Español On December 10, Mauricio Macri, former Buenos Aires Mayor and opposition leader, will receive the presidential sash from Cristina Kirchner. This transition, however, will be unlike any other.
For the first time in 70 years, a democratic president does not represent the traditional factions that have dominated Argentina’s political landscape: the populist Justicialist Party and the more conservative Radical Civic Union.
Macri, who is no liberal, has revealed little about how he intends to govern, particularly with respect to the economy. So far, he has vowed to normalize the country’s institutions, stand up to Venezuela in foreign policy, ease the tax burden on the languishing economy, and be open to talk with the opposition — a style that is diametrically opposed to that of the current ruling party, which has been in power for 12 years.
Macri, however, has offered few concrete measures, and questions about his policies have piled up. He called his campaign the “revolution of joy,” but Argentineans are still waiting to find out what exactly he intends to revolutionize.
In the wake of this policy vacuum, liberals see an opportunity to advance ideas which the Kirchners have demonized for over a decade.
On Wednesday, November 18, a conference organized by the Foundation for Intellectual Responsibility was packed with activists— some euphoric, others more prudent — who analyzed whether liberalism could have any influence on the incoming administration.
“I believe that [the opposition coalition] Let’s Change is far closer to creating a suitable environment for freedom,” Diego Colombo, an entrepreneur and self-described follower of Ayn Rand, told the PanAm Post.
He supported Macri because “the moral rule implies making choices within what is possible. When no alternative stands for what you believe, you should choose what comes the closest.”
Macri Is no Churchill
Unlike most speakers, renowned economist Jose Luis Espert brought some caution to the prevailing excitement and optimism in the room. He said that he was skeptical about Macri enacting free-market reforms.
In his keynote address, he warned that Macri, while a businessman, “doesn’t have the background of a pro-capitalist or a fierce competitor.” On the contrary, Espert told the audience, Macri demonstrated during his time as mayor of Buenos Aires that he was “rather a fan of big government.”
Nevertheless, he did acknowledge that Macri will be “more reasonable” than a Kirchner successor.
“Macri was born into a wealthy family that got rich thanks to corporatist capitalism,” he said about Macri’s roots. During the 1980’s and early 1990’s, Macri led the family business, which belonged to the “crony capitalist class.” They made millions in contracts due to their close relation with the government.
“One thing is to get rid of these delusional criminals, and probably murderers, who ruled during the last decade,” Espert said. “Another thing is to believe that Macri is [Winston] Churchill.”
Don’t Forget Menem
In 1989, when Peronist Carlos Menem won the presidency promising market reforms, the conservative Center of the Democratic Union (UCeDé) became fascinated with the caudillo from the tiny La Rioja province. They gave up their principles in exchange for government appointments. The party was quickly absorbed by the powerful Peronist apparatus, and its main leaders fell into disgrace, many going to jail as a result of corruption scandals.
Twenty-six years later, Álvaro Alsogaray Jr., the son of UCeDé’s founder, is leading an effort to rebuild the party.
They aim to recover the prominence they lost after 2003, when the Kirchners took power. In conversation with the PanAm Post, Alsogaray said Macri “ushers in a promising future for the country; he represents an important and crucial change.”
He said that his party was ready to “bring proposals and ideas” to the new government, to advance “individual rights, freedom, and an independent judiciary.”
Having learned from the party’s awry experience with Menem, however, Alsogaray claimed that they were going to provide the Macri administration with “external assistance,” and that they will remain “independent and critical.”