Mauricio Macri wins the national elections to become the new President of Argentina. Demotix/Javier Gallardo. All rights reserved.
Macri's government started with an unprecedented pressing by the Executive Branch: it is the first government since 1983 that has not convened the customary special sessions at the National Assembly. Lacking a majority in both chambers of parliament, he took the decision to impose a winner-takes-all logic.
By abolishing taxes on food exports, he quickly paid his allies for their support with a sharp reallocation of income to the agribusiness sector. As expected, this has caused a massive and uncontrolled price rise in the country’s supermarkets. The other radical measure is the deregulation of imports, by which he has paid its coalition of transnational corporation CEOs faster than - even they - expected.
On the other hand, Macri has done little to fulfill his campaign promises to another sector that supported him: the middle classes who were looking for change. The only measure taken has been the opening of the currency market, but it has come with a massive devaluation. This will undoubtedly generate a higher concentration of the economy in the agribusiness and the transnational corporate and exporting sectors, for which there are no limits in currency transactions.
Moreover, one of the stronger promises made during Macri’s campaign was the scrapping of the income tax on wages. But it has not been removed and it is gradually being left out of the government's agenda. The unions are already fighting for a mere compensatory bonus, which is a very limited measure compared to the previous fight for the right not to be double-taxed. If unions do not react promptly and change strategy, the situation will substantially worsen for the working population.
The alliance for the adjustment
Macri’s strategy to implement an unpopular adjustment is based on a tripartite agreement: legal consent, a gag on information and repression. The control strategy of the Judiciary is the most controversial of all the crucial decisions Macri has made so far. The appointment of two Supreme Court judges with a barely legal procedure which has only been used previously during the nineteenth-century oligarchic system and twice by the military dictatorship has prompted rebuff from the Unión Cívica Radical (Radical Civic Union – UCR), all the opposition parties and even the Supreme Court itself. The control of the Supreme Court is crucial because it would allow Macri to skip Congress through permanent vetoes and avoid the Judiciary’s interference with his advance on the Legislative Branch. The control of the Judiciary has carried on with two new decrees by Macri that hinder the implementation of the Criminal Procedure Code and disempower the Attorney General's Office. Macri will most probably come up with further reforms by decree during the summer.
Second in this strategy, the gag on information, began with the accession of several high-ranking Clarín and La Nación managers to government posts. This move is to be completed with the annulment of the Broadcasting Act, which has been praised by the United Nations and the Organization of American States as a global example for freedom of expression and pluralism. In order to abolish it, Macri decreed the intervention of the Agency for the Control of the Audiovisual Communication Services and its equivalent for the Internet, thus violating the autonomy of these entities and virtually liquidating the effective implementation of the law. This is intended to ensure that market domination by both communication groups will not be threatened and also to ensure their access to the State, which is something that was previously denied them.
The third leg of this strategy is the most classic of all. The handbook for all the adjustments includes strong repression. Nobody ever passively accepts getting poorer, so it must be imposed by force. The Cambiemos alliance knows this perfectly well from experience, for many of its members were also members of Fernando De la Rúa’s government. So much so, that Macri quickly sent in the police to the always difficult Northern provinces. The move went quite wrong and produced the first 43 victims of Macrismo. But this did not stop the Minister of Security, Patricia Bullrich, who declared a state of emergency so as to give added means to the security forces - and repression, consequently, arrived quickly for workers at the Cresta Roja poultry company. These emergency security measures are being approved by most governors because they know full well that the sub-national authorities are the first victims of any uprising against adjustment policies.
This mix of fast decisions has to do with Macri’s attempt to impose a reduction cycle of social and civic rights leading to a democradura (democratorship), a sort of low-intensity democracy functioning in a non-republican way. This reduction of the social role of the State - which the country has already experienced in the past - combined with a violation of the democratic procedures of the Republic is an explosive recipe for a young democracy like Argentina.
How is it possible, then, that a president who just won by 680,000 votes is now imposing adjustment policies? The problem comes from presidentialism – a system that puts the president in the position of a total winner even if he is not. Macri has no legitimacy to impose structural adjustments because he won by a very narrow margin and did not reach a majority in either House of Congress. This demeanor is encouraged by an autocratic style of government that is characteristic of governors and that Macri was quick to reproduce as governor of Buenos Aires and is now trying to do the same at national level. Macri presents himself, and so does a part of the local and international press, as a modern liberal politician, a pro-market democrat with a social conscience, a business and family man who understands his role as statesman. This, however, is only the façade: he is, really, a socially conservative and rightwing neoliberal who says what people want to hear while he gradually leads us to a democratorship.
The solution would have been different in a parliamentary system. Macri would have been leading the largest minority in a coalition with Kirchnerism, and he would have had to negotiate a joint government or call elections again after a year of transitional government. This would have been much more representative of the election results.
Organizing social resilience
The difference between contemporary Argentina and that of the past is that Argentines have an experience of over 12 years of a center-left government that massively included popular and middle-class sectors, previously excluded during the Washington Consensus period. This important part of society is now very active and politicized and it is certainly resisting many of Macri’s changes aimed at establishing a democratorship. A first expression of its strength was to be seen the day before Macri’s inauguration, when hundreds of thousands filled the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires on the last day of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s mandate. The very same people organized the first protest against the adjustment and in defence of the freedom of expression on December, 14. And it was them again who assembled in Plaza Congreso on December, 17, to reject the adjustment, oppose the appointments by decree to the Supreme Court, and to voice their disapproval of Macri’s attempt to cancel the Broadcasting Act. Popular resistance led to the January, 6, massive march to demand the opening of Congress in January, which showed a high level of coordination with the Kirchnerista benches and received large media attention, as well as that of Macri’s government.
It became clear in those fleeting days that the small margin with which Macri won did not mean a changing of the cycle, but the sharp imposition of a new era. The story has not been written yet and the coming period will be characterized by the legislative and union battles, as well as the cultural and territorial ones. Social resilience - i.e., the ability of the population to rally and defend its acquired rights before the aggression which we are undergoing - is key to avoiding the possibility of living in a more unjust society.
It will be crucial for organized actors to uphold the depth of the cultural incorporation - as “rights” and not “aid” - of the changes produced by the inclusive policies of the previous presidencies. We should not trust that this will happen naturally, for the government has already started the battle in these fields. Organized resilience on the part of society may alone put a brake on a new attempt by the Right to undermine the democratic State and to commodify social relations.