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17/03/2017 | Argentina- The pros and cons of Mauricio Macri’s gradualism

The Economist Staff

The new Argentina prepares for an electoral test.

 

TO THE deafening beat of big bass drums and the occasional firecracker, tens of thousands of banner-waving trade unionists marched through the heart of Buenos Aires on March 7th, in protest at job losses and inflation. “We’re up to here,” said Silvia Blanchoux, a hospital cleaner, gesturing with a hand across her throat. “My rent has gone up, and my daughter is unemployed.”

The protest coincided with a strike by teachers. This stirring of opposition comes at a delicate time for Argentina’s president, Mauricio Macri, and his efforts to repair the damage inflicted by the populism of his Peronist predecessors, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her late husband, Néstor. In October Mr Macri’s centre-right Cambiemos (“Let’s change”) coalition faces a mid-term election for almost half of congress. This will be a symbolic referendum on the government.

In fact, it is surprising that Mr Macri, a former businessman, remains as popular as he is (his approval rating is around 50%). His victory in November 2015 was unexpected. He inherited a country whose future was mortgaged: international reserves were negligible; a dispute with bondholders had cut Argentina off from credit markets; inflation was around 30%; and the fiscal deficit was 5.4% of GDP in 2015, swollen by indiscriminate subsidies to consumers and crony companies and financed by printing money.

Mr Macri’s team moved swiftly to dismantle exchange controls, devalue the peso and settle with the bondholders. It raised interest rates to stop inflation from getting out of control, which pushed the economy into a short recession. It has otherwise moved cautiously. Official targets call for single-digit inflation to be reached only in 2019, when the deficit should be 2.2% of GDP. Some 15% of imports are still subject to the Kirchners’ barriers.

This caution stems from circumstance—Mr Macri lacks a majority in congress—but also from his preference for consensus-building, honed during eight years as mayor of Buenos Aires. It may mitigate the social impact of stabilisation in a country still traumatised by an economic collapse in 2001-02.

Yet gradualism is no panacea. Businesses worry that the use of dollar loans to finance the fiscal deficit, although non-inflationary, is again leading to an overvalued peso. Although Nicolas Dujovne, the treasury minister, says that inflation is falling and output and employment are growing, many Argentines do not yet feel the benefits. “We were going OK and now we’re poorer,” said Ms Blanchoux. Despite an increase in social assistance, a survey by the Catholic University found that the urban poverty rate edged up last year from 29% to 33%. Since December opinion polls show a sharp dip in optimism.

That coincides with a series of what pundits call “unforced errors” by the government. They range from the trivial (a row over moving a public holiday) to the troubling: a now-cancelled write-down of a disputed debt owed to the state by a firm owned by Mr Macri’s father. Critics also complain of micromanagement by the Casa Rosada, the presidential palace.

Marcos Peña, Mr Macri’s cabinet chief, insists that the errors are minor compared with those of the Kirchners. The biggest problem, he adds, is the pain that the squeeze is producing in the lower-middle class, “who voted for us”. In response, the government is slowing down the withdrawal of subsidies (which had caused big rises in electricity and water bills, albeit from almost nothing). It has launched a $33bn, four-year infrastructure plan to try to speed the economy along.

Mr Macri still has much going for him. Mario Blejer, a former central-bank governor, thinks GDP will grow by 4% this year. Deficit-cutting is easier because spending under the Kirchners was corrupt and wasteful: contracts for new roads are being signed for up to 40% less than previously budgeted, says Guillermo Dietrich, the transport minister. The Peronists are divided. Many Argentines have tired of the permanent confrontation engendered by Ms Fernández, who is defending herself from corruption charges.

“Our biggest asset is that we are underestimated,” says Mr Peña. “Without that, we wouldn’t be here.” It is all but impossible for the government to win a congressional majority in October. But it must avoid the perception of defeat, which would make Mr Macri’s government seem like a parenthesis in a populist country rather than the start of a new era. The election comes before the full benefit of more rational policies becomes clear. Even so, many Argentines seem to recognise that Mr Macri is Argentina’s best chance in a generation of breaking out of its vicious circle of populism and decline.

The Economist (Reino Unido)

 


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05/09/2009|
26/08/2009|
21/08/2009|
19/08/2009|
19/08/2009|
15/08/2009|
15/08/2009|
15/08/2009|
11/08/2009|
11/08/2009|
11/08/2009|
11/08/2009|
19/07/2009|
19/07/2009|
18/07/2009|
18/07/2009|
27/03/2009|
22/03/2009|
22/03/2009|
27/01/2009|
27/01/2009|
27/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
11/01/2009|
06/12/2008|
06/12/2008|
06/12/2008|
06/12/2008|
23/11/2008|
23/11/2008|
16/11/2008|
16/11/2008|
04/11/2008|
04/11/2008|
03/11/2008|
03/11/2008|
24/10/2008|
24/10/2008|
24/10/2008|
24/10/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
06/09/2008|
06/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
22/08/2008|
22/08/2008|
17/08/2008|
17/08/2008|
16/08/2008|
16/08/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
19/07/2008|
19/07/2008|
24/05/2008|
24/05/2008|
03/05/2008|
03/05/2008|
29/04/2008|
11/02/2008|
05/01/2008|
09/12/2007|
18/11/2007|
10/11/2007|
10/11/2007|
06/11/2007|
06/11/2007|
06/09/2007|
26/08/2007|
25/08/2007|
11/07/2007|
16/06/2007|
16/06/2007|
10/06/2007|
10/06/2007|
19/05/2007|
19/05/2007|
19/05/2007|
19/05/2007|
24/04/2007|
24/04/2007|
14/04/2007|
14/04/2007|
05/04/2007|
05/04/2007|
05/04/2007|
28/02/2007|
28/02/2007|
05/02/2007|
05/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
29/01/2007|
29/01/2007|
29/01/2007|
29/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
20/12/2006|
20/12/2006|
17/11/2006|
30/09/2006|
28/07/2006|
12/04/2006|
12/04/2006|
12/04/2006|
06/03/2006|
21/02/2006|
17/02/2006|
31/01/2006|
10/01/2006|
28/12/2005|
31/10/2005|
26/09/2005|
29/08/2005|
11/08/2005|
08/08/2005|
24/06/2005|
24/06/2005|
24/06/2005|
03/04/2005|
03/04/2005|
03/04/2005|
03/04/2005|

ver + notas
 
Center for the Study of the Presidency
Freedom House