ARGENTINA. MASSA OR MILEI?
(November 4th, 2023)
BUENOS AIRES. Massa or Milei? This is the dilemma: send Sergio Massa to the Casa Rosada, the man who as super-minister of the Economy is leading the country to hyperinflation (140% on an annual basis) or Javier Milei, the man who dreams of dismantling the country to remake it from the beginning?
On October 22nd, during the first round of the presidential elections, the first prevailed over the second, but on November 19th, the day of the run-off, it’ll be a completely different story.
On August 13th, during the PASO, the mandatory primaries that have preceded the general consultations since 2009, Milei prevailed over both the Peronists and the conservatives.
Libertad Avanza, his party, is preferred by 35% of voters, while 28% vote for Juntos por el Cambio, the centre-right coalition headed by former president Mauricio Macri and 27% vote for Unión por la Patria, the coalition supported by the official Peronists.
In the weeks preceding the vote on 22 October, the first round of the presidential and partial legislative elections, many are betting that the collapse of the value of the Argentine Peso, which on the markets reaches ever lower levels, to the point of overcoming the psychological barrier of a thousand Pesos for a dollar
it’ll catapult Milei to the Casa Rosada without the need for a run-off.
THE FIRST ROUND
Things went differently: once the counting was completed, Sergio Tomás Massa, a Peronist, surpassed Milei by two million votes, gaining 36.68%.
The other gets a meager 29.86%, while Patricia Bullrich, of the traditional right, comes third with 23.88%.
Other candidates follow who collect 9.58%, a percentage that can be useful especially to Massa because it comes from left-wing voters who certainly won’t vote for the “loco”.
Although voting in Argentina is compulsory, only 74% of the total vote.
As always, in parallel with the race for the Casa Rosada, the federal houses and various local powers are also elected.
The House of Deputies is renewed for half of its members (130 out of 257), the Senate for a third (24 out of 72).
None of the coalitions in the field obtain an absolute majority, so the new President will have to negotiate to have his bills accepted.
In the house, the UP will have 108 seats, JxC 93, LLA, 38, other forces, 19;
In the Senate, UP will have 34 mandates, JxC 24 and LLA 8, other forces 6.
In two years, another partial renewal.
WHY THIS RESULT?
In the aftermath of the vote, commentators are astonished: why didn’t Milei win? Why the Peronists aren’t destroyed at the ballot box? How is it that such a discredited government, like the one of which Massa is a part, almost came close to winning?
According to Martín Caparrós, Argentine writer and leading commentator for El País, «faced with the threat of losing everything,[the Peronists] put their decades of experience and their usual tricks on the table – perks, money, collection of old debts, exploitation of old alliances”, but Milei also actually played in Massa’s favor because “he divided the right” and “he scared millions of people” with the threat of dismantling the little bit of welfare state that still exists in the country.
SERGIO TOMAS MASSA
A leading exponent of Peronism for almost two decades, Sergio Tomás Massa currently holds a superministry that brings together Economy, Production and Agriculture. He is not an economist, but a lawyer, or rather, more precisely, a career politician who has never hidden his presidential ambitions.
Born in San Martín in 1972, he joined Peronism in the mid-1990s, when the conservative party Unión del Centro Democrático (UCeDé) withdrew its support for Carlos Saúl Menem, deemed too liberal.
Leader of the liberal youth militancy on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, he joins the circle of trade unionists Luis Barrionuevo and Graciela Camaño in his hometown. While his political godfathers took office in 2000, his rise in public administration began.
At 27 he was elected provincial deputy in Buenos Aires. Two years later, after the collapse of the De La Rúa government and the succession of five presidents in eleven days, Eduardo Duhalde (2001-03) appointed him head of the Social Security Administration (ANSES), a position in which he remained even under the presidency of Néstor Kirchner (2003-07). Responsible for subsidies and allocations during the boom period of Kirchnerism, Massa promoted early retirement for the unemployed and obtained pension increases when they were needed most: after Corralito (2001), unemployment reached 20%.
Loyal to Kirchner, Massa left the directorate of social security in 2007 to become mayor of Tigre, a municipality on the northern outskirts of Buenos Aires, built on the wetlands that connect the La Plata river with Paraná.
A year later, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, President from 2007 to ’15, appointed him head of her staff: the country was shaken by over 100 days of strikes in the agricultural sector due to the withholdings on imports which are wearing down the popularity of a new government elected, Massa seems like the right man in the right place. His name is a guarantee of moderation and consensus, but the good relations with the leader don’t last long: a year later he leaves the executive and becomes an opponent of the “President”.
In 2013, as a dissident Peronist, he was elected to parliament and opposed a constitutional reform sponsored by the Casa Rosada. The young Peronists call him a “traitor”.
In 2015, he founded the Frente Renovador together with a group of provincial governors: he ran for president and came third behind Macri, a conservative, and Scioli, Kirchner’s official candidate.”I don’t want Daniel Scioli to win”, declared Massa during the run-off campaign, well aware that his over five million votes (21.4% of the electorate) make him the arbiter of the duel which sees Mauricio as the narrow winner Macri (2015-19) on the Peronist.
Massa doesn’t directly support Macri, but flirts with him: in January 2016, he accompanies the President to the world economic forum in Davos, a conclave of the political and business elite, in which an Argentine leader hasn’t participated since the beginning of Kirchnerism. Macri wants Massa close to him because he knows how to create consensus, but when he suggests building an economic and social agreement with all available forces, he refuses.
Massa moves away from him and gets closer to Cristina: the Frente de Todos is born which proposes the Fernández-Kirchner ticket for the 2019 elections.
The Argentines now detest Macri and his economic policies, so they elect the couple: Massa supports them, being subsequently rewarded with the election to the speaker of the House.
In July 2022, after the resignation of the Economy Minister Martín Guzmán, he was appointed in his place and now runs for the presidency of the Republic.
JAVIER GERARDO MILEI
Born in 1970 in Buenos Aires, to a housewife and a transport company manager, Javier Milei dedicated himself to football and then to rock, but he had a passion for economics.
Raised in a family where alcoholism and violence mark many days, he develops an aggressiveness that today is the most characteristic hallmark of his character.
Having graduated from the private university of Belgrano, which isn’t among the most prestigious in the country, he becomes a professor: he writes articles, holds conferences and in 2016 takes part in a TV talk show, soon becoming a star because his often vulgar language increases the ‘audience.
Strengthened by his media popularity, he entered politics at the end of 2020 and parliament the following year: the victims of his attacks are the “caste” that has governed Argentina for decades, but also those who live on welfare.
Ten years ago, say some of his colleagues who know him, his economic thought was “conventional, in favor of reducing public spending, then radicalisation: he became an apostle of the Austrian school, born in Vienna at the end of the 19th century: the main thinkers of this group is Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek and above all Murray Rothbard, father of “paleolibertarian” thought, a mixture of economic libertarianism and reactionary conservatism.
The Viennese dream of a State that intervenes as little as possible in the economy, leaving full freedom to the “invisible hand of the market”: the Chicago Boys, that Milei admires and who were the advisors of the Latin American dictatorships of the 1970s and 1980s, also think of something similar.
Therefore Milei is against public spending, he wants to privatize all services,eliminate every form of social state.
An admirer of Jair Bolsonaro and Donald J. Trump and also of the neoliberal decade of Carlos Saúl Menem, during the electoral campaign he takes two chainsaws with him to his rallies to indicate what he will do if he becomes president: he’ll eliminate eight ministries including those of health and education, dollarize the economy, introduce vouchers to finance studies.
He’s against abortion and sexual education in schools, while he’s for the sale of children and organs for transplantation; he’s in favor of free drug consumption and gender change.
He believes that the people can arm themselves to defend from criminal attacks.
If these were words said before the vote on October 22nd, the language changed afterward: on the 24th, former president Mauricio Macri organizes a dinner to which Milei and Bullrich are invited. Objective: to stipulate a pact in view of the run-off between the old and new right-wings to beat the Kirchnerists.
The Argentine press reports that Milei seems particularly conciliatory with both, whom he too had savagely attacked previously.
The agreement between the three causes Juntos por el Cambio to explode: the Unión Cívica Radical, Alfonsin’s former party, declares that it will not support Milei and other smaller forces say the same.
Even the head of government of Buenos Aires, the most important electoral area, Horacio Rodríguez de Larreta, suggests that “el loco” isn’t the President he prefers.
Before the vote, many commentators thought Peronism was dead and, they said, would emerge with broken bones from the electoral confrontation.
In reality, as we have seen, things went differently: what then is this Peronism that has been influencing Argentine political and economic life for almost eighty years, for better or for worse?
For Juan Domingo Perón, the movement he founded is not a party like the others, because it has a greater ability to adapt than anyone else to the common feelings of Argentines, especially the poorest, the descamisados.
As Martín Caparrós writes: «Since its creation, now 78 years ago, it has been a Mussolini nationalist, worker and resistance fighter, Guevarist, social democrat, Christian Democrat, neoliberal and much more. In every context he has been able to adapt to people’s demands, because in reality his essence has remained intact, that of a machine for obtaining and maintaining power. The Kirchners have been doing this for decades. After years of neoliberal rule in their province, they [Santa fé, NDR] transformed into falsely left-wing statists because the situation demanded it.”
«This “plasticity” – Federico Rivas Molina further notes – is the essence of Peronism. This is why historians speak of different and well-differentiated phases.”
THE FIVE PHASES OF PERONISM
1. THE GOLDEN AGE
The first Peronism is that of its origins which in the 1940s became the banner of social justice and undertook the largest process of redistribution of wealth in Argentine history.
The country can count on the income from exports of meat and grain to Europe, which was then seriously impoverished by the war and in need of importing foodstuffs.
The impact was so profound that for many people it long remained the golden age of the movement.
2. THE PERONISM OF EXILE
The 1955 coup, which required the bombing of Plaza de Mayo to succeed, began the phase of Perón’s exile and subsequent civil-military experiments to erase Peronism from the Argentine political map.
For years, the military prevents the general to get back in the country again, but they are unable to eradicate him from people’s minds.
Furthermore, from abroad Perón did not hesitate to foment the protest of the “wonderful youth” who would later give life to the Montoneros.
It’s the second Peronism: that of fighting against the various administrations that followed one another between ’55 and ’73: at the end of ’72, the armed forces announced that there would be a presidential election the following March.
Perón can’t run, but the justicialists propose Héctor Cámpora who, having taken office in the Casa Rosada on May 25th 1973, prepares the old general’s gatting back: the slogan then is “Cámpora al gobierno, perón al poder”.
3. BACK AND PURGE
In June ’73 Perón was back to Argentina and in September elected President of the Nation for the last time.
At his side the last wife María Estela Isabel Martínez, better known as Isabelita, who runs as deputy: the couple wins with 61.81%.
It’s the third phase of Peronism: «The one who lands in Buenos Aires – explains the historian Camila Perochena – is the Perón of the “Cold War”, who has to deal with new actors within his movement: the armed left, the Montoneros, and the Peronist youth.
Perón chooses the right, thus launching a vast purge plan that aims to marginalize the left wing: the regime uses an iron fist against the Montoneros. Triple A (Argentine Anticommunist Alliance) is born and eliminates as many left-wing activists as it can.
On the other hand, both the Montoneros and the ERP, guerrillas who operate in the country, do the same thing.
For years, any day passed without the newspapers announcing that someone has fallen under the shooting of the various killers in action.
In July ’74 Perón dies: he is succeeded by Isabelita who makes use of López Rega who until 1975 was the government’s strongman and hidden director of Triple A.
On March 24th, 1976, to restore order, the armed forces took power without firing a shot: the “president” was sent into exile, while the country fell into the terror of torture and disappearances, erected as a method of government.
4. DEMOCRACY IS BACK
After the defeat suffered by the military regime in the Falklands-Malvinas War (1982) against Great Britain, the men in uniform reluctantly return to the barracks.
For the Peronists, however, 1983 marked a “dark” period: the elections were won by the radical Raúl Ricardo Alfonsin and among the justicialists the neoliberal area took hold, with Carlos Saól Menem as its leader.
The six-year Alfonsin period is characterized by hyperinflation: prices rise visibly and the Peso is now a currency without any value. Obviously discontent grows and Alfonsin risks being overthrown more than once by the military who don’t want to be tried for the crimes committed during the dictatorship.
Menem was elected in May ’89 and assumed office in July.
5. THE NEOLIBERIST PHASE
«Menemism is when Peronism distances itself from its ideological sources, which are the State as benefactor» says Felipe Pigna, another historian.
«Menem veers towards neoliberalism», explains Perochena, «but not only. He also promotes a reconciliation with the Peronist past, he embraces Admiral Isaac Rojas, the one who overthrew Perón in ’55.
Menem, thanks to his Economic minister Domingo Felipe Cavallo, anchors the Peso to the dollar and privatizes post offices, railways, telephones… everything is for sale in Buenos Aires and for some time it seems that the golden times have returned to Argentina .
Then the spell is broken: in ’99, when Fernando de la Rúa, a radical, becomes President, it’s already clear that Argentina can’t sustain the one-to-one relationship with the American dollar, because its revaluation is making the agricultural exports and increases the prices of import goods and interest rates.
The government devalues ??and two years later declares default: De la Rúa resigns and flees abroad, five other presidents succeed one another in a few weeks, while people bang their empty pots in the street and shout “Que se vayan todos”.
It’s the apocalypse: the Peronists take advantage of it to return to power, first with Eduardo Duhalde and then with the Kirchners.
6. THE PROGRESSIVE PHASE
The fifth stage of Peronism, historians say, inserts into the movement’s lexicon terms such as “democracy” or “human rights”, which were not present in Perón’s language.
With the election of Néstor Kirchner in 2003 and then of his wife Cristina four years later, the country entered an era of return of the state to the economy and of battle against the IMF to obtain loans on less onerous conditions.
However, the economic crisis and the conflicts between Kirchnerists and opponents decreed the decline of Kirchnerism: in 2015, as already we said, Mauricio Macri was elected to the Casa Rosada and attempted the path of monetary devaluation to give breath to the export economy. At the end of his term he must accept a huge increase in interest rates and a 57 billion dollar loan to avoid a new default. Now Sergio Tomás Massa is in the field, a moderate, pragmatic man who proposes after the elections to form a government of national unity to address the many problems that afflict Argentina: if he is elected to the Casa Rosada he will introduce the sixth phase of Peronism or start the its definitive decline?
PIER LUIGI GIACOMONI
 M. Caparrós, In Argentina il favorito ora è Sergio Massa, Internazionale N. 1535, 27 ottobre 2023;
 F. rivas Molina, El peronismo se reinventa, una vez más, elpais.com, 29 de octubre 2023.