The political conversation this weekend revolved around a mass organized on Saturday by union leader Hugo Moyano outside the Luján Basilica. You read that right: a mass. As in Catholic mass.
Under the rallying cry “peace, bread and work,” thousands of people took part in the religious ceremony and then listened to a speech given by the district’s Archbishop, Agustín Radrizzani.
Moyano did not speak, but he did not need to. The only thing that mattered in this event were the venue and the politicians who joined Moyano, as it paints a clear image of the alliance that is apparently being built ahead of next year’s elections.
We will take a look at each one separately, as they both to be analyzed in detail. Moreover, it is also worth covering the government’s critical reaction to the Church’s willingness to hold the event, and the theories about whether Pope Francis is indirectly playing politics in Argentina, going against the Macri administration from the Vatican.
The Venue: The Luján Basilica
The event was held outside the Luján Basilica, the most significant building for the Catholic Church, as the district’s virgin is the patron saint of Argentina. Every year, each time under a different motto, tens of thousands of people take part in the so-called “Pilgrimage to Luján,” where the highest representatives of the national Church hold a mass.
The event on Saturday was similar to that. In this case, Archbishop Radrizzani said in his speech that “no problem can be solved without the interaction between the government and the people,” and, in what seemed to be a not-so-veiled reference to the government’s decision to sign a Stand-By agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), he indicated that “the people must decide over their own fate.”
Agustín Radrizzani, arzobispo de Luján: "La brecha entre ricos y pobres se hace cada día más grande. En esta grieta hay pecado, pecado personal y estructuras de pecado". Consideró que "las intermediaciones con el Papa deforman su mensaje" pic.twitter.com/kAV7yVOToL
— TN – Todo Noticias (@todonoticias) October 20, 2018
“People don’t want any external tutelage or inference where the strongest subjugates the weakest. People want for their culture, their social processes and religious traditions to always be respected,” he added. Before the end of his speech, the crowd started chanting that can be loosely translated to “sovereignty yes, colony no” (patria si, colonia no).
Government officials and members of other sectors of the opposition spectrum were quick to condemn the mass, criticizing what they saw as the Church’s decision to take sides on national political affairs.
“I think Radrizzani spoke for himself, it is what I want to believe. It is normal for the Church to speak on behalf of the poor, but it is also natural to speak against corruption and there were a lot of people in Luján who probably know something about the money that was stolen [throughout the Kirchner administrations]. It was probably an oversight from Radrizzani,” said head of the Cambiemos caucus in the Lower House, Mario Negri.
Moreover, Negri made reference to the legal problems that the Moyano family is going through, suggesting they organized the event as a way to flex muscle and show the Judiciary – and the government – their political power. “If a religious person has personal problems, it is OK for them to resort to god. But they have to solve this problems down on Earth, or, for example, before the Judiciary.”
Santa Fe Governor Miguel Lifshitz also criticized the Church by saying “it is not good for them to take sides in any way.”
“It is a religious institution that should be above current events and political banners. While it is not reprehensible to dialogue with union leaders, it is wrong to take sides. And there is a fine line between these two things,” he added.
Another point of contention revolved around the speculation over whether Pope Francis had played a role in the Church’s decision to accept holding the mass. While Hugo Moyano’s son Pablo, also a union leader, assured they “have a good relationship with the Pope” and “would have not been able to hold the event without his consent,” Church leaders were quick to reject the statement, indicating he had nothing to do with it. “The decision was entirely mine,” said Radrizzani.
The Company They Kept
Moyano was joined by leaders of the CTA umbrella union Pablo Micheli, Hugo Yasky and Roberto Baradel, as well as politicians associated with the Kirchnerite movement such as Daniel Scioli, Eduardo “Wado” De Pedro, Veronica Magario and Fernando Espinoza.
It is worth dedicating a special paragraph to Felipe Solá: candidate to governor of the Buenos Aires province in 2015 and national deputy in 2017 representing the Frente Renovador led by Sergio Massa, Solá officially broke with his ally from past years and formed a 5-people caucus in the Lower House, his highest-profile ally being in fact one of Moyano’s sons who was also part of Massa’s caucus, Facundo.
The caucus will be called Red por Argentina, and it is still uncertain whether it will continue to be independent or fall under Kirchnerism’s sphere of influence. There are indicators pointing at this latter scenario. In the past week, Solá took part in two political events along with Kirchnerite leaders: Loyalty Day on October 17, and this Saturday’s.
As 2019 approaches, these type of events allow to paint a clearer image of potential electoral alliances. Moyano and the former President were at odds during her second administration, but they seem to be leaving their differences aside to unite against the Macri administration and dispute the main opposition role to the group of moderate Peronists led by Massa, Salta and Córdoba Governors Juan Manuel Urtubey and Juan Schiaretti, and head of the PJ caucus in the Upper House, Miguel Ángel Pichetto.