteed cheap labor and a minimum of labor, environmental, and regulatory safeguards.
For Macri’s plan to “work”, it requires that countries like the United States not only invest in Argentina, but import the products of that investment. This is the basic neoliberal model of economic development pioneered, with similarly dismal results, by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which links Mexico with the United States and Canada.
But now comes Donald Trump, who has dropped the rhetoric of “free” trade on which people like Macri have relied so much, in exchange for a nationalistic and protectionist stance. One of the first things Trump has done has been to ditch the planned Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Argentina was not one of the signatories of this thirteen nation pact. The Latin American members of the pact were Mexico, Peru, and Chile. But the neoliberal philosophy of the pact is the same as that espoused by Macri and his government, so the writing is on the wall for Argentina too.
All the right-wing governments in Latin America that bought into the neoliberal “free trade” model of development are now scrambling to save their skins.
Trump and Macri are ideological brothers. They both are far-right-wingers, have sleazy business backgrounds, and reactionary social views. But they have had a fighting relationship over three decades. They are both big businessmen and sons of big businessmen, and both have been involved in major real estate projects. Both have traded on their business networks to launch themselves into electoral politics.
But Macri had said nice things about Hillary Clinton during the U.S. elections, and some in his entourage had sharply criticized Trump.
It was reported in the Argentine press that in the first phone call between Macri and Trump after the U.S. election, on November 14, Trump tried to get Macri to approve a stalled deal for the construction of a “Trump Tower” in downtown Buenos Aires. Both Macri and Trump denied that the Buenos Aires project was discussed.
But Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who handles many of the Trump family’s business affairs in her role as the Trump Organization’s “Executive Vice President for Development and Acquisitions”, was also on the call, and, according to one report, the very next day initial Argentine permits for the project were approved.
Meanwhile, Macri appeared to be emulating Trump in another respect. In January, Macri announced tougher new immigration rules in Argentina. The new rules make it easier for Argentine authorities to deport criminal aliens and to prevent people suspected of criminal activity from entering the country.
This would not be a major issue except that Macri, Trump-like, emphasized immigrants from Peru, Paraguay, and Bolivia as being the major problem and exaggerated the degree to which crimes in Argentina are committed by immigrants. As it happens, the three countries Macri singled out have a very high proportion of indigenous inhabitants, whereas the population of Argentina is much more “European” in origin, so the new Argentine policy was seen by many as being racist.
It was denounced by President Evo Morales of neighboring Bolivia, who is himself of entirely indigenous origin. Morales said, “Brother Latin American presidents, let us be a great homeland; let us not follow the migratory policies of the North… discriminatory policies that condemn migration and blame it for crime, drug- and people-trafficking, terrorism, and a brake on the right to development are a shameful regress in the face of the rights conquered through the struggle of our people.”
The reference to Donald Trump was obvious. A subtext is also the difference between the approach of “Bolivarian” leftist leaders like Morales, and “neoliberals” oriented toward the United States like Macri.
An important part of the “Bolivarian” program has been “horizontal integration” among all the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean; included in this concept has been the loosening, not the tightening, of immigration laws in several countries.
Macri, following Trump’s lead, is heading in the opposite direction.