Last night, journalist and TV presenter Luis Majul started off the 18th season of his show La Cornisa with a bang: an in-depth interview with President Mauricio Macri that will most likely have repercussions throughout the rest of the week. You can check out the full interview in the video below.
… Or you can peruse The Bubble’s lowdown on the (sometimes controversial) topics that were covered in the interview with the 90-day old President (in office, you know what I mean). You’re welcome.
The New Protest Protocol
Last month, the government issued a new “protest protocol” which was greatly criticized for things like not “explicitly prohibit[ing] the use of firearms or rubber bullets to disperse crowds” or that police are not “obligated” to be in uniform. Protests are very much a part of Argentina’s political lifeblood and if you’ve lived here for over a week then you may have noticed one of the infamous roadblocks on major highways that cause general chaos.
The objective of the new protest protocol?
“To walk a path of respect for the other [people around you]. Nobody here is asking for anyone to set aside their demands or their needs. But you have to sit at a table, you have to engage in dialogue. Now there is a government that is always willing to do so. That’s what has changed the most […] over the past 90 days. The dialogue,” Macri said.
Mass Public Sector Layoffs
The mass public sector layoffs have been the center of the controversies that have surrounded Macri’s 90-day old administration: while the government says it is merely making the State more effective by getting rid of dead weight, the opposition considers the policy to be a political witch hunt (i.e. firing people who sympathize with the previous administration). When asked about the number of people laid off, Macri replied “until now, around 6,000,” although consultancy firms last week gave a higher number.
“Unfortunately, in the past 10 years, unemployment has been hidden by having people fill unnecessary State jobs. Positions with no actual tasks were created. And it isn’t fair for those people, either. I am saying that those million or so workers that entered the public sector know that today they are going to a place where they don’t [do anything]. And that’s very frustrating. Because I believe that most of them want to work, not that they’re 100 percent ñoquis.“
The term ñoquis does not, of course, refer to the pasta, but rather to government workers who allegedly collect paychecks despite being actively unproductive.
Public sector layoffs in general have been shrouded in confusion and misinformation: two weeks ago, the government was accused of laying off over 1,000 workers in the Connecting Equality program. The government, however, denied firing anyone from the social program in the first place.
According to Macri, if the holdouts agreement is not approved by Congress, the only other options are “austerity or hyperinflation.” The conversation actually went like this:
Majul: If an agreement isn’t reached, do we go into austerity or hyperinflation?
Macri: Towards austerity. Austerity or hyperinflation. There’s no alternative. The way to gradually exit the disastrous starting point that Kirchnerism left us is through gradual austerity measures.”
The vulture funds dispute has been a defining feature of Macri’s new Presidential term. Cue The Bubble’s patented, quick explanation: in 2001, Argentina defaulted on US $144 billion of debt. A group of creditors purchased the defaulted bonds, but over the course of the next nine years, Argentina could only reach repayment agreements with 93 percent of the original creditors who were willing to exchange the original bonds for bonds worth 30 cents on the dollar. The remaining seven percent who rejected the agreements, and instead demanded full repayment plus interest, became known as the infamous vulture funds. Now, an agreement has been reached BUT in order for it to go through, it has to have Congress’ approval (including ditching two laws).
Renewal Front’s (FR) Sergio Massa was Macri’s political ally, his plus one for Davos, his bro… at least, until yesterday, it seems. There has been an increasing rift between the two as Massa has taken on his role within the “responsible opposition.” In fact, Majul asked if Massa was a “disappointment” to Macri, presumably for not going along with everything the President wants.
“I haven’t spoken to Sergio for weeks. But sometimes I think he prioritized the short term and his personal protagonism more than thinking in the future of Argentina […] He should be thinking about how to help Argentina get out of the mess Kirchnerism left us 100 percent of the time.”
And suddenly, the FR is saying it “no longer knows” if it’ll support the government in its bid to reach an agreement with the holdouts and that Macri’s comments were a “cheap jibe.” Given that Macri has to negotiate with the FR (and everybody else) in Congress to get the desired bills and measures approved, he might want to avoid negative comments of party leaders in a televised interview…
Majul asked Macri if he believed that the head of the Tupac Amaru organization was a political prisoner, which is what those against her continued imprisonment label her as.
“I have to have institutional discipline. This is an issue under Jujuy Province’s justice system. She is accused of a lot of things,” said Macri.
Unlike other times, however, Macri did not limit his answer to giving the major responsibility to the Cambiemos administration of Jujuy:
“I obviously have a personal point of view. I criticized Milagro Sala, a lot. I knew she had built a parallel state and a parallel state should not exist. There is one State which exercises the attributes that corresponds to it. There cannot be armed paramilitary forces distributing handouts or subduing people. That isn’t right.”
(By “parallel state,” Macri was referring to the patronage system Sala is accused of having established in the province).
- Read more: The Controversy Over Milagro Sala, Explained
Cristina Fernández de Kirchner
Upping the ante a notch, Majul asked Macri whether or not he thought that former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner would go to jail (she’s currently being charged on a couple of cases).
“I don’t want to meddle in things that are none of my business. What I’ve said in Congress is what I believe. The Judicial power has to investigate. We are sick and tired of the corruption. It doesn’t matter who [is involved].”
Relationship With Pope Francis
Here at The Bubble we’ve often tried to tell Mac “He’s just not that into you,” but to no avail. Majul asked him if there was mala onda (bad feelings/vibes/juju/whatever you call it).
“Not at all. [We had a] fantastic meeting. [He was smiling] when we met with Juliana [Awada, the First Lady].”
He was alluding to the lack of a smile on the usually jovial and grinning face of the Pope.
“We’re old acquaintances [it must have been] our 11th or 12th meeting. It has always been the same. We met at Plaza de Mayo and now at the Vatican. […] [We agree on] two fundamental things. First, that the Argentines have to be united. He also talked to me about his concerns over the anti-Kirchner extremism. The second thing is the fight against corruption and drug trafficking. He said, “Please, let us not waver against corruption and drug trafficking.”
“Inflation is high and it hurts, but it’s a process […] it will go down in the second semester. We’re being careful with spending, being austere […] This has 100 percent to do with the 700 percent of accumulated inflation. 700 percent! And the repression of prices. Freezing tariffs at the cost of us suffering power cuts is cheating.”
Macri linked the issue to corruption and what he seemed to imply as the previous government’s lack accountability.
Another thing that Macri anticipated was that Cristobal Lopez’s assets will be seized: he’s the businessman that owns Grupo Indalo and is known as the “Tsar of Gambling” which, you know, isn’t shady at all.
Alberto Abad [head of the national tax collection agency (AFIP)] has informed me that we are in action, looking to embargo everything possible for him to pay the AR $8 billion [he owes]”
The seizure will be carried out by AFIP because the government wants to avoid having him declare bankruptcy and not pay his AR $8 billion debt accumulated over the past few years. Yikes.
“This type of abuse will no longer happen. We will not tolerate it. Everyone here [in Argentina] has to respect the same rules. There are no friends or friends of the government here. The law is the same for everyone.”
If you made it to the bottom of this article, please step by The Bubble’s office and pick up your free cookie. And by free cookie I mean basking in the warmth of your own knowledge of what Macri said to Majul yesterday. It’s Monday, guys.