On October 27, 2019, general elections will be held in Argentina, where current President Mauricio Macri will face off against former prime minister Alberto Fernandez. The election race began against the backdrop of an economic crisis which has been taking place in the country for the past few years. The origins of this state of affairs, current political issues and the need for Latin America to unite and develop its foreign policy were the main issues that were discussed at the Valdai Club during a meeting with Andrés Serbin, Executive Director of the Regional Coordination Centre for Economic and Social Research (CRIES).
Yaroslav Lissovolik, moderator of the discussion and programme director of the Valdai Club, noted in the opening remarks that today, Argentina is the focus of attention from financial markets. There is strong volatility in its macroeconomic indicators, and the electoral struggle influences it. Therefore, the purpose of the discussion was to understand how these factors are related, how the current situation has developed, and what can be done to improve the situation in South America as a whole.
First of all, Serbin said that in Argentina there is an imbalance between a high level of social development – for example, education – and a weak economy. Among other things, this situation is due to the history of the country throughout the 20th century, the traditional lack of strategic planning and forward-thinking public policy. “The country has not been able to use social and political factors for economic development,” Serbin said with regret.
However, the current economic crisis in the country, which has been going on for about seven years, is connected with the activities of the last two presidents – Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and Mauricio Macri. “At first, the Kirchner government was quite successful,” the expert said. “Because of the international commodities boom, there were many opportunities for development: social programmes, increased imports. After this period of growth had subsided, a new approach was required. When Cristina Fernadez de Kirchner left her post, inflation was 30-35%, the country was on the verge of a recession and had lost the confidence of investors and international organisations. In addition, unemployment rose significantly, and 26% of the population worked in public enterprises, which, given the increasing lack of resources also posed a certain problem.”
After taking office, Macri, instead of applying a shock therapy gradually began to reform the structure of the public and the private sector. However, according to Serbin, he made many mistakes. “Initially, he was going to use shock therapy, but there was no legislative base for this and there was no communication with people; the current course was not explained and was not understood by the people. In foreign policy, the president was very aggressive.”
After the primaries, economic difficulties were supplemented by political ones related to the confrontation between Macri and Alberto Fernandez, who nominated Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner as his vice president in the upcoming elections on October 27. “If Alberto Fernandez wins the election, an intensification of the struggle between various parties will begin – in particular, between left-wing Peronists and right-wing populists, radicals and pragmatists. Most parties are populists in one way or another, but so far there has always been a balance between them,” the expert explained.
The Club guest paid special attention to the identity of Latin America and the need for it, if not to unite, then to establish solidarity. “If Fernandez becomes president, it’s necessary to change the policy regarding South America. Many perceive it as a whole, but this is not so. Now there are 4 or 5 blocs: there are southern countries, there are central ones, but it is very difficult to hear the voice of the entire region. I get the impression that we are all brothers, but we want different things. We are waiting for the emergence of an organisation that will represent the entire continent. This is an almost impossible task, but it is important to at least try to build it. Latin America is tired of US influence, and we must find new partners, build relations with Russia, China and India.”
So far, because of the contradictions between different countries and inside them, the search for this “subjectivity” for the region remains only a project. “In any case, times are difficult now in Latin America. This is a reality, and we must look to the future and think about what the political landscape in the region should be,” Serbin concluded.