Politics

Fernández takes friendly fire in tense week for his coalition

16th July 2020

By Ignacio Portes

Fernández takes friendly fire in tense week for his coalition

Never in the seven months of Alberto Fernández’s presidency have such strong words of internal dissent been publicly uttered as during this week.

Since Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner highlighted an

<a href="https://www.pagina12.com.ar/277959-la-conduccion-politica-del-poder-economico">opinion column</a> critical of the businessmen that joined President Fernández in his Independence Day commemoration event, discussions have heated up within the ruling coalition, trapping the President once again between his efforts to appease those outside of his coalition and those loyal to his Vice President within it.</p> <h2><strong>The clash</strong></h2> <p>Fernández de Kirchner did not directly criticize the President, but the story she recommended seems to have been taken as the greenlight for some of her supporters to do so.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-width="550" data-dnt="true"> <p lang="es" dir="ltr">“La conducción política del poder económico”. Zaiat hoy en <a href="https://twitter.com/pagina12?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@pagina12</a>. El mejor análisis que he leído en mucho tiempo. Sin subjetividades, sin anécdotas. En tiempos de pandemia, de lectura imprescindible para entender y no equivocarse. <a href="https://t.co/YcMxbUgyUJ">https://t.co/YcMxbUgyUJ</a></p> <p>&mdash; Cristina Kirchner (@CFKArgentina) <a href="https://twitter.com/CFKArgentina/status/1282330842149408770?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">July 12, 2020</a></p></blockquote> <p><script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script></p> <p>&#8220;President Alberto Fernández called on the businessmen from the G-6 Group to make them participants of the construction of a new economic normality, one that leaves behind the neoliberal version of capitalism dominated by international finance. It is unlikely that they want to participate in that task beyond the gesture of joining him in the Independence Day festivities,&#8221; the article&#8217;s billboard text, published last Sunday in the progressive-Kirchnerite newspaper Página/12, read.</p> <p>By Tuesday, criticism was raining down on the President from members of his coalition. The <a href="https://es-us.finanzas.yahoo.com/noticias/dur%C3%ADsima-carta-hebe-bonafini-presidente-172400990.html">toughest</a> came from the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, one of several human rights group created under the last Argentine dictatorship to denounce kidnappings and disappearances, which was a strong ally of the Kirchners throughout their 12 years in the presidency.</p> <p>&#8220;After much internal discussion we painfully decided to address you, because we fell hurt and aggrieved in the deepest part of our heart seeing that you are sitting at your table those who ransacked our country and exploit our workers,&#8221; the <a href="https://es-us.finanzas.yahoo.com/noticias/dur%C3%ADsima-carta-hebe-bonafini-presidente-172400990.html">letter</a> to Fernández read. To make things worse, the letter went as far as saying some of those sharing the stage with the president were responsible for &#8220;the disappearance of our sons and daughters.&#8221;</p> <p>Knowing the symbolic meaning that human rights organizations have, Fernández immediately tried to dissipate the conflict with a <a href="https://www.ambito.com/politica/alberto-fernandez/respuesta-alberto-las-madres-plaza-mayo-siempre-las-escucho-n5117168">letter of his own</a>, in which he said he &#8220;always listened&#8221; to what they had to say and knew it comes &#8220;from the reciprocal affection we have with each other,&#8221; taking time to emphasize the measures he took to protect the poor during the crisis.</p> <h2>Underlying bitterness</h2> <p>The businessmen who met Alberto were not happy with that response, which said nothing of the accusations linking them to the crimes of the dictatorship. And neither were some old-school Kirchnerites, among them former Federal Planning Minister Julio De Vido, who came out to endorse the Mothers&#8217; letter and even got embroiled in a fight with <a href="https://gettheessential.com/politics/2019/11/28/whos-who-on-alberto-fernandezs-new-ruling-coalition-kirchnerites-peronist-governors-unions-massa-social-movements">social activist Juan Grabois</a>, a close aid to <a href="https://gettheessential.com/politics/2020/01/23/pope-francis-peronism-alberto-fernandez-fabiola-yanez-cristina-kirchner-peronism-vatican-sergio-massa-abortion">Pope Francis</a> allied to the government, accusing him of being soft on Mauricio Macri&#8217;s government and &#8220;making businesses&#8221; with it.</p> <p>People like De Vido have been unhappy with politicians like President Fernández for a long time. With multiple corruption accusations (De Vido was at the center of the Kirchnerite public works&#8217; structure since the old <a href="https://gettheessential.com/politics/2020/07/09/murder-cristina-kirchner-former-secretary-fabian-gutierrez-corruption-ghosts-from-the-past">Santa Cruz province</a> days), him and his associates have spent the last few years defending themselves in courts and from jail, a problem that the current president has never had to deal with despite being part of the same political project created by Néstor Kirchner.</p> <p>During the years of Macri&#8217;s government, only a few groups didn&#8217;t cut ties with those disgraced enough to end up in jail, and the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo were among them. This is where previous complaints about &#8220;<a href="https://gettheessential.com/politics/2020/02/13/kirchner-and-fernandez-camps-split-in-courthouses-political-prisoners">political prisoners</a>&#8221; stem from. De Vido, former Vice President Amado Boudou, and other Kirchnerites with low popularity and years fighting in courts take aim at Fernández for not doing more to help their situation in the courthouses.</p> <p>Fernández, who was never on great terms with De Vido or Boudou to start with, is even less interested in moving close to them at this point, as it&#8217;s one of the signs he uses to show distance with one of the most criticized aspects of past Kirchnerite administrations.</p> <h2>Ideological differences</h2> <p>These clashes are not merely a question of political loyalty or personal grievances, however.</p> <p>Ideologically, many Kirchnerite loyalites tend to think of Alberto as a lukewarm social-democrat that&#8217;s doing little to tackle Argentina&#8217;s inequality. They want heavier state intervention and think regulations and nationalizations can solve the country&#8217;s economic problems. They have been disappointed by Fernández&#8217;s backtracking with the nationalization of <a href="https://gettheessential.com/economy/2020/06/11/will-fernandez-nationalize-grain-exporting-giant-vicentin">Vicentin</a>, and believe in fighting the country&#8217;s establishment as a top priority.</p> <p>That ideological battle was evident again earlier today, when Alberto Fernández got embroiled in a <a href="https://ar.radiocut.fm/audiocut/alberto-fernandez-con-victor-hugo/">debate about Venezuela</a> with radio host Víctor Hugo Morales, who complained that Argentina has not formally quit the <a href="https://gettheessential.com/politics/2019/11/07/puebla-group-lima-group-latin-america-diplomacy-mexico-brazil-argentina-venezuela-bolivia">Lima Group</a>, founded in 2017 to “to contribute to the restoration of democracy in Venezuela through a peaceful and negotiated solution.&#8221; The host also accused former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, whose reports on human rights abuses in Venezuela have been backed by President Fernández, of being hypocritical by speaking of those cases while ignoring abuses in Chile.</p> <p>Fernández has stopped short of condemning Venezuela as a dictatorship, as opposed to most other countries in the region, but has upped his criticism of the government when compared to the Kircherite years, something which does not fall kindly in a few of these ears.</p> <h2>Don&#8217;t expect a split</h2> <p>None of this means, however, that the ruling coalition is at risk of seeing any significant splits. These are, for the moment, simply internal tensions that remain unresolved, but both Alberto Fernández and Cristina Kirchner know they need each other. As the President said in his <a href="https://gettheessential.com/politics/2019/12/12/president-and-vp-call-for-unity-in-adversity-at-inauguration">opening day speech</a>, he does not want to see his alliance with the VP broken &#8220;ever again&#8221;. And even Fernández de Kirchner has admitted to his loyals that he was at times too rigid during her second term, conceding part of the argument to <a href="https://gettheessential.com/politics/2019/05/23/who-is-alberto-fernandez">Fernández&#8217;s more negotiating style</a>.</p> <p>According to political analyst Rosendo Fraga, &#8220;we have seen some ambiguous positioning from the government this week: the government tries to put some distance with some members of its coalition, but not enough to put the coalition at risk&#8221;.</p> <p>Perhaps the most accurate synthesis of the current thinking in the ruling <em>Frente de Todos</em> alliance came from Defense Minister Agustín Rossi, a man who has been fully loyal to the Vice President but who is also more experienced in building broad consensus after years of work as the head of the Kirchnerite caucus in the congressional lower chamber. His voice certainly carries more weight in most quarters than that of more discredited people like De Vido.</p> <p>&#8220;I remember when Néstor Kirchner was questioned on (Kirchnerite-progressive TV show) 678 for his decision to name (business-friendly economist Martín) Redrado at the head of the Central Bank. Néstor explained the context and said: &#8216;What did you expect me to do? Name (former member of the Montoneros guerrilla group) <em>El Flaco</em> Kunkel for the post?&#8217; He was simple and clear. From my place as a political activist, I am respectfully telling my partners that today the most important task is to support Alberto, with our hearts and with our brains,&#8221; Rossi <a href="https://twitter.com/RossiAgustinOk/status/1283210719689945088">tweeted out</a> to try to calm the waters.</p> <p>If there&#8217;s one political lesson that Peronism learned during the years of Macri, it&#8217;s that it is much easier to beat the opposition if they are not divided.</p> <p>

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Ignacio Portes

Ignacio Portes is The Essential's General Editor. Former Economy editor at the Buenos Aires Herald, he has also written for publications such as Naked Capitalism, NSFWCorp and Revista Debate.