A new era in Argentina

Macri’s election has ushered in an atmosphere of hope and renewal.

Mauricio Macri (photo credit: ENRIQUE MARCARIAN / REUTERS)
Mauricio Macri
MAURICIO MACRI’S election as president of Argentina is likely to have major implications for Argentina’s economy, international orientation, ties with Israel and relations with the local Jewish community.
Day one after Macri’s election victory, Argentina’s credit rating was upgraded to “positive” by Moody’s.
Day two – the chairman of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs urged prioritizing relations with Argentina and US Secretary of State John Kerry phoned Macri to congratulate him.
So did Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had met Macri in Jerusalem last year when as mayor of Buenos Aires he defended Israel’s stand against terrorism.
Macri considers the Jewish state a strategic ally and assured Netanyahu that relations with Israel would be improved.
Thus in the distant south, Israel is receiving some compensation for the loss suffered at the northern end of the hemisphere when another good friend, former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, was defeated in October.
Day three – Macri introduced his cabinet, a highly professional team that includes a prominent Jew in charge of human rights and a Reform rabbi as minister of the environment.
In Macri’s first news conference, one of the few measures announced was the abrogation of the shameful agreement with Iran to jointly investigate the 1994 Iranian terror attack on the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.
There is a strong sense of historical change these days for the Argentinian people, amid an atmosphere of hope and renewal. An imminent transformation is impelling the country toward the right side of history, a wave that may well inspire all of Latin America.
First of all, Macri has to reverse a shaky economy, especially by dealing with the demand for $1.5 billion debt repayment by so-called “vulture funds,” in litigation for which the outgoing government was responsible.
He will also have to deal with the economic stagnation it left behind, bringing national reserves to a nadir of less than $20 billion. The unaccounted-for increase in wealth of several outgoing ministers and officials only aggravates the crisis.
Almost everywhere in South America populism has been a recipe for impoverishment and corruption. Now in the continent’s second largest country, the cantankerous, populist presidency of Cristina Kirchner has been defeated by a conservative coalition led by Macri.
The quandary remains as to why the world’s eighth largest country, with 45 million people and vast natural resources, is on the brink of bankruptcy. Journalist Fernando Iglesias offered an answer in the title of his recent book, “It’s Peronism, Stupid!” Any guidebook on Argentinian politics would be incomplete without several chapters on the Juan Peron’s movement, launched in the wake of World War II and characterized by demagogic waste, inflated government agencies supported by politicized unions, all characterized by an authoritarian style, as well as never-ending speeches by an all-knowing demagogue on all the media outlets.
The leftist government of Cristina Kirchner was its heir, despite the fact that Peronism began with a clear fascist bent. Peron studied in Mussolini’s Italy and was a close friend of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, who offered him asylum during the 18 years of his exile in Madrid. In the Spanish capital Peron used to joke about the political categorization of Argentinians: “They are socialists, libertarians, social democrats, communists, and conservatives. What about Peronists? Well, they are all of the above!” In the 1970s the most militantly socialist faction appealed to thousands of teenagers, who formed the revolutionary guerrilla “Montoneros” group. Many of them, as well as their children, were until now part of the Argentine government.
Similarly, at the beginning of the 21st century, South America gave rise to a radical version of populism when Hugo Chavez became the strong man of Venezuela, a country, which, during his 15 years at the helm, slid into recession and registered the world’s highest rates of inflation and crime.
THE JERUSALEM REPORT DECEMBER 28, 2015 9 ENRIQUE MARCARIAN / REUTERS Moreover, due to Chavez’s hegemonic delusions he generously funded political allies abroad. One of his beneficiaries was Kirchner’s 12-year long government, which received abundant cash that originated – as recently revealed – in Iran.
A CONSISTENT populist, Kirchner inflated the public sector to such an extent that a quarter of all those employed work for the state. In contrast, Macri is a successful businessman who brings a message of growth, stability and a substantial turnaround.
The repercussions abroad of Kirchner’s ouster are already being felt in Venezuela, where for the first time in years the persecuted democratic opposition has reason to celebrate. Macri has distanced himself from President Nicolas Maduro’s dictatorship for its violation of human rights, and urged suspending Venezuela from the South American trading bloc, Mercosur.
The regime in Caracas fought back by calling Macri names and goading the Argentinian people to fight the president- elect. Meanwhile, Maduro redoubled the violence of his campaign for the parliamentary elections in Venezuela, where, on November 25, a chavista gang shot and killed Luis Diaz, a young leader of the opposition Acción Democrática party. It will be very difficult to get rid of Maduro’s dictatorship, especially since the Cuban communist leadership already controls some Venezuelan government agencies.
Nevertheless, the light at the end of the Argentinian tunnel leaves Maduro quite isolated and the tide may well continue.
In a foreshadowing of the final collapse of populism in Latin America, in early December, Venezuela’s opposition won a majority in parliament for the first time in over 15 years.
Macri’s other assignments include reversing the concentration of power in the hands of the leader, the institutionalized inflation, and the sympathetic approach to the Iranian ayatollahs, who were increasingly seen as an expression of anti-American sentiment.
Four years ago, the Kirchner government signed an agreement with the ayatollahs in order to absolve Iran of its responsibility for the Judeophobic terror attacks in Buenos Aires that left more than 100 dead and hundreds injured. (The role of the theocratic regime was proven, thanks to the careful investigation by assassinated prosecutor Alberto Nisman [my friend] and his professional staff.) The so-called “memorandum of understanding” between the victim and the victimizer has been criticized, among others, by Israel and by the representative institutions of Argentinian Jewry.
Indeed, another open wound left by Kirchner is alienation from the regime of the representative institutions of the Jewish community, due to their opposition to the rapprochement with Iran. Kirchner encouraged a group of her supporters of Jewish descent to set up a parallel group to delegitimize the organized Jewish institutions.
Above all, one of Macri’s main challenges will be to strengthen the judiciary, after Kirchner’s attempts to subordinate it to her government. She actually promoted a group called “Legitimate Justice,” with the aim of appointing judges loyal to the ruling party. Renowned jurists were besmirched and courageous prosecutor Nisman was murdered – his memory was strongly present during the elections.
Early this year, Nisman was found shot dead in his apartment, a day before he was due to present to Congress evidence for indictment of the president and some of her associates, who had planned to whitewash Iran in exchange for commercial benefits.
The murder was widely covered by the international media and was followed by a character assassination perpetrated by government officials. The president-elect has expressed his intention to reopen the Nisman case, and, if this actually happens, Kirchner and her close circle have reason for concern.
A new era has begun in Argentina, brimming with great promise, and with the potential for changes in the international arena. As was the case with the Iranianinspired terrorist attacks in Buenos Aires in 1992 and 1994 – which signaled the outbreak of World War III in which we are now immersed – the great transformation of Argentina could also be a sign of a general awakening for the West as a whole.
A new leader might even dare to defend the values of modernity and human rights against the increasingly violent Islamofascist assault.
Dr. Gustavo D. Perednik is an Argentinianborn Israeli author and educator. His 2009 book “To Kill without a Trace” is a novelized account of the investigation of the AMIA bombing and the attempted Argentinian government cover-up in its wake