Argentina’s New-Man Macri Means Business
Last night, after Mauricio Macri officially won the presidential election, his supporters took to the streets to celebrate. Amid the merriment and rejoicing, a street-vendor selling flags, who was seizing the moment to earn a few pesos, was yelling with enthusiasm: “No more choripánes, now it’s time to work!”
The reference was to the grilled-sausage sandwiches, which the Kirchner campaign handed out to supporters during their events. To the opposition, this became a symbol of government sleaze.
“It’s time to work:” this is what Macri represents in the collective imagination. Many hope that his election will bring a real change in a country suffering from an overblown deficit, inflation, and boundless public spending. The Kirchners, in fact, nearly doubled the size of the state during their 12 years in power.
The Kirchner era came to an end on Sunday as Macri won with an advantage of less than three percentage points over his government-backed rival. He thus becomes the first Argentinean head of state who belongs neither to the Peronist party nor to the radical social democrats. These two political powerhouses have dominated domestic politics since 1916.
The president-elect’s first speech showed a different path and a promising understanding of power. “The new Argentina will not be led by a messiah,” he said. “Change cannot be based on revenge. Thank you, thank you truly. Thank you for believing that, together, we can build the Argentina of our dreams.”
While Argentinean democracy was the main winner, President Cristina Kirchner and her chosen successor, Daniel Scioli, were the biggest losers. Their Front for Victory coalition was created to win the presidency, but it failed. So too did their campaign to discredit their opponents and implant fear of change in voters’ hearts. Nor could their promises of more and more handouts stop Argentineans from rejecting corruption at the ballot box.
Another main loser on Sunday was the Chavista alliance that supported Cristina Kirchner. President-elect Macri has stated time and again that he will ask for Mercosur’s democratic clause to be applied and for Venezuela to be suspended for imprisoning political dissenters, among them Leopoldo López.
After celebrating his triumph, Macri listed three urgent measures that he hill take as soon as he arrives at the presidential mansion, the Casa Rosada, on December 10.
First, he will declare a state of emergency to deal with insecurity and with drug-trafficking, which has become a growing problem.
Second, he will reinstate a single dollar exchange rate (a dirty-floating exchange). Macri, incidently, has stated that the “dollar clamp” is a mistake.
Finally, Macri will repeal the controversial memorandum that the Kirchner government signed with Iran, which sets the terms under which investigations into the 1994 terrorist attack against the Argentinean Israelite Mutual Foundation will be led.
The new government also plans to open the Argentinean economy to the world. It will establish strategic alliances with Brazil, become a member of the Pacific Alliance, and strengthen Mercosur. “We want to strengthen our ties with our Latin American brothers and with the rest of the world,” Macri said during his first press conference. “The country needs to enter the 21st century and take part in global economic and cultural exchanges.”
Surely, Macri, who leads the Let’s Change coalition, takes on a huge challenge in leading Argentina. His victory marks the outset of a new era. Argentina now has every opportunity to emerge and become a real democracy. We should remember, however, that this change would not have been possible without unity. Different political forces and ideological currents came together to form the Let’s Change alliance. If the process is to continue, the opposition to Peronism and Kirchnerism must remain united.
Macri knows this quite well. “I ask God that he may enlighten me so that I may help each Argentinean find his way forward,” he said. “I’m here because of you, and so I ask a favor of you as well: don’t abandon me, let’s stay together.”
Bertha María Carrillo is Peruvian journalist who writes for numerous digital media outlets in Latin America and the United States. She also gives conferences on democracy, citizenship, communication, and similar topics. Follow her at @BMariaCarrillo.