This version of Alberto Fernández cannot exist without Cristina Kirchner, and this version of Cristina Kirchner cannot exist without Alberto Fernández. This is why the opposition has, from day one, targeted that relationship with all its wits and perseverance. And at times it has found help in members of the ruling coalition.
The role of business
This thesis can be used as a basis to understand the latest conflicts within the Frente de Todos coalition, kicked off by a tweet from the Vice President about speculative behaviors in Argentina’s business sector. That analysis seems to be based in an incorrect premise: businessmen generally do what they need to survive, and in Argentina the survivors are those who partake in capital flight. From the 1975 Rodrigazo to the present, any businessman (or woman) knows that if its company is to be protected then it needs to be hedged for a potential devaluation. As economist Aldo Ferrer used to put it: “If you bring a German businessman to produce in Argentina, three months later he’ll be buying US dollars.”
In any case, the VP’s annoyance about that Independence Day picture with business leaders led to the usual questions in Argentina’s establishment, a sector that has struggled to understand what Cristina Kirchner is about since she was sworn in as President in 2007. “Why did Cristina do this? I don’t get it.” The question could easily be inverted and directed towards the presidential camp: “How could the event’s organizers forget to invite the Vice President and majority stakeholder of the ruling coalition, who likely brought in 85 percent of its votes?” In an interesting interview with Página/12 after the controversy, the President himself acknowledged errors in the lineup of the event, saying the leader of the progressive CTA union Hugo Yasky or representatives of social movements should have also been called to attend.
President and Vice President have a common goal: a government that supports national businessmen, according to what both Alberto Fernández and Máximo Kirchner have told business leaders in multiple occasions. Cristina Kirchner is not shunning meetings with the private sector either: after years of not talking, she organized a meeting with Banco Macro’s Jorge Brito just before the New Year.
But the recent short-circuits in the ruling coalition manifested a problem that has been germinating since the creation of the Frente de Todos: the lack of fine motor skills to handle a massively heterogeneous group built out of electoral necessity and with no clear political or ideological orientation yet.
The Kirchnerite camp has also been complaining about management issues. Although it’s true that the context of the pandemic makes everything harder, the subsidies to salaries, aid to unregistered workers and some additional help for the tourism sector don’t seem much after seven months of government, and more is expected from all of Fernández’s 20 ministries to deal with the current scenario. The Labour Ministry’s laissez faire attitude with regards to firings (plus the permanence of former Macri administration employees in the ministry’s hierarchical posts, an issue that the Vice President has raised before Fernández in one of their meetings in the Olivos presidential residency), or the lack of a clear policy direction in Energy, are only some examples of a much broader range of concerns.
The decision to allocate some part of the positions within each ministry to each of the coalition’s sectors is damaging the everyday functioning of the administration, with internal conflicts and administrative delays which show a lack of clarity in terms of who is really in charge of each area. And these problems ultimately fall on the shoulders of Fernández, who has to rely on his individual communicational abilities due to the lack of politically-savvy people in his close circle to face the press when problems arise, shielding the President from some of the hits he is taking.
The case of Venezuela
The latest local conflict around Venezuela is another good example. Argentina’s position about the critical report of the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, was brief and clear, but ended up with the president doing a 20-minute long clarification in a radio interview.
Ambassador Federico Villegas used his short speech to repeat once again that Argentina is concerned about human rights in Venezuela while opposing economic sanctions that would affect its people with no real benefit in exchange, calling for dialogue and negotiation among Venezuelans instead.
But a cunning press release from the opposition congratulating Fernández suggested that Argentina was now adopting the position it once held during Macri’s administration, sparking an internal conflict within the ruling coalition, despite the fact that Villegas explicitly opposed any sanctions (taking distance from the United States’ position, and in line with a long history of non-interventionism in Argentina’s foreign policy), and that Fernández has backed even more critical reports about Venezuela during the presidential campaign, two years after Cristina Kirchner famously told Infobae that there was “no rule of law in Venezuela, but the same is true of Argentina”.
A commonsensical stance
That aside, the basis over which Argentina is questioning Venezuela seems hard to object. There have been no significant changes in how Venezuela works as a state to believe there’s been progress over the last year, and only the internal crisis of the opposition since January has brought a decrease in outright political repression.
The legislative elections scheduled for December, in the only branch of the state that is not controlled by the government, are unlikely to bring a democratic and negotiated solution to Venezuela’s crisis, despite the hopes that Fernández has expressed about this. The electoral authorities, controlled by Maduro’s administration, have recently intervened in three of the main opposition parties, so even the gesture of adding opposition representatives in the election’s supervisory board seems like a mere repetition of old gimmicks.
In this context, Argentina’s principled but cautious position seems commonsensical. A government that has criticized repression under democratically elected governments, such as Ecuador and Chile, and that has been unambiguously opposed to Jeanine Añez’s de facto government in Bolivia, cannot ignore the proven and repeated human rights violations in Venezuela.
The opposition, meanwhile, is stuck with a strategy of sanctions, whose failure has even been privately admitted by Trump, and whose continuity in Latin America can only be explained by some lazy blind following from Latin America’s right, which has turned Venezuela into a weapon for its internal disputes. The latest victim of this was Uruguay’s Foreign Minister Ernesto Talvi, who resigned shortly after being designated by the recently-elected Luis Lacalle Pou after questioning the use of the word “dictatorship” to define Venezuela’s political regime.
Venezuelans are facing generalized poverty, which has only been made worse by sanctions, and has vast sectors of the opposition stripped of their political representation, due to institutional abuse and their own political shortcomings. That a reasonable Argentine position has generated this much controversy says more about the local political use of Venezuela’s conflict than about the position per se.
(Spanish version originally published in Cenital and Cenital’s newsletter Off The Record)