The election of Mauricio Macri on November 22, 2015, to the presidency in Argentina by a slim 51% to 49% over Governor Daniel Scioli marks a sharp break with 12 years of progressive government and the reconstruction of the state after the neoliberal period of the 1990s. It is a step back and is deeply troubling to those who believe that an active government is an essential institution for problem solving and the protection of the public interest.

Despite the global financial crisis of 2008–2010, many Latin American economies grew at unprecedented rates during the past 12 years and significantly reduced inequality and poverty in these countries, strengthened human rights across the region, and demonstrated that Latin America did not have to be the “backyard” of the United States, but instead could be a site of policy innovation and government commitment to social justice. This was particularly important because, as noted by NYU historian Greg Grandin, the legacy of the Cold War in Latin America was a definition of democracy that did not include social justice but was focused on protecting Latin Americans against repressive governments.

The 1990s period had been dominated by what is known as the “Washington Consensus,” a set of neoliberal policies that opened up national economies to free trade, adopted fiscal austerity policies to balance budgets, left workers without protection from their employers, privatized many public services and national assets, and significantly increased national inequality in many countries. Most importantly, the Washington Consensus policies weakened the role of Latin American states, leading the late former president Néstor Kirchner to remark in 2002 that one of the legacies of the Washington Consensus was “an absent state.”

From 2002 to 2005, some 250 million Latin American voters rejected these policies in what Chilean political scientist Patricio Navia termed the “democratic fiesta” — the election of progressive governments in 10 of 13 Latin American countries. Those governments adopted many new economic and social policies and were able to reduce poverty and inequality, rebuild the state, and demonstrate that effective policies could be developed within Latin America and not in Washington. Argentina was a leader in demonstrating that progressive economic and social policies were feasible, as the country dramatically expanded its cash transfers to more than 95% of its elderly population and to 100% of its children. Its subsidies to employment helped to maintain aggregate demand during the 2008–2010 global financial crisis.

Macri and his cabinet appointees represent a return to the policies of the 1990s. Indeed, many of his appointees played critical roles in the government of President Carlos Menem that led to the collapse of the Argentine economy in 2001. They were active advocates of fiscal contraction and liberalization of labor markets. Others come from private sector companies where they managed large corporations in Argentina. Argentine journalist Alfredo Zaiat has described the new government as a “CEO-cracy.” And outgoing President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has remarked that “a country is not a corporation.”

The incoming government has already spoken about weakening foreign exchange controls, repaying the “vulture funds” — the US hedge funds that represent a small percentage of Argentine bondholders — devaluating the peso, and cutting back on public spending. These adjustments threaten the greatly expanded social safety net for needy groups in Argentina. Although the new government says it will continue to prosecute the perpetrators of crimes against humanity during the Argentine dictatorship of 1976–1982, we know that these trials will go ahead only if there is strong governmental support.

Alternating leadership is at the heart of democracy, yet the likelihood of a Macri government strengthening democracy is doubtful. Representing the interests of the rich and of corporations, it is not likely to address the much-reduced but still-remaining segments of the population in poverty in Argentina. Furthermore, it is hard to imagine that a conservative government representing the rich will build on the Kirchner government’s success in reducing inequality. Nor can it be expected to widen social and political representation across the country. At best, the Macri government will be a wake-up call to those who voted for Macri, even though they had benefited in economic and social terms from the 12 years of the Kirchner government. They will learn that “change” is not necessarily good. Indeed, it can also go backward.

9 thoughts on “Going Backward in Argentina

  1. Regrettably the Kirchners discovered the desaparecidos and anti-neoliberal polices in 2003, because before that they never said anything about it. In fact they were supporters of Menem in the 90s and also backed the privatization of YPF. They were also very pro Cavallo in the late 90s and early 2000s. Macri is not better and he represents neoliberalism, very true, but please do not sell the Kirchners as progressive from the moment they were born. Oh, and by the way why, even if they went against Clarin and some rentiers, they did not attack the “patria contratistas” like Serenisima, Techint and others, or they never tried to impulse policies that would tax the financial sector in Argentina? they had a great opportunity between 2003 and 2007 and they lost it…….thanks for your post though

  2. Your
    analysis of Latin America is false and biased. It is quite evident you know
    nothing of Argentina. It is laughable to
    consider Cristina Kirchner’s government as progressive, unless you consider as “progressive
    measures” as the following (1) rampant
    corruption. I would encourage you to learn how much her fortune has increased
    during her years in government (32 times), which includes money laundering (2)
    she has divided the country and promoted political violence. Political oponents
    are considered “enemies” She has tried to silence the free press and was able
    to create a huge conglomerate of newspapers, radios and TV chanels which support her. Dissent is punished with job
    loss. (3) Inflation runs over 28% per year, the highest in the world behind Venezuela,
    which I suppose is your other “star” in the Latin American firmament. She has left the Central Bank with no dollar reserves. You speak about Macri’s government wanting
    to devaluate the peso. Sir, Kirchner has brought the peso from under 3
    pesos per dollar to almost 15 during the las 8 years. What do you call
    that? I would call it devaluation don’t you think? (4) Poverty has risen to an alarming 36% (which is quite understanble
    given the inflation we have) (5) She signed a secret pact with the country that
    bombed the Israeli Enbassy in Buenos Aires and the AMIA (Iran). And the
    prosecutor that was about to denounce her in the Parliament was misteriously
    found dead ( Nisman). She has obstructed
    the investigation of this crime in all possible ways, falsely portraying Nisman in her social media conglomerate as a corrupt womanizer (6) The only point which is true in your
    article is that she encouraged the prosecution of the military involved in the
    dictatorship of 1976-1982. But she has
    not done the same with the terrorists who killed thousands of inocent lives
    during the 1970 and 180s. In summary, what you call progressive is what I call corrupt populism.

    1. if by terrorist groups you mean the radical catholic and right-wing Triple A they killed around 700 people (most of them civilians) while montoneros and Erp among others left-wing political violent groups they are responsible for the death of 200 people (all of them except 3, politicians, military and judiciary members and police officers)just making this point becasue you talk about the veracity of facts..look the Kirchners are no saints but Macri is not either..true he still needs to do a lot of damage to be comparable to the Kirchners…and also..the Kirchners did talk about corruption…don’t you remember how they supported the prosecution of many Menemistas functionaries among them supreme court members…

      1. By terrorist groups I mean (1) the Triple A, which were basically right wing peronist killers who started to act during Isabel Peron’s government and which received her support and that of Lopez Rega (2) ERP, Montoneros and Farc, who were extreme left criminals who killed as you say politicians, university professors, judiciary members, policemen, and innocent civilians, and where many more than two hundred. They blew up whole buildings, killed children (a 16 year old girl among others, another 3 year old girl that I remember, and that you can easily check in the newspapers at the time). Judiciary, politicians, university professors and children should also be considered CIVILIANS. And acted very much as ISIS or for that matter international terrorists act today. No members from the Triple A, Farc, Montoneros, or ERP where ever punished. In regard to Kirchner and corruption, the only prosecution that they supported was against Maria Julia Alsogaray, who was the only non-peronist in Menem’s government. The amount of corruption in Kirchner’s government is unheard of in Argentina.

        1. ok so Farc is in colombia not argentina….the two girls you mention where collateral damage (not justifying but they were not the targets)…regrettably in terrorism and political violence studies and fields judiciary and politicians are not considered civilians…it’s like saying that killing hitler would have been killing a civilian…they did not act like isis..come on.if they did then so did hagana, irgun and other israeli groups that killed hundreds of people to found the country and many of their members became primer ministers..and you forget about Moline O’Occonor the supreme court menemista judge that was prosecuted in 2003 for corruption.

          1. I am sorry, you are right. In Argentina it was called FAR (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias). In any case, it is ludicrous to argue whether the people who were killed were civilians or not. They killed unarmed citizens just because they did not agree with their beliefs, as did the Triple A. And once again, none of these people were brought to trial. I do not agree with the concept of collateral damage. They killed innocent people, and that’s it. And they were terrorists who started their killings before the military dictatorship. I do not agree with violence of any side. To mention Moline O’Connor as the one case Mrs Kirchner prosecuted for corruption seems like a sad joke, given the amount of corruption in her own government, starting from her money laundering with the hotels in Patagonia (increased her fortune 32 times), following with her vicepresident (the Ciccone Press), the minister De Vido (importing fuel ships that never arrived, with secret account banks in Switzerland) and the list could continue on and on.

  3. What Mr. Macri does is still too soon to tell. At least he has spoken of ending corruption (never mentioned by CFK or her late husband, of course), an independent justice (which was colonized by your beloved Kirchner), controlling inflation (which did not exist according to Mrs. Kirchner) and dramatically reducing poverty (your beloved Kirchner forbid the members of her government to speak about the poor because that was “discrimination” and no statistics were ever published. So, no sir, the title of your article is rubbish. This not going back, this is moving forward.

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