|Latin America’s right wing have acclaimed the results the elections last October 22nd in Argentina as a triumph for Mauricio Macri. But it is hard to see what kind of triumph leaves Macri’s Cambiemos alliance with just 26 seats in the 72 seat Senate and just 109 seats in the 257 seat House of Deputies. In fact, the recently formed Citizens Unity party led by Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner increased its representation in the lower house by 5 seats more than did Macri’s Cambiemos. The big losers in these elections were the centrist parties Un País led by Sergio Massa and the Frente Justicialista of Florencio Randazzo whose parties between them lost a total of 42 deputies and 12 senators.
Since Macri took office, Argentina has been characterized by inflation of over 20%, high unemployment, mass anti-austerity street protests, soaring national debt contradicting public sector cutbacks, increasing repression of civil rights, pronounced politicization of the judiciary, failure to protect Argentina’s sovereignty over the Malvinas’ natural resources and serious corruption allegations against the President and his circle. On the other hand, President Macri enjoys overwhelming and unconditional support from Argentina’s main news and information media and seemingly unlimited financial support, as well as the great advantage of being able to mobilize the Cambiemos campaign from government.
Macri failed to get even close to 50% of the overall vote, which bears out a reading that in broad terms both Cambiemos and Citizens United have something between 30%-35% core support with around 30%-40% of the electorate either non-aligned or aligned with parties enjoying small minority support. Cristina Fernandez won her senate seat with 37% of the vote in Buenos Aires despite every attempt by Macri's regime, its powerful media supporters and his politicized judicial allies to destroy her. So it makes sense to think that Macri and Cambiemos should have done much better than they did given a divided opposition in which the centrist sectors fulfilled the traditional social democrat role of holding open the door to power and control for the right wing.
In that context Macri and Cambiemos, across Argentina, seem to have convinced around 10% of non aligned voters which was enough for them to make the gains they did without doing as well as they might have expected given the opposition’s disarray. This suggests that for the 2019 presidential election assuming Cristina Fernandez's health holds up and her candidacy is not disqualified by spurious judicial moves like those mounted against Brazil’s Iñacio Lula da Silva, she will get through to a second round run off and could win with as much as 55% against Macri.
In the apparent euphoria of his limited electoral gains Macri and his ministers have announced policies very much in line with the phony promises of their electoral campaign of 2015. These amount to the all too familiar neoliberal policies that have failed almost everywhere and, in the period 2000-2002, drove Argentina into economic catastrophe. The recipe is the same, public sector cutbacks, repressive labor legislation, wishful appeals to foreign investment, tax cuts and ever greater liberalization of Argentina’s economy.
So popular sentiment is likely to deepen against Cambiemos and Macri over the next two years consolidating support for an effective political opposition and punishing opposition parties foolish enough to continue colluding with Macri’s government in the legislature. While Macri’s government pursue their phantom neoliberal economic prosperity, Argentina’s opposition leadership face the challenge of re-connecting with their base, setting aside sectarian prejudices and offering substantive policies that meet their people’s majority needs and aspirations.
Comparisons across continents may or may not be appropriate, but the resurgence of Britain’s Labour Party seems to be based on its leadership finally not just paying attention to people at grass roots but engaging with them so they feel protagonists of policies that address their concerns and serve their fundamental interests. Those elements are what made possible the genuine electoral triumph in Venezuela of the PSUV which won 54% of an unusually high turn out in the country’s recent regional elections.
They explain to a great extent too the majority support for Evo Morales and the Movement towards Socialism in Bolivia. In Nicaragua, that general sense of engagement between ordinary people and government explains the overwhelming personal support at 79% for President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo. Under their leadership the Sandinista Front regularly wins elections with over 60% of the vote, a figure likely to be repeated in the municipal elections to be held next November 6th.
Across Latin America and the Caribbean, the region’s right wing has failed to make a success of the economic and social agenda they have advocated both in and out of government for decades. Their agenda contradicts the fundamental policies necessary to achieve prosperity, namely fomenting productive investment, reducing inequality and redistributing wealth. Those objectives cannot be met via the kind of neoliberal agenda advocated by right wing leaders like Mauricio Macri in Argentina. Furthermore, those leaders’ ideological commitment to corporate globalization necessarily aims at destroying their own nations’ sovereignty. which is the only thing protecting their countries’ wealth and the human potential of their peoples.
The next few years are likely to show how relentlessly inescapable those basic truths really are, with the all the ensuing political and electoral consequences. Latin America’s most successful progressive leaders, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, Daniel Ortega and Rafael Correa, have shown how those processes, apart from a commitment to social justice, also require revolutionary qualities of self-awareness, a capacity for constructive self-criticism and willingness to engage with opinion at grass roots. The cynically deceitful and brutally repressive right wing in Latin America and the Caribbean, have no political answer to radical and progressive movements able to mobilize their revolutionary qualities to address the region’s underlying social and economic reality.