Political Polarization in Argentina
Interestingly, this polarization happening in Argentina is pretty much the same one observed in Brazil and some other South-American countries. In general terms, the national left defends independence from Western Unipolarism, whilst there is another block defending an alignment with its interests. In Argentina, there is a broad representation crisis concerning politicians as the outcome of liberal-democratic and social-democratic trends, once almost the whole population admires the ideological line and historical positions taken by Perón. But candidates from the liberal and anti-peronist wings tend to profit from it and also get funds from international groups.
Argentina is the second largest country in Latin America and is one of the most resource-rich countries in the world. Argentina is bordered by the South Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Andes mountains to the west; neighboring countries are Chile to the west, Bolivia and Paraguay to the north, and Brazil and Uruguay to the northeast. Its geographical position and climatic situation give the country a diversity of land and natural resources, provide an important cultural and economic connection for all of South America and also make it relatively safe from outside powers. Its core territory is the Humid Pampas region which includes the highly populated city of Buenos Aires – the capital of the country. This area is the heart of Argentina’s large agricultural sector supported by wheat, corn, oil seeds and yerba mate. The northwest region is a sparsely populated area but it has oil and natural gas. The country has one of the most inter-connected river transport systems in the world.
The Republic of Argentina was officially declared in 1810 exemplifying one of the earliest post-colonial states in Latin America. Independence, however, marked the start of the internal political challenges for Argentina. The period from 1814 to 1880 was defined as the Argentine Civil Wars: various caudillos such as Juan Manuel de Rosas and General Julio Argentino Roca struggled to stitch together a nation-state from the various segments of the disintegrating Spanish Empire. Nation formation and identity creation was partial but violent. In the 1870s General Julio Argentino Roca established Buenos Aires’s dominance over the pampas – a military operation known as Conquest of the Desert – and added extensive land to the national domain.
Shortly before the First World War Argentina was considered as one of the richest and most successful countries in the world. Exploitation of the rich land of the pampas reacted powerfully upon economic growth and prosperity. Argentina also had the stocks of natural resources, huge potential in agricultural exports, developing industry and high-skilled immigrants who were of working age. As a whole these characteristics were the causes of Argentina’s success. Between 1860 and 1930 Argentina grew more rapidly than the United States, Canada, Australia, and Brazil – countries similarly endowed with rich land, which also accommodated large inflows of capital and European immigrants. During the first three decades of the 20th century, Argentina left behind Canada and Australia in such activities as population, total income and per capita income. By 1913, Argentina was the world's 10th wealthiest nation per capita. Moreover, Argentina became an agricultural provider to the world, exporting tons of beef, wheat, leather and other products to Europe and the USA.
The country was aided by extensive British investment, which introduced the railway throughout the country to transport products to the docks of La Boca. It is significant that Buenos Aires has the oldest metro system in Latin America, the Southern Hemisphere, and the entire Spanish-speaking world: the first metro station was opened there in 1913.
The Argentine experience is incredibly tragic, having fallen away from a once glorious promise. Beginning in the 1930s, Argentine economic vitality deteriorated considerably. This loss of vitality was especially dramatic in agriculture. The collapse of the U.S. market and the ensuing worldwide Great depression impacted primarily on the suppliers of raw materials. The economic crush precipitated an ideological and cultural crisis in Argentina, as the old education of economic development, immigrant labor and limited political participation gave way to concerns that liberal capitalism and democracy could produce economic and social chaos.
The emergence of Juan Domingo Perón in 1943 signaled a major change in Argentine political and cultural life. Perón became president in 1946, his two stated aims were social justice and economic independence. The Peróns' followers praised their efforts to eliminate poverty and to refine labour. The economic program placed emphasis on Argentine industrialization and self-determination, and was therefore approved as the many factions of the conservative nationalists, and a significant part of the working class. Anyway their detractors considered them demagogues and dictators. When the Peróns gave their name to the political movement known as Peronism they advocated it as a third way between capitalism and socialism, which in present-day Argentina is represented mainly by the Justicialist Party.
Despite the fact that Perón could overcome the stratification in Argentine society, the long-distance economy received considerable damage. In addition, Perón was unable to control inflation and find a replacement for British capital, which dominated the country in the first half of the twentieth century.
The financial crisis of 1998 in Asia was the next "great depression" for Argentina. Argentina’s national economy was essentially experiencing the same problems that are now affecting Greece.
In 2001 the economy again collapsed. The economy shrank by 28 percent from 1998 to 2002. Argentina’s debt was unsustainable, fiscal austerity measures proposed by the IMF and agreed to by Argentina’s leaders further crippled the economy, and its ability to borrow on international markets was limited by zapped investor confidence.
The economy has since become stronger during the presidency of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. However, inflation has skyrocketed. The Central Bank tried to support the declining currency in the course of loss of investor confidence but investors will opt to put their money into the US dollar instead of the falling domestic currency.
Nowadays – Internal contradiction
Mostly analysts claim that the country is stuck in the political culture of Peronism. Since 1946 Peronists won nine, losing only two in the presidential elections. They have governed for the past 12 years, under Néstor Kirchner and after that under Cristina Fernández de Kirchner since 2007. Perón’s politics has changed Argentina, both because of the specific reforms he enacted during his three terms in office, and because of the vacuum of power that he left during his exile and eventually after his death.
The 12-year reign of the Kirchner family will end because Christina Fernández de Kirchner cannot run for President due to term limits. There were six candidates running for the Argentine presidency, and half of them are Peronists. The question now is not whether the next president will be a Peronist but what kind of Peronist he will be.
The front-runner is Daniel Scioli of Frente para la Victoria coalition ("Front for the Victory"), the Governor of Buenos Aires Province and former Vice President of Argentina under Nestor Kirchner. He received 37% of the vote and is supported by Cristina Kirchner.
The main rival of Scioli is Mauricio Macri from coalition Cambiemos ("Let's change"), the Head of the Government of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires. Macri is notable for criticizing the government for its economic policy, in particular for high inflation and a growing budget deficit, and also foreign policy. Daniel Scioli promises to improve relations with the United States but Mauricio Macri’s position is more radical. He advocates leaving in the past the roll of Buenos Aires toward Russia and China. About 35% of electorate voted for Mauricio Macri. His followers are mostly belonging to wealthy segments of the population and the middle class in large cities.
The liberal newspaper Clarín wrote that U.S. expects a victory for Macri in the next round, which will be Nov. 22. It is clear that Macri has the external support of Washington.
The third most popular candidate for President is Sergio Massa, an Argentine Justicialist Party politician who served as Chief of the Cabinet of Ministers from July 2008 to July 2009, but he is out of the presidental run after Oct. 25.
The new government will have an impact not only on the foreign policy of Argentina, but on the fate of the Mrs. Kirchner: the opposition could institute a court action against her (in particular, on charges of involvement in the mysterious death of Alberto Nisman).
Several scandals took place during the time of the elections, or related to the elections themselves and perhaps the most notorious scandal associated with Natalio Alberto Nisman who worked as a federal prosecutor, noted for being the chief investigator of the 1994 car bombing of the Jewish center in Buenos Aires. As part of the ongoing investigation Nisman allegedly discovered the connection of Cristina Kirchner and Hector Timerman, the current Argentine Minister of Foreign Relations, with the Iranian authorities, whose intelligence services are suspected of involvement in the terrorist attack of 1994. It is known that Nisman was supposed to present a report on this issue in the Parliament.
The most popular point of view among society was that the authorities were trying to protect an officials of Iran on accusations of involvement in the terrorist attack. The Argentine government was charged with corruption. Suspicions were raised by the rapidity with the incident was officially declared a suicide. President Kirchner reversed her initial statement and declared that it was not a case of suicide. This situation provoked a wave of civil protest.
Furthermore, local elections were accompanied by protests and massive rebels. Particularly strong statements of opposition was found in the province of Tucumán which is often called as a "fiefdom for the opposition".
Peronism has been able to dominate Argentine politics because it is based more on interests and feelings than on a strict ideology. It is difficult to define Peronism as left or right. There is a common political process that does not really come within the scope of these definitions. The ideals behind Peronism are populist roots and a desire for social justice. Peronism has the most strong support among the population than any other political party in Latin America.
Cristina Kirchner has initiated strongly-worded changes in the foreign policy established by its predecessors Carlos Saúl Menem and Nestor Kirchner, who thought that Latin America, Brazil, USA and Europe should be the main foreign policy priorities.
The isolationist policy of "kirchnerism" is clearly apparent in the past 12 years. For example, Argentina was never visited by the President or the head of the Italian government, despite the fact that the vast majority of the population are descendants of Italians. The king of Spain Juan Carlos visited Argentina last time in 2003. Prince Philip (the current king of Spain) came to Argentina in 2011 to the inauguration of Cristina Kirchner and was accepted rather coldly. The last major figure of the American government, which visited Argentina, was Hillary Clinton. Barack Obama has never invited Cristina Kirchner to visit the United States. She always reciprocated.
Moreover, the dispute between Argentina and Great Britain for the Malvinas Islands (“Falkland Islands” according to the British) has been simmering. This summer, the low-intensity conflict affecting the presidential campaign in Argentina worsened. In July 2015 the Argentine newspapers published sensational results of a survey conducted by the network "Sky News" in Great Britain: 60% of Britons support their government in a rebuff to the claims of Argentina over the Malvinas Islands, and considered, that the issue can be resolved by military means.
Thus, Argentina was excluded from the agenda of world leaders, except, of course, China and Russia. It seems that the reason for the convergence of Argentina with Russia and China was the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, which obliged Argentina to pay 1.33 billion dollars to holders of securities that did not agree with the terms of the proposed restructuring for the government bonds of the country. In Buenos Aires this decision refuses to comply.
The current government of Argentina has embarked on a strategic relationship with Russia and China to the detriment of its relations with the US and the EU. The business community and the government of China are interested in expanding investment in the Argentine economy. China is now Argentina's top beef importer. The two countries have also launched large-scale hydroelectric and nuclear energy projects with substantial investment in energy infrastructure.
Vladimir Putin noted that Russia and Argentina plan to implement a number of energy projects. Rosatom is conducting negotiations on the construction of the energy block of the sixth atomic power station "Atochi" in Argentina, and JSC Zarubezhneft intends to establish in this country the manufacture of equipment for oil production. Gazprom starts work on the production, transportation and distribution of natural gas in Argentina.
"One priority is increasing trade and economic interaction. The implementation of major joint projects in such spheres as hydropower, peaceful atom, hydrocarbon production is all good prospects. There are already agreements on the construction of hydroelectric power stations in Argentina", said Vladimir Putin. The volume of investments, he added, will be about $ 2 billion.
About a month ago Argentina wished to join the BRICS. It should be noted that it is not the first time that Argentina expressed a wish to be in the BRICS. In May 2015 this issue was discussed informally among experts. However, Brazil, India and South Africa expressed full approval for that idea. China and Russia would hardly be against too, taking into account their actively developing relations with Buenos Aires.
It is no exaggeration to say that the state of the economy plays a primary role in the allocation of votes. The government leaves the successors with high inflation, a de facto ban on free circulation of the dollar, deficit of budget, external unresolved trade disputes, litigation with the debenture holders, the outflow of capital, acute shortage of investment, etc. Even a partial list of problems testifies the fact that the country is facing the need to change the model, which is characterized by state intervention in the economy and narrowing market space. The new President will be faced with the fact that actual government’s outlay significantly higher than planned, and sources of funding are not sufficient to cover them.
The fate of the country is on the floor by two different opinions. One of the most important for the new government issues would be to pay subsidies to the population for the growing tariffs for electricity, gas, water, etc. Likely, the government will have to abolish subsidies and let the prices. This will give impulse to a new round of inflation and protests. To reduce social tensions the state will be forced to protect the most vulnerable segments of the population that will only increase inflation. And that new inflation will provoke an "explosive" phase of the economic crisis. All of these realities today impede investment in the economy by the private investors. In addition, current high utility rates are unacceptable for investment companies, for their stable operation it is necessary that these costs amounted to no more than 20% of all costs.
Anyway another point of view that Argentina’s struggling economy will finally turn the corner under the administration of a new government. Many researchers notice than no matter who wins the election, Latin America’s third-biggest economy will emerge more welcoming to investors than it has been under outgoing leftists.
This raises the question of what will happen with the comprehensive strategic partnership established by Argentina with China and Russia? "With regard to Scioli, he is more than Makri will try to keep strategic partnership with China and Russia, — says Ricardo Rouvier, one of the leading Argentine analysts. He is convinced that the relations between Argentina and Russia are not as strong as between Argentina and China. In his opinion Russia is more a geopolitical ally and the alliance of Argentina with Russia may face great problems.
The same thing can happen after the elections with relations between Buenos Aires and Venezuela. Rover believes that Macri in case of victory in the presidential elections will not go on rupture with Venezuela, but will cease to give it so much importance. Scioli, says the analyst, will maintain relations with Caracas, but also will not give them so much attention. Instead, he can focus on cooperation with Pacific countries, such as Peru, Chile, Colombia, which are far from the ideology of the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez and the late former President of Argentina Nestor Kirchner.