coverage showed that
there is a nascent
presidential inner circle
without any apparent
ties to the vote-getting
Kirchnerite wing of the
Cristina Fernandez de
President Alberto Fernández delivered his ‘State of
the Nation’ speech on Sunday, opening congressional sessions for the year.
There was a lot of anticipation about the address, but ultimately it’s a routine designed for the
president to dish out his vision without any interruptions. The novelty here is that it was the president’s first
speech since his inauguration, when he took over from Mauricio Macri, his centre-right predecessor.
The neoliberal spin of the Macri presidency, which was dominant in the press
and amplified on social media, is now
being demolished. Now you must hear out
the ruling Frente de Todos coalition,
which accuses the Cambiemos leader of
irresponsibly amassing debt and sinking
the country in a quagmire of inflation and
economic depression. Macri’s camp
might get the chance to answer back, but
not immediately. The problem for the
centre-right opposition he left behind,
Juntos por el Cambio, is that with the
debt renegotiations making all the headlines, they have very little room to launch
Macri, speaking at a neoconservative
conference in Central America, has now
likened the ruling populists to the coronavirus, which reached Argentina this
week. The former head of state has been
mostly absent since losing the election and his creative coronavirus simile came out of the blue (reportedly even bewildering his own lieutenants).
Another problem for the opposition is that the stage, and
the speeches, are now dominated by the new ruling coalition.
Fernández’s speech in Congress was packed with announcements about submitting a bill to legalise abortion, a reform
of the court system, and the decision to ban secret agents from
taking part in local judicial investigations (the government
will also abolish most of its confidential funds).
It made for riveting viewing. State television coverage
showed that there is a nascent presidential inner circle
without any apparent ties to the vote-getting Kirchnerite wing
of the coalition commanded by Vice-President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. The cameras zoomed in on Gustavo
Beliz, now a state reform official, a number of times during
the address, implying that he was the speechwriter.
Beliz served briefly as Justice minister during Néstor
Kirchner’s 2003-2007 presidency, when Fernández was Cabinet chief. His own ambitious court and secret service reform, back in 2004, was scrapped when he locked into a
fierce power struggle with all-powerful state intelligence
agents. Beliz was banished. Now he is back to destroy, if you
believe the government, what the president has called the
“dungeons of democracy,” dark backroom dens where judges,
secret agents and the likes do the dirty
work for the politicians in power.
The presidential inner circle also includes Vilma Ibarra, the president’s legal
secretary. Beliz and Ibarra, who enjoy
direct access to the president, currently
have clout and influence without reporting to the vice-president. This new reform of the court system is designed to
water down the power of the 12 federal
judges who, if you believe the president,
are the chiefs of the “dungeon.”
The current context, however, is the
release of Julio De Vido, the former Kirchnerite federal planning minister, who
is under investigation for corruption. De
Vido denies the charges against him and
claims that he should not have been held
in custody while his court appeals are
heard. There are also growing calls for
the release of Milagro Sala, the Jujuy
Province indigenous and Kirchnerite
activist, who claims they are irregularities in the charges that
triggered her detention.
Yet the subtleties about the president’s inner circle – and a
possible tussle with the Kirchnerite wing about the court
system reform – will only make sense and be of any lasting
interest if Fernández’s presidency, now heading for its first
100 days, gathers momentum. He needs to be able to show
the public some palpable victories on
the economic front. The speech, the
work of Beliz’s monastic pen, was
all very well but what transpires at
the end of the day is the president’s
growing frustration about inflation.
Technically inflation, which clocked in at an annual rate of over 50
percent last year, can be blamed on
Macri’s recipes. With fuel prices and
utility rates frozen, it is slowing
down, but food prices are still rocketing. The president chided that
industry’s leaders at a business conference on Wednesday, warning
that spiralling food price hikes must
stop. But will they?
March is the most crucial month.
Come April, the government needs
to have successfully renegotiated its
mammoth debt with private bondholders and controlled food prices,
in order to gain some street credibility to then hit a long-term stride.
The president chose not to directly
pick a fight with the farmers during
his congressional address. But
effectively soybean export duties
have been increased from 30 percent
to 33 percent. The government, in a bid to avoid a stand-off
similar to the one in 2008 that marked the first term of Fernández de Kirchner’s presidency, has sat the farmers down
at a negotiating table and offered a complex breaks and compensation system for most. But the grassroots continue to call
for a protest in the farm sector and road demonstrations are
Time is not necessarily on the government’s side – even
though the president made a point of declaring on Sunday
that he was only celebrating his 81st day in office.