As discontent with Alberto Fernández continues to be expressed in street rallies against him, former president Mauricio Macri took the latest protest against the government this week as an opportunity to reappear in public after a year without talking to the press, since he handed power back to the ruling Peronist coalition in December 2019.
Although the crowd was not as large this time around, Macri tried to ride the wave of the protests saying he agrees with its central themes, while offering some self-criticism for the failures of his administration and urging Peronism to get rid of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
Macri’s re-appearance came after a year in which he cultivated a very low profile, moving to Europe for holidays and work with the FIFA football federation, while fighting accusations in court and letting steam blow off after the poor image with which he left the country’s top position, similar in some ways to what happened with Fernández de Kirchner after her exit from office in 2015.
Just like with Fernández de Kirchner after 2015, Macri has been besieged by calls for “self-criticism” from people inside and outside his coalition. Fernández de Kirchner’s pick of Alberto Fernández to run for president instead of her was seen as a tacit admission that she did some things wrong, even though she has remained a staunch defender of the legacy of her and her late husband Néstor Kirchner’s governments.
In a similar position, Macri also offered mixed signs as to whether he believed he handled things the wrong way during his time in charge.
“The economic situation we found in 2015 put us into a dilemma. Should I crudely describe our problems or shuld I bet on the growing hope and enthusiasm that were appearing in Argentina to begin its reconstruction? And I clearly went for the latter option. Looking backwards, it seems like that was a mistake, because as time went on the middle class started to feel that they were making an effort with no end in sight, and by the time of the 2019 election they were tired and feeling that their president was wrong. They were feeling their effort was in vain and I understand their reasons. We created expectations which we could not fulfill,” Macri said in his interview with TN.
While Macri was definitively more self-critical than usual, the takeaways often boiled down to not having been hard enough on the sins of the opposition, and he also doubled down on the argument that the country was already emerging from its economic crisis in 2019 until the moment Peronism won the election, based on a couple of months of inflationary slowdown (amid very high interest rates and an IMF authorization to sell loaned dollars to sustain the peso) and a similarly short-lived pickup in activity.
Cristina and Maradona
Macri also said he should have delegated less of his government’s political negotiations to his Peronist-friendly allies Emilio Monzó and Rogelio Frigerio, and deal with them personally instead.
He also told Peronists that he was willing to work with them, but drew a strong line at what they should do looking forward: get rid of Cristina Kirchner. “Peronism has been co-opted by Cristina Kirchner, by irrationality. And you can’t do anything with irrationality,” Macri said.
Macri went on to compare the situation within Peronism with what he faced during his time as president of Boca Juniors, Argentina’s most popular football club, which achieved massive international success under his leadership in the late 90s and early 2000s.
“People always compare Boca with Peronism, because of how popular it is and the passion it generates. And when I arrived to Boca I built a bridge between that passion and a certain rationality. And I had to make a very tough decision, which was to separate Diego Maradona from Boca. And that was our stepping stone to success. Peronism today has to separate from Cristina like Boca did from Maradona. We need Peronism to be rational like it was in the last years of Perón,” Macri said.
Hours later, Maradona had a colorful reply ready for Macri on his Instagram page, calling him a “rich boy”, arguing that he retired from football to protect his family and that his decision “didn’t harm anyone, unlike your presidency, which fucked Argentines for the next couple of generations.”
Maradona also went on to make another remark about past disputes between Macri and his late father Franco, a billionaire businessman who was also the patriarch of the family. But it hasn’t been Franco that has been giving headaches to the former president recently, but his brother Mariano.
According to Diario Perfil director Javier Calvo, the death of the former president’s father triggered a series of disputes over the family fortunes that eventually led Mariano Macri into the arms of rival newspaper Página/12, a center-left, Kirchnerite-friendly daily, to give days-long interviews about the sometimes dirty inner-workings of the family businesses.
Now, Página/12 journalist Santiago O’Donnell is readying a book with Penguin Random House on the matter, while the Macri family is litigating to try to stop its publication, a move which is unlikely to succeed.
This new front of conflict adds to the judicial battles that the former president has already been facing, and which Kirchnerite judicial operators have been very interested in promoting, ranging from his government’s spy scandal to the cases of Correo Argentino and Autopistas del Sol.
While fighting in all these fronts, Macri is also preparing to launch a book of his own, similar in style and timing to that of former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Sinceramente…, a sales hit that recounted her days as head of state and served as a defense for the judicial accusations against her.
Protesters are not enough
Macri said he was overall a pessimist about what was coming for Argentina in the next few months, but that peaceful demonstrations in the street made him very optimistic about the future, arguing that the values of the protesters were the same of his coalition.
“The main two themes of the protests are in line with the 30 rallies we did during the last days of our presidential campaign. No to the overrunning of institutions and yes to the culture of work and freedom,” the former president said.
Protesters have been rallying against judicial reform, excess state intervention in the economy and prohibitions linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, but do not merely identify with one political party or faction. “They are in line with our values, they want to associate with the rest of the world, to not play a zero sum game, to oppose expropriations”, Macri said.
But although the constant middle-class led street protests and the economic failures of the Fernández administration are giving Macri a better platform to return to the public eye than the chaotic last few months of his administration, the former president still has an uphill battle if he wants to make his way back to the top of Argentine politics.
Consultants agree that he still has low approval ratings, with others on the center-right like BA Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta or former Security Minister Patricia Bullrich outperforming him, and presidential comebacks have never proven easy in Argentina. Still, it’s hard to imagine Macri retiring from politics, so his options remain open: be a part of a renewed center-right coalition, look for a spot in Congress or even accept that new faces might be needed and back them from behind the spotlights, like his polarizing rival Fernández de Kirchner ended up doing.