Despite Challenges and Controversy, the Macri Administration Has Yet to Display Signs of Democratic Rollbacks by Jane Huber @Skidmore College
Argentina has had a tumultuous relationship with democracy and populist leaders over the last century. Since the rise of Peronismo in the 1940s, no non-Peronist leader has maintained the presidency for a full term. However, current president, Mauricio Macri is predicted to be the first. Journalists are noting the differences between the current administration with those of the past, as well as how certain recent elections demonstrate a shift in political culture for the Argentine people. Most recently, 2015 elections signify the hopeful end of an era of populism as an honest administration attempts to make slow, steady, and positive changes for the country.
One of the most notable things about the Macri administration is the emphasis they have placed on being a transparent government. Argentina is used to having corrupt leaders, leaders who do not follow through on their promises, and those who fail to resurrect the Argentine economy. Macri has maintained himself as a democratic leader who, like most presidents, is working to deal with social unrest, economic insecurity, and high poverty levels. However, he finds himself in a tough situation because Argentine citizens look for immediate relief and so, getting the people to be patient and understand the solution is not immediate will be a tough challenge Macri has to face.
Along with this difficulty, Macri faced significant backlash in 2017 in the form of street protests, where they spiked 32% during the year. The reasons for this backlash are due to actions the pro-business leader took in relation to the retirement pension, rolled back corporate taxes, and was blamed during the disappearance of young activist Santiago Maldonado. The threat this poses to Macri is that with the history of corruption and leaders who do not follow through on campaign promises, the citizens of Argentina are sick of having leaders who they feel are taking advantage of them or that they are in peril and need a savior. Therefore, Macri needs to maintain transparency and help citizens understand that progress is not immediate.
One of the biggest challenges Macri has faced was the disappearance of Santiago Maldonado, a young activist who went missing in Patagonia during an anti-government protest in efforts to protect Mapuche land. Maldonado went missing in late July and was missing with no answers for 72 days when his body was finally found in the Chubut River. Among citizens, many of whom lived through the dictatorship of 1976-83 where over 30,000 Argentinians were forcibly disappeared by the government, there is a large lack of trust in the government and this caused blame to fall on the state. The body was found right before midterm elections which led to suspicion that it was planned, and the state had been searching the river for a month before finding Maldonado. Even after the autopsy revealed death came from drowning and was accidental, citizens declared that it was not valid because the autopsy was performed by government officials. The severity of this accusation is an issue for Macri because in order to make progress his actions cannot be questioned for authenticity by the citizens.
Despite these hurdles to get over, Macri has maintained himself as a democratic leader. He has had success internationally by getting investors re-interested in the country, as well as focusing on reform for social issues such as unemployment and poverty. For example, Macri is working on growing transportation between the city center and a very impoverished area called La Matanza. He is also working on improving the sewer system in poorer areas, as well as providing funding and salaries for people who have been working without pay due to the crisis of 2001. These changes are felt among the lower class, but the changing of spending and the budget has applied stress to the middle class feeling the effects more. Macri, to maintain his presidency, needs to change political culture in Argentina towards slow and steady, rather than having everyone expect immediate gratification.
One of the most positive and reassuring things about the current administration is that most of the leaders are new to politics. Many of the current government leaders are those who grew up reacting to the 2001 crisis and the “Que Se Vayan Todos” (they must all go) movement. The people in this government are political outsiders and finally fresh faces to a struggling government, economy, culture. Corrupt and career politicians are being ousted for fresh-faced, modern, more ethical (as of right now) politicians. For example, in 2015 the province of Buenos Aires voted a new governor, Maria Eugenia Vidal, into office for her honesty, willingness to work with the people, and dedication to improving social situations in the province. Also, unlike most governors of the province, she is not using it as a stepping stone to the presidency, but rather dedicated to improving the issues in the Buenos Aires province. One of her main efforts is changing the culture of corruption within the police, thus giving her more legitimacy among the citizens.
Despite the challenges experienced so far and the regular party divisions that occur in democracy, Macri’s Argentina has yet to display signs of democratic erosion. Most countries experience issues such as poverty, economic struggles, and social injustices, but those do not signal erosion. Erosion occurs with evident rollbacks to the legitimacy of institutions. If anything, Mauricio Macri could be considered the most legitimate leader Argentina has seen in decades. Despite differences of opinions among Argentinians regarding Macri and his standing as a good or bad leader, corruption and democratic rollbacks have yet to be revealed.