Christmas came early for fans of freedom in South America.
It almost seems too good to be true. On November 22, in an upset election, opposition candidate Mauricio Macri beat out Daniel Scioli, whom the current head of state, the dictatorial Cristina Kirchner, had supported fully to replace her as president of Argentina. He took office on December 10.
His election, wrote Agustino Fonteveccia at Forbes, “blew new wind into the sails of South America’s second-largest economy” and “led to a flurry of optimism across the country, and particularly on Wall Street.”
Twelve years of Kirchnerism (Cristina’s eight years in power followed four years of rule by her late husband, Nestor) brought the Argentinian economy to its knees with excessive social-welfare spending, shameless government bloat, sky-high tariffs, massive corruption, and the imposition of a whole raft of destructive socialist economic ideas – all of which led, inevitably, in 2014, to the country’s second sovereign-debt default in fourteen years. Kirchner, as we’ve seen several times on this site, surrounded herself with stooges who propped up her power while enriching themselves at the expense of the Argentinian people. Macri, who has been mayor of Buenos Aires for eight years, promised to turn the country back in the direction of the free market and to fight institutional corruption.
Kirchner has called Macri a tool of corporate interests. “A country is not the same as a business,” she chided in one speech. Macri, for his part, when asked what he would change about Kirchner’s foreign policy – which has emphasized close relations with Cuba and Venezuela, said: “Everything!”
After his victory was secured, he “immediately made a call for Venezuela to be booted from South America’s continental trade union Mercosur,” citing the chavista regime’s habit of imprisoning its critics, most famously opposition leader Leopoldo López. He’s also expressed an eagerness to strengthen ties to Mexico, Colombia, Peru, and Chile. And he’s vowed to enact “a rapid and wide-ranging burst of reforms designed to dismantle the thicket of socialist controls” put in place by the Kirchners. “We will experience the start of a new era,” promised Alfonso Prat-Gay, Macri’s choice for Minister of the Economy (and a former top official at J.P. Morgan in the U.S.). “The tyranny of authoritarian populism is over.”
During her final days in power, La Kirchner did not, shall we say, develop anything remotely resembling class. Instead of working with her successor to ensure a smooth transition for the country’s own good, she threw up so many obstacles for Macri’s incoming administration – making last-minute appointments and appropriations that will cause lasting damage not only to him but to the citizens of Argentina – that even some of her ardent supporters cried foul.
Fonteveccia, to be sure, offered cautionary words. “Not only is Macri not the freewheeling markets capitalist he suggests he is,” maintained the Forbes writer, “but the challenges his administration faces—rampant inflation, a bankrupt central bank, a fractured political system, and a stagnant economy, to name a few—suggest more pain is in the cards before Argentina can spread its wings and become a fully functioning member of the world economy and the global financial system.”
Nor, admittedly, does it help that the Kirchnerites retain a majority in both chambers of the National Congress. Then again, many observers are a good deal more optimistic than Fonteveccia. There is particular enthusiasm, not only in Buenos Aires but in Washington and on Wall Street, over the people he’s selected for his cabinet. It certainly looks more promising than the gang of useful stooges with which the Kirchners surrounded themselves.
In any event, the Argentinian vote was only the first part of a terrific one-two punch. We’ll get to that tomorrow.