“I spoke everything with Cristina. We are on the same side “said Economy Minister Martín Guzmán on Friday morning. A few days earlier, on the Sunday of the elections, President Alberto Fernández had announced his decision to agree with the Monetary Fund. “This is a political decision that has the full endorsement of the Frente de Todos. It has been the result of joint work with the Vice President of the Nation, with the president of the Chamber of Deputies and with my cabinet of ministers ”, he added. In other words, according to Guzmán, Cristina agrees with what he wants to do. And according to Fernández, the vice president supports his plan. What will she think?
It is not the first time that Fernández or Guzmán say that Cristina thinks something that later she does not thinkEither you don’t think as they transmit it, or you think the opposite. Fernández and Guzmán are two high-ranking officials who, moreover, were recently criticized by the Vice President. Therefore, it is very reasonable to assume that they are telling the truth, as well as that in their interpretation of the Vice President’s thinking there is, how to say it, a certain interested bias.
That question – “What will Cristina think of all this?” – is a central element to understand the political process that began on December 10, 2019. A few days before the elections, for example, the President met with four businessmen who multinationals run. He explained that after the elections he would accelerate the agreement with the Monetary Fund and segment the rates to substantially reduce subsidies. The question you heard is the same as always. What will the Vice President think of all this?
A week before that meeting, the new Chief of Staff, Juan Mansur, traveled to New York to strengthen the management that Guzmán was doing with different investment funds. He explained that the Government was preparing a moderate shift towards pro-market positions. But, what will the Vice President think of all this? They asked her. On his first tour of Europe, before the pandemic, Fernández came back surprised because the main leaders of the old continent listened to him kindly but, at the end of the talk, they always asked what Cristina thought.
These days, the question acquires a monumental dimension, because Argentina is fast approaching a bifurcation point that will define a large part of the country’s destiny, at least, in the next two years. Fernández, and along with him almost all Peronism, is convinced that Argentina has no option outside of an agreement with the Monetary Fund. Reserve dollars are running out. There is no way to pay the March due date. The country risk climbs to shocking levels. The President and the Minister of the Economy are convinced that an agreement with the Fund would prevent an explosive crisis.
The Vice President is a very smart woman. He knows that his word is defining to generate confidence towards Argentina in the markets, or to deepen the current distrust. His silence is a gesture that fuels all speculation. If she thinks like Fernández and Guzmán say she thinks, it is essential that she say it, with the forcefulness that she says things. Otherwise, it causes a weakness in the government’s strategy and, therefore, in the country’s situation. None of this is improvised.
In this last week, there have been all kinds of reports about the level of agreements that exists in the Frente de Todos. Both Fernández and Sergio Massa and Guzmán took care to ensure that each of their steps was agreed with the Vice President. From the Instituto Patria, on the other hand, the versions were changing. One day it transpired that Cristina had finally accepted Fernández’s proposals, another day that she wanted to see what they would send to Congress, another that she was extremely angry with Fernández. It’s a never-ending war of nerves and she knows how to play it.
Naturally, no one can really know how the relationship is between two people: sometimes not themselves. But you can get clues from the public gestures that the two exchange. What emerges from these gestures is anything but serenity and harmony. Cristina Kirchner was absent from the last two acts of the Frente de Todos. His recent operation explains that he was not physically present. But it is a childish excuse. Cristina could have appeared on the screens from her home or recorded a message for the militancy that went to the bunker on election day, or to the Plaza de Mayo the following Wednesday.
The President, for his part, reacted in public with a gesture that reflects the magnitude of the conflict. On Wednesday, in Plaza de Mayo, he directly ignored the existence of Cristina Kirchner. It wasn’t on the posters, it wasn’t in the iconography that surrounded the President on stage, it wasn’t in his speech. It was the first Plaza de Mayo where President Fernández spoke, and he was the only speaker. There was an obvious political decision to delete the Vice President. Since Nestor Kirchner took office in 2003 there has never been a Kirchnerist act where Cristina did not appear. Perhaps because of that, or because they did not even invite him to participate in the assembly of the event, Máximo Kirchner stayed several blocks away, surrounded by the weak column of La Cámpora.
There was no public gesture to validate the versions that the planets had aligned. At the end of the week, moreover, the official sources that supported the existence of the consensus began to confess that things were bad again and that no one would know what would happen to the announcements that the President made on election Sunday. All this while the countdown progresses, more reserves are lost, and on the other side they have all the time in the world to wait for the leaders of Argentina to agree.
The conflicts between the Fernándezes have marked the first two years of government. Cristina has said: “I know what it is to be president with a vice president against it. I’m not going to do that”. But his behavior was much more aggressive – and efficient in his aggressiveness – than that of Julio Cobos. In any case, in those two years, that conflict was developed on the assumption that Peronism was the majority of the country, and that the opposition would take many years to regain the sympathy of the people, after the disaster that Mauricio Macri had caused.
Now things have changed. The defeat of Peronism has been dramatic. Not only did he get 33 percent of the votes, the fewest since Juan Perón founded the movement in 1945. It was not only clear that his floor is lower than that of Cambiemos. There are other very surprising elements. For example, Cambiemos won in most provinces, especially the most numerous. But also, where he did not come out first, he came out second. Peronism, on the other hand, came third in Misiones, Cordoba, Santa Cruz, Neuquén, and Rio Negro. And he lost by more than twenty points in Jujuy, Capital, Mendoza, Entre Ríos, Corrientes. The outlook is bleak, among other reasons, because there is no competitive Peronist benchmark that is projected as a candidate for President. The opposition has plenty.
Ahead, moreover, if the Government’s management is consistent, there may be two years where the economy grows a little, and a few hundred thousand jobs are generated. But, at the same time, inflation will be very high. The updating of rates and the need to devalue, at least a little faster, will push prices towards an increase that will surely exceed that of this year. The President has also promised that wages will beat inflation. With which the traditional race between wage prices and the exchange rate will overheat a little more.
If the Fernandezes continue from fight to fight, the electoral prospects of the opposition will increase month by month. But even that is not necessary. By simply repeating what happened a week ago, an eventual center-right government in 2023 will have its own quorum in both chambers and control of two-thirds of the provinces throughout the country, including all the most populated.
What will Cristina think of all this?