Politics

Mayor Larreta, The National ‘Neighbour’

17th September 2020

By Diego Genoud

Mayor Larreta, The National ‘Neighbour’

In everyday Argentina, there’s no way to govern its multiple crises but there’s more than enough plans for tomorrow. The friendship between Horacio Rodríguez Larreta and Alberto Fernández was like a fish swimming against the current when the pandemic was an absolute priority and was politically profitable due to the siren song of the “consensus for all”, but the Buenos Aires police’s rebellion left Axel Kicillof exposed as weak and the President, who saw himself surrounded by patrol cars and police officers at the Olivos presidential residence, fast tracked a decree that would take away 1% of the City’s federal revenue-sharing.

</p> <p>The mayor of Buenos Aires was forced to fight this and take the case to the Supreme Court, and to deal with a national dispute that was on the horizon but that he didn&#8217;t want to precipitate. Larreta came out in defense of a territory that remains in possession of the PRO party but for the first time offered a message that he tried to send to the entire country. &#8220;This could happen to any province tomorrow&#8230; we need a real federal system without having to depend on the favors of whoever is in power&#8230; we can move forward together&#8230; people from Córdoba, Mendoza, Jujuy, Tierra del Fuego&#8230; all of us together,&#8221; he said. That his speech was interrupted by the President&#8217;s message, stating that his decree was supported by a total of 19 Peronist governors &#8211; even Kicillof &#8211;  doesn&#8217;t mean that Larreta hasn&#8217;t been able to spring forward on the national scene, unlike Juan Schiaretti.</p> <p>Faced with dealing with the pandemic alongside Fernández and Kicillof, Larreta has been playing a careful balancing act inside the Juntos por el Cambio party as the friendly face of the coalition&#8217;s hawks. However, this unlikely alliance proved positive for him in the polls (polls he checks permanently) and allowed him to position himself on the national level &#8211; a positioning that he didn&#8217;t have before the pandemic.</p> <p>As Letra P predicted three weeks ago, no one expects the current differences with Mauricio Macri to be irreconcilable but rather a new agreement similar to the one they sealed back in 2015 so Larreta could run for City Government.</p> <p>Like Macri before him, Larreta is on his second term and expects to run for president in 2023. In order to do that, he needs to agree on a new set of actions and roles with the former Head of State.</p> <p><strong>When a friend leaves.</strong> For a long time now, Larreta kept repeating to his closed circle that the crisis would force Fernández to move away from the middle, accentuate polarization and mimic Cristina Kirchner, the great big detractor of the Buenos Aires mayor. He predicted this even when they were on the best of terms, although he certainly didn&#8217;t expect a decree reducing a point of the City&#8217;s federal revenue-sharing without a warning. A point of the same federal revenue-sharing that Macri had also awarded him via a decree. Larreta knew that, sooner or later, he was going to lose the benefit that the former President had given him, but he once again expected to put on a negotiation show in order not to look weak. According to City government sources, &#8220;trust&#8221; built by the national government in the last nine months has &#8220;collapsed&#8221;. Starting now, the shared administration of the pandemic remains (that will not change) but there&#8217;s been a &#8220;turning point&#8221; and &#8220;friendly&#8221; Horacio has come to the conclusion that Alberto&#8217;s &#8220;word&#8221; isn&#8217;t worth much.</p> <p>Larreta&#8217;s response wasn&#8217;t just economic, it was also political. &#8220;He didn&#8217;t want to jump into a national fight but, if he doesn&#8217;t respond, they will invade his city. If he&#8217;s not strong, Buenos Aires residents will run him over&#8221;, a consultant working with the mayor told Letra P. His entire strategy is based on polls and focus groups.</p> <p><strong>Santilli to the Province.</strong> Larreta was already thinking of his national team, but Fernández&#8217;s decree seems to have accelerated the process and winning in the Buenos Aires province is a crucial factor for anyone trying to become president. In the City Government, sources say Diego Santilli is a name that transcends the city limits and has already started to set foot in the land of Kicillof.</p> <p>Larreta and Santilli know each other very well and have been making politics in the city since forever. However, their personal files register a quick venture into the Peronist stronghold. It was December of 2000 when Carlos Ruckauf appointed Larreta as the president of the Social Prevision Institute and Santilli was appointed his number 2. Even though they didn&#8217;t last very long, just like Ruckauf&#8217;s tenure as a Foreign Minister, some still remember them. They left on December 11, 2001, days before the economic collapse.</p> <p>Later, they joined Macri&#8217;s adventure in the city and whatever differences existed between them were softened, they say, in a meeting to discuss the 2015 Buenos Aires city ticket, at political strategist Jaime Durán Barba&#8217;s home. In the last two years, the Deputy Mayor has become the Mayor&#8217;s main partner. After the disastrous organization of the River-Boca match in November of 2018, he took over the Security Ministry and solved, as Larreta would see it, a fundamental problem. In 2019 he decided to repeat the 2015 presidential ticket, hold on to power and at the same time give up his hopes to take over the mayor&#8217;s office. Back then, Horacio would tell him: &#8220;If I only talked to you as a friend, I wouldn&#8217;t know what to suggest you do.&#8221; Santilli chose what was mostly convenient for Larreta and gave up his political ambitions in the City. Now, for the next elections, he will have to migrate. Just like it helped his partner, whom he considers a &#8220;man of politics&#8221;, the pandemic gave his name visibility in the province.</p> <p>The deputy mayor made a few appearances in the territory that is the mother of all political battles and assigned two of the men he trusts the most to engage in permanent incursions there: Government minister Bruno Screnci and the vice-president of Banco Ciudad, Fernando Elías, both of them already working in the district that&#8217;s under Kicillof&#8217;s rule. As 2021 and the midterms near, City government sources admit that the the goal is for Santilli to work with the PRO&#8217;s candidate in the province, who they say will be María Eugenia Vidal &#8211; although this may not be attractive to her. The former governor&#8217;s administration ended on a bad note and it seems impossible that she may get a second chance after the trauma left by the Macri years. But the cogs are turning around Larreta, and his advisors thing that if Kicillof  keeps the current course, he may make her look good by the end of his administration.</p> <p><strong>Four names.</strong> We&#8217;re still an eternity away from it and Santilli repeats to his close circle that discussing 2023 today is &#8220;science fiction&#8221;. However, pollsters working for the PRO warn that Analía Maiorana&#8217;s husband is the second best polling political in the province right after Vidal, who has already been burned by the fire of Buenos Aires province.</p> <p>Santilli&#8217;s appearance in the Buenos Aires province battlefield is currently being denied by the PRO party leaders in that district and predicts that there will be resistance from the four Macrista political leaders there: Jorge Marci, Néstor Grindetti, Diego Valenzuela and Julio Garro. The platoon of potential PRO candidates in the province already bears the name of Jorge Macri (Mauricio Macri&#8217;s cousin), who has for long been dreaming of becoming governor, even though his last name conspires against him. Others like to mention Cristian Ritondo and Emilio Monzó, even though he&#8217;s away from the public service and remains on the side while others continue to race against each other.</p> <p>When thinking of a national team, Larreta admits that there are four names who are polling well: himself, Santilli, Vidal and Martín Lousteau, who wants to become mayor and for now it seems there are no other contenders against him. However, former governor Vidal has just moved back to the City and there are some who predict that sooner or later a clash with Santilli will take place. What will be Lousteau&#8217;s place when that happens is another riddle that Larreta should solve, since he has already turned the economist who was close to beating him in 2015 into an obedient partner in the City.</p> <p><em>This article <a href="https://www.letrap.com.ar/nota/2020-9-12-12-29-0-el-vecino-nacional">was originally published</a> in Spanish in letra P on September 12, 2020.</em></p> <p>

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Diego Genoud

Diego Genoud is an Argentine journalist known for his unauthorized biography of Sergio Massa and his work in Perfil, Crítica, Noticias, Crisis and other print media. His daily dispatches in El Canciller are followed across the Argentine political spectrum.