The Kirchners helped CGT's Hugo Moyano become powerful. Now only Cristina Kirchner can stop him.
BY WALTER T MOLANO
At the end of last week, President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner took the market by surprise when she said, ‘I am not dying to be re-elected president.’ With elections less than 6 months away, the immediate interpretation was that she was not going to run for office. This was a shocker, given that the polls indicated that she could sweep the elections in the first round. In Argentina, the winning candidate needs to win 45 percent of the vote, or 40 percent of the vote and a 10 percent lead over the next contender. Her victory seemed to be so assured that some candidates were opting out. Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri, a right wing candidate, recently dropped out of the race. He announced that he would run for re-election as mayor. What’s the point of burning financial and political capital in a hopeless campaign? The only candidate who was willing to go the distance was Ricardo Alfonsin, the son of former President Raul Alfonsin, who was more intent on reviving the credentials of his dad’s Radical (UCR) Party. The UCR’s image was severely tarnished by the disastrous performance of the De la Rua Administration in 2001, which culminated in the country’s default and the devastation of the Argentine economy. Therefore, he was keen on putting the UCR back on the political map.
This was why President Fernandez de Kirchner’s comment took so many people by surprise. What was a certain outcome was no longer so. However, there is much more to see than what meets the eye. Her statement was a subtext to a tremendous power struggle that is going on behind the scenes.
The fragmentation of Argentina’s political system began with the rise of Juan Peron. Although he established the political institution that shaped the country’s destiny for the latter part of the 20th century, it was not a party in the classical sense. It did not represent a region, class, ideology or any of the typical groupings that comprise political parties. It was a populist amalgamation of leftist and right-wing factions built on the personal cults of Juan and Eva Peron as well as the redistribution of wealth. Upon his exile, Juan Peron relied heavily on the Montoneros to carry out acts of armed subversion against the government. The Montoneros were mainly comprised of young middle and upper class intellectuals who aspired to be revolutionaries. However, they conflicted with the rank and file who represented the core of Peron’s proletariat power base. That is why, upon his return to Argentina in 1974, Peron expulsed the Montoneros from the party, eventually leading to the military repression that became known as the Dirty War. Just as in Mary Shelley’s novel, only Herr Frankenstein could destroy his abominable creation.
The same is now happening to President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. Hailing from the far-flung Province of Santa Cruz, the Kirchners unexpectedly found themselves in power in 2003 without any political friends or allies. Ironically, they began their political careers as Monteneros during the 1970s. That is why, once in office, they turned to their old tricks of militant intimidation and strong-armed tactics to gain a grip on the highly destabilized country. Any political or economic groups that stood in their way were quickly forced into submission through the use of piqueteros and labor actions.
Willing to play the role of the heavy, the leader of the truckers’ union, Hugo Moyano, became an indispensible tool of the Kirchners. However, the death of former President Nestor Kirchner in 2010 provided the labor leader with an opportunity to overplay his hand. In addition to an endless list of unnecessary labor actions, he thrust himself firmly into the national limelight. A few months ago, Moyano secured a 24 percent wage increase for his drivers. Unhappy with the easy spoils, he soon demanded another increase, cutting off the oil fields in the Province of Santa Cruz and virtually paralyzing the country. The fact that he decided to flex his muscle in the President’s home province was a shot across her bow. This is when she retorted with her re-election statement. The real meaning of her words was that she was not willing to do “anything” in order to be re-elected. Given that her popular support is so high, she does not need Moyano’s bullies in order to win the elections.
The problem is that, just like Peron three decades ago, the Kirchners created a monster that only they can destroy. This is very bad news for Argentina. The repression of the Montoneros was a very ugly chapter in the nation’s history. However, it may be the only way to get rid of the detested group of thugs. Mary Shelley’s book gives us better insight to the essence of the situation. The full title of her book is Frankenstein: the Modern Prometheus. Prometheus gained enormous glory by stealing fire from the gods. However, for his punishment he was chained to a rock, where an eagle plucked out his liver each day. In other words, the reliance on immoral means to obtain power will only result in self-destruction.
Walter Molano is head of research at BCP Securities.