Argentina Has Shown Latin America How to Beat Populism

By: Contributor - Nov 30, 2015, 10:32 am
Despite having President Kirchner's support, Peronist candidate Daniel Scioli failed to convince Argentina. (@Daniel Scioli)
Despite Kirchner’s support, Peronist candidate Daniel Scioli failed to convince Argentinean voters. (@Daniel Scioli)

By Federico N. Fernández

The outcome of Argentina’s election will very likely trigger a major political shift both inside the country and abroad. On the one hand, the Peronist party has lost much of its power structure. On the other, Argentina has provided Latin America with a success story on how populism can be contained.

In Argentina, victory for the Let’s Change opposition coalition may be the beginning of the end of Peronism, a wildly influential political and social movement in the country since 1946.

This election not only gave the country a new president, Mauricio Macri, but it also renewed municipal and regional authorities.

Argentina is extremely uneven in the geographical distribution of its population. In the densely populated center, the Peronists have suffered a historical defeat. The province of Buenos Aires, a longtime Peronist stronghold with 40 percent of voters nationwide, is now in the hands of Let’s Change.

Peronism is starting to look like a loose confederation of northern and southern caudillos from backward and deserted provinces. Rough estimates indicate that just 32 percent of voters will be ruled by a Peronist governor, a gloomy picture sharply contrasting the excessive power they enjoyed some years ago.

An effective Macri administration is probably the Peronists’ worst nightmare. Their success has largely relied on what the movement’s founder Juan Domingo Perón himself explained: “It is not that we are good administrators, but that the others are even worse.”

But Peronism seems exhausted. These nationwide elections were a public declaration that the populist emperor, in fact, wears no clothes. While Macri spoke of an Argentina reclaiming its place in the world, making good use of its competitive advantages, and welcoming globalization, ruling-party candidate Daniel Scioli sounded like a fear monger stuck in the past.

Scioli dwelled on issues such as the provision of gas and electricity, which is hardly convincing for the 21st-century constituency that his party has routinely disappointed for over seven decades.

The relevance of Mauricio Macri’s win is perhaps even greater for Latin America as a whole. The single most important message is that populist regimes can be democratically defeated. Argentineans defeated some of Hugo Chávez’s best pupils at the polls at a time when Venezuela is facing a crucial parliamentary election in December.

Furthermore, Macri has already promised that he will make diplomatic efforts to isolate the Venezuelan government from the international community over its human-rights abuses. Lilian Tintori, the wife of Venezuelan political prisoner Leopoldo López, celebrated Macri’s victory with fellow supporters in Buenos Aires on election day.

Moreover, progressive governments, such as the current Chilean administration, may think twice before accelerating their populist agenda. In Brazil, President Dilma Rousseff’s class-warfare rhetoric has backfired, and she is very likely to face impeachment in the coming months.

From the very beginning, Macri’s party, and later his coalition, looked like a very moderate and rational alternative to Peronism. Its leadership seems committed to a combination of rule of law, republican values, and a political economy that gives individual initiative a role, and somewhat reins in state intervention.

One of the Let’s Change coalition’s main objectives was to stop the populist oligarchy that has ruled Argentina for 12 years, and in that they have succeeded. Now Macri’s coalition has to face the harsh realities of a country with rampant inflation, social unrest, and a failed monetary policy.

If they are up to the challenge, Argentina may change forever.

Federico N. Fernández is a senior fellow at the Austrian Economics Center in Vienna, Austria. He is also the vice president of Fundación Bases in Rosario, Argentina. Follow @fn_fernandez.

Argentinean Politico Tells Stores to Stock National Shirts, or Else

By: Belén Marty - @belenmarty - Nov 30, 2015, 9:02 am

Clothing stores in Argentina that sell garments with images of foreign flags may soon be forced to add attire with the Argentinean flag to their inventory. Congressman Jorge Rivas of the Front for Victory coalition has authored a bill to compel this change in the name of "protecting the feeling of belonging to the nation." Rivas introduced the legislation on October 23 in the Chamber of Deputies, and the bill is currently being reviewed by the Industry and Commerce commissions. “Throughout the national territory, businesses that sell or offer formal or casual attire which display the flag of another country must have in their store similar garments with the Argentinean flag,” states the proposed law. Articles 2 and 3 of the bill task the Economy Ministry's Secretariat of Commerce with enforcing the law and determining its compliance criteria, if passed. “Businesses that fail to comply with the provisions of Article 1 will be fined or shut down," according to Article 4 of the legislation. Rivas, whose term ends in December, claims the bill protects Argentinean consumers' "freedom of choice." “The consumer has the right to be informed in a precise, clear, and detailed way on everything related to the goods they will purchase, their payments options, and to be provided with alternatives that facilitate freedom of choice,” he wrote. The congressman argues that Argentinean citizens' "feeling of belonging" may be undermined when a store only offers clothing with flags of other countries. “In this regard, Mr. President, we are especially thinking of the veterans of the Falklands War, whose efforts and sacrifices in defense of national sovereignty have already suffered from so many displays of ingratitude and neglect in society.” The PanAm Post attempted to contact Congressman Rivas, but his secretary said "he is not commenting" on the bill. The CEO of a well-known clothing store in Argentina, who prefers to remain anonymous, tells the PanAm Post that the initiative is “outrageous,” and that “only Kirchnerists” would buy a shirt with an Argentinean flag instead. “Who is going to pay for this?” he asked, adding that Congress should not burden an already "regulated business" with more regulations. Alejandro Bongiovani, public policy director at the Liberty Foundation in Rosario, says that these kinds of bills should not be a surprise. "This sort of nationalism takes us back centuries. We are now in a globalized world. If there is a demand for T-shirts of Jamaica or Belgium, why should we make businessmen pay for Argentinean T-shirts that nobody will buy?" "Only lawmakers can afford to offer things that nobody buys, like this kind of absurd proposal, without incurring losses, since they live off of our taxes," he says. This is not the first time politicians attempt to dictate what items clothing stores can sell in Argentina. Since 2005, all stores in the province of Buenos Aires must offer women's garments in at least six sizes. In the city of Buenos Aires, the law requires stores to offer eight different sizes, but enforcement of the law has been postponed until 2018.

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