Argentina elections: A move forward or just a swing of the pendulum?
Supporters of Peronist presidential candidate Alberto Fernández and running mate, former President Cristina Fernández, listen to their candidates speak after incumbent President Mauricio Macri conceded defeat at the end of election day in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Oct. 27. | Natacha Pisarenko / AP

There was good news out of Argentina for the working-class movement at the beginning of this week, as the neoliberal government of right-wing President Mauricio Macri was thoroughly trounced at the polls. Macri, of the “Together for Change” coalition, lost heavily in the presidential race to Alberto Fernández of the “Front for Everybody” coalition, which includes the left wing of the Peronist “Justicialist” Party, as well as the Communist Party of Argentina and other left and center groups.

The neoliberal right also lost heavily in national legislative and provincial elections. The question now is: Does this signal a resurgence of the “Pink Tide” that swept Latin America starting with the election of Hugo Chávez as president of Venezuela in 1998? Or will the new government in Argentina be unable to handle the monstrous problems that Macri left it, and will the pendulum swing back yet again?

Remember that in 2003 the economy of Argentina, once one of the most prosperous countries in the world, was a disaster zone. Massive street protests were calling for all established politicians and parties to be thrown out of office, as living standards of the working masses plummeted. Nestor Kirchner, a left-wing Peronist, was elected that year and introduced policies that helped to pull the country out of its slump.

Instead of imposing more austerity on the already desperate working class, he negotiated a radical restructuring of the country’s debt to international finance capital. He was followed in the presidency by his wife, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who continued his policies, with genuine popular support. The Kirchners were seen by many Argentines as having rescued the country from the disastrous situation it found itself in at the beginning of the millennium.

The Kirchners paid a price for stiffing international finance capital, even though most of the country’s creditors eventually accepted the deals which the Kirchners offered them. But a small number of hedge fund capitalists maneuvered aggressively to resist this settlement. Among other things, they tried to seize Argentina’s main naval training ship for debt and made it impossible for President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to travel abroad in a government-owned jet, lest that be seized also.

The popularity of the Kirchners’ programs did not translate into a victory in the 2015 elections, though. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner could not run for reelection, and the candidate she and her followers supported, Daniel Scioli, lost narrowly to Macri (51.34% to 48.66%).

Once in power, Macri immediately imposed extremely harsh neoliberal policies on the Argentine working class, justifying them as necessary to get the country back in the good graces of international finance capital. Macri and his team told the public that this turn to neoliberalism would produce the eventual result of raising the living standards of everybody in the country, but the result, predictably enough, was the opposite.

Living standards plummeted as government subsidies were cut, public employees were laid off, and retirement pensions were radically scaled back. Inflation is sky high, adding to the suffering and anger. There have been massive demonstrations against Macri’s policies going on continuously since then.

So in a complicated primary election on Aug. 11, the coming defeat for Macri and his team was already presaged. The left Peronists and their allies chose to run Alberto Fernández for president, with former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (no relation) in the vice presidential slot. Macri ran for re-election, and there were eight other presidential candidates. The Fernández-Fernández team did extremely well, with 47.9% of the vote to Macri’s 31.8%. For the second round on Oct. 27, six of the candidates who ran in August had enough votes then to participate. And the August results were confirmed.

Peronist presidential candidate Alberto Fernández, right, and running mate, former President Cristina Fernández, address supporters after incumbent President Mauricio Macri conceded defeat. | Natacha Pisarenko / AP

Alberto Fernández got 48.1% of the vote on the second round, while Macri only got 40.37%. According to Argentine electoral law, this does not require a runoff. Roberto Lavagna of the Federal Consensus coalition got 6.16%, a drop from his August total. Nicolas del Caño, candidate of a group of “Fourth International” parties (followers of the tradition of Leon Trotsky) got 2.16%, and two other candidates got less than two percent each.

In the Argentine Congress, not all seats were up for re-election this year. It would appear that the left and progressive parties did well in the Senate but not as well in the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies. There were advances for the left-progressive alliances in provincial government posts also. Axel Kicilloff, who had been Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s economy minister, was elected governor of Buenos Aires province, beating the very controversial Macri ally, Cristina Vidal, by 14 percentage points.

Many progressive and democratic leaders of Latin America quickly sent their congratulations to President-elect Fernández, including Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, and Bolivia’s Evo Morales. But the far-right president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, announced that he would send no such congratulations, grousing that “Argentina made a bad choice.”

Fernández will be sworn in on Dec. 10, but the question now becomes: What kind of a mess has his predecessor left him to clean up? Will this be a repeat of the situation that Nestor Kirchner found himself in when he was sworn in in 2003? By all accounts, Macri is leaving the Argentine government deeply indebted both to its own capitalist institutions and to international finance capital. How will Fernández balance the need to be true to his commitments to the working class, to retired people on deeply inadequate pensions, etc., when facing the demands of the country’s creditors?

The Communist Party of Argentina has hailed the election results and put forward a comprehensive program of goals to fight for under the new post-Macri situation. These include an investigation of possible criminality in how the country’s debt was accumulated and in capital flight from the country, as well as a massive restoration of the social safety net and the nationalization of foreign trade. The Communist Party also called for Argentina to return to its policy under the Kirchners of supporting left-wing governments in the hemisphere and breaking away from imperialist interference, for example, foreign military bases on Latin American soil.

Neither the Argentine ruling class and right nor U.S. imperialism is going to make this easy for the new president. Fernández can now expect a hurricane-strength blast of attacks on his government from within and without. Will Argentina be able to stand up to this, or will Sunday’s election prove to be just a pendulum swing without lasting impact?

We in the United States must be prepared to fight our own government over the right of the Argentine working class to get its due.


CONTRIBUTOR

Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Emile Schepers was born in South Africa and has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He has worked as a researcher and activist in urban, working-class communities in Chicago since 1966. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He now writes from Northern Virginia.

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