Argentina Elects Right-Wing, Pro-Business Mauricio Macri

Mauricio Macri, mayor of Buenos Aires and president-elect of Argentina (Gobierno de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires/Flickr)

Mauricio Macri, mayor of Buenos Aires and president-elect of Argentina (Gobierno de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires/Flickr)

Speaking of neocolonialism, in run-off elections held on Sunday, the people of Argentina elected Mauricio Macri of the center-right Cambiemos party as their next president, ending 12 years of leftist kirchnerismo.

Upon winning, Macri, the current mayor of Buenos Aires and the son of an Italian-born mogul, vowed to implement free-market policies, form a closer bond with the United States, give some ground to the United Kingdom concerning the two sides’ disputed claims over the Malvinas, and combat Venezuela’s influence in South America.

As the Guardian reported days earlier, in an article warning a Macri victory “could bring [a] political shift to Latin America”:

In the final presidential debate this week, Macri threatened to propose the expulsion of Venezuela from the Mercosur regional trading bloc, over alleged human rights abuses. In a later press conference, he declared himself the antithesis of Venezuelan-style ’21st century socialism’, saying he represented ’21st century development’.

Of course, the antithesis of 21st-century socialism is 21st-century capitalism, which hasn’t changed much since the neoliberal policies forced onto Latin America by the U.S.-controlled International Monetary Fund during the 1990s. Those policies meant hard economic times throughout most of the hemisphere — perhaps nowhere more so than in Argentina, where the economy nosedived in 1998, forcing the government to default on its foreign debt in 2002.

The year 2003 witnessed the election of Néstor Kirchner, the late husband of outgoing President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who oversaw the start of over a decade of left-wing policies coupled with economic expansion. Unemployment went from 17 percent to seven percent, and, thanks to a cash transfer program similar to Bolsa Família in neighboring Brazil, poverty dropped by 70 percent.

In the midst of a global economic crisis beginning in 2008, Argentina continued to thrive — as well as much of the rest of Latin America — thanks to regional integration and investment from a booming China. As China’s bubble began to deflate, however, the growth of Latin America’s economies ground to a halt (and some even shrank). Argentina’s economy is one of those which has continued to grow each year, though modestly.

Nonetheless, a sagging economy, plus Fernández’s battles with the Argentine media and a scandal involving the murky death of a federal prosecutor, created a lot of discontent within the president’s base.

“We need a change,” Luciana Esteruelas, a hotel worker who voted for Macri, told the Guardian. “Cristina did some good things in the beginning. But there have been more problems in the last few years. It’s time to give someone else a chance.”

But a chance to do what? As Mark Weisbrot, a co-director at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, recently wrote for the Huffington Post:

Macri probably does not have [Ronald] Reagan’s talent as an actor and communicator to radically transform Argentina and reverse most of the gains of the last 13 years. But it seems likely from the interests that he represents, and his political orientation, that Argentina’s poor and working people will bear the brunt of any economic adjustment. And there is a serious risk that by following right-wing ‘fixes’ for the economy, he could launch a cycle of self-defeating austerity and recession of the kind that we have seen in Greece and the eurozone.

The Kirchners also reversed the impunity of military officers responsible for mass murder and torture during the dictatorship, and hundreds have been tried and convicted for their crimes. Macri has dismissed these unprecedented human rights achievements as mere political showmanship. His party also voted against marriage equality, which was passed anyway, making Argentina the first country in Latin America to legalize same-sex marriage.

The Kirchner regime certainly had its defects, especially toward the end. But that’s no reason to elect someone who promises to do everything completely different.

Time will tell how much Macri will be able to undo the progress of the past 12 years, and whether Latin America’s so-called “pink tide” has finally begun to ebb.