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ARGENTINA
Capital lurches to the right
Andrés Gaudin
7/12/2007
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Conservative candidate captures Buenos Aires’ key mayoral office.

Six of every 10 voters in the Argentine capital voted for powerful businessman Mauricio Macri in the June 24 mayoral election, and for the first time since the bloody 1976-83 military dictatorship ended, Buenos Aires will be governed by a right-wing mayor.

Macri, 48, is the eldest child of an Italian immigrant who amassed his fortune benefiting from privatizations during the rule of former President Carlos Menem (1989-99). He became very popular thanks to the successes of the celebrated Boca Juniors soccer club, to which he has served as president since 1996.

With a campaign focusing on insecurity in the coastal capital, Macri won the electorate over with promises to take a hard stance against crime, but also to take on smaller-community projects — green spaces, city beautification — and received more than 45 percent of the vote in the first round of voting on June 3.

Resounding victory for the right
In the second round, with 61 percent, he topped ruling party candidate Daniel Filmus, the education minister who won 39 percent. Filmus, a young academic and education expert, who was first a member of the Communist Party before joining the Peronist or Judicialist Party, served as dean of the prestigious Latin American Social Sciences Faculty, or FLACSO.

Filmus’ clear defeat was a major blow for President Néstor Kirchner, who hoped that a Peronist would be elected for the first time to govern Buenos Aires, and he took an active role in Filmus’ campaign.

Until 1996, the capital had no autonomy and its government was selected by the president. That year there was the first mayoral election for the people of Buenos Aires.

The results also forced Kirchner to speed up his decisions for Oct. 28, when Argentines will go to the polls to elect a new president. On July 1, Sen. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the president’s wife, announced her candidacy under the Front for Victory, the president’s Peronist branch.

“He’ll have to wonder if Macri was elected thanks to his excellent publicity campaign or simply for who he is and what he stands for,” said journalist and political analyst Eduardo Aliverti. “Anyhow, we’re facing a serious event; the capital’s electorate took a violent turn to the right and gave the prize to someone who is a remaining symbol of the neo-liberal ideology that took over us in the 1990s.”

This swing to the right by an electorate that had traditionally sided with progressive politics was not the only part of the election that turned heads. Even though voting is obligatory, with just over 68 percent of eligible voters turning out in the second round, it seemed that it did not matter to Buenos Aires voters that two opposing models for the country were at stake — it was the lowest voter turnout in Argentine history.

Three days after the election, Macri — who will take office Dec. 10 — met with Kirchner to ask him to void Law 24.588, which limits the capital’s administrative independence and prohibits a city police force. “The fear is rising among the people,” Macri said after leaving the Casa Rosada presidential palace. “We have to act now against the criminals. I’ve come to tell the president that I need help for the city to have its own police force that answers to us.”

Dictatorship memories
Macri’s notions about security are similar to the dictatorship’s. He justified torture because “it’s ridiculous that the police have to ask the thief to please confess.”

He has also said that “homosexuality is a sickness that generates social violence” and that poor Argentines that collect paper and cartons to life off the little money that generates from recycling “are criminals that steal garbage and whom we have to take out of the street because they are as criminal as those who steal money.”

Many analysts agree with Aliverti that there has been a “big philosophical change in Buenos Aires, because a [political] party didn’t win here, but instead the candidate of an economic group.” Macri designated as his Cabinet chief Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, who was responsible for privatizations in the defense sector and was also an advisor of Macri’s father in the family business Sociedades Macri. Macri designated Néstor Grindetti as his future economy minister, who was also the top executive at the family company for 20 years.

What is certain is that the country’s political turn, called the “Macri effect” has taken toll. Filmus’ 39 percent support is the highest support attained by a Peronist candidate in Buenos Aires. But the president’s project, supported by 60 percent of the country, was defeated; the left, which had 11 deputies in the Buenos Aires parliament, dropped to just two, and the Unión Cívica Radical of former President Raúl Alfonsín (1983-89) obtained no deputies in what was once one of the parties’ main strongholds.


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