The collapse of the Argentine economy tests the management capacity of a fractured Peronism

Peronism has eight months ahead at the helm of the Casa Rosada. Everything indicates that it will be a long via crucis. Divided and without weapons to reverse the worst economic crisis in 20 years, the popularity of its leaders is in tatters. The negative image of the president, Alberto Fernández, borders on 70%, according to a survey published over the weekend by the consultancy Opina Argentina. The crisis accelerated this last week and sank the electoral chances of what until now was the main bet of the party, the Minister of Economy, Sergio Massa. The confusion is such that Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the government leader with the best position in the polls, but self-excluded from any electoral candidacy since December, when she was convicted of corruption, has returned to the center of the scene.

Inflation year-on-year is at 104%, the liquid reserves of the Central Bank barely exceed 2,000 million dollars and the peso lost 10% of its value against the dollar since Monday in markets not regulated by the State. The coup de grace has been given by the drought, the most serious in 60 years. Export revenues will fall this year by $20 billion, half of what Argentina owes to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Massa has a thankless job: he must avoid a devaluation of the peso that will further trigger hunger and poverty, which in the second half of 2022 reached 39.2%. The index for the first half of 2023 will be much worse. The minister’s only hope is that the IMF advances the disbursements agreed to until December, some 11,000 million dollars; and that the countryside accelerate the liquidation of its sales abroad thanks to the “soybean dollar”, with a price almost 50% above the official one.

The plan to reach December finds Peronism without a candidate for the October presidential. Alberto Fernández dropped out of re-election last Friday, after Kirchnerism pressured him in every possible way to do so. But now that he’s done it, he has no one to put in his place. For the first time since the return to democracy, in 1983, Peronism cannot find the exit door and puts its management capacity to the test, like never before.

The party founded eighty years ago by Juan Domingo Perón has been wearing the Salvadoran badge for more than 30 years. In 1989, the newly elected Carlos Menem took office prematurely when the government of the radical Raúl Alfonsín was sinking in the sea of ​​hyperinflation. In 2001, after the early departure of another radical, Fernando de la Rúa, the Peronist Eduardo Duhalde took charge of the worst economic debacle in recent history and came out on top. In 2019, Fernández received from Mauricio Macri an economy with more than 50% inflation and promised to solve the problem. Four years later he has more than doubled it

Fernández is without a doubt the least powerful Peronist president. Cristina Kirchner anointed him as a candidate in 2018, convinced that she needed a disruptive figure to add the votes of those Peronists who couldn’t stand her. The chess move gave the Frente de Todos victory over Macri, who was seeking re-election, but it soon became profoundly dysfunctional. As the economy sank, the differences in the presidential binomial widened. Fernández was left alone and Kirchnerism soon made opposition from within the government itself. Now they have reached the point where they must look for a candidate for president before June and they do not have a name.

The fight is now over how to choose the successor. In the video of his resignation, Fernández established himself as the guarantor of an open and transparent primary election in August to vote for a candidate at the polls. Until now, Kirchnerism had defended the idea of ​​participating in an internal electoral process, but without Fernández in the race, it wants Cristina Kirchner to draw up the strategy of the Frente de Todos.

On Saturday, at a rally organized in Buenos Aires Aires, deputy Máximo Kirchner, son of the vice president, said that just as “yesterday nothing was without Perón, today nothing is without Cristina.” In other words, the former president must once again be the only voter and owner of Peronism. Confusion reigns in Kirchnerism, because Cristina Kirchner has remained up to now in her thirteenth and does not want to be a candidate nor does she give any indication of who hers is chosen for the ballot. The vice president knows that her chances of winning are minimal, but she also knows that she is the leader within the movement that reaps the most votes

Peronism is at a crossroads. If Kirchner is not a candidate, her man is Sergio Massa.But for this, Massa must at least avoid a catastrophe that even endangers governability. It is a mystery how Massa would manage to be a minister and a candidate at the same time, asking for the vote while the economy is collapsing. In that troubled river the figures of anti-politics appear.

The crisis of 2001 engendered Kirchnerism, which emerged from the left of Peronism. Instead, figures like Javier Milei, an economist who promises to end “with the political caste” by closing the Central Bank, dollarizing the economy and closing ministries such as Education or Social Development, emerged from this crisis.

Since the margins, Milei is forcing the candidates of the opposition alliance Juntos por el Cambio to swing to the right. Patricia Bullrich, Mauricio Macri’s former Security Minister, grows in the polls. Bullrich has Peronist origins, went through radicalism and is now a fervent macrista. Her extremist speech complicates the presidential aspirations of the mayor of Buenos Aires, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, who prefers to campaign from the center of the opposition coalition. In August the names of the candidates for president of the different parties will be defined. With Peronism mired in confusion and the opposition fragmented, only Javier Milei has a secure site.

Subscribe here to the EL PAÍS América newsletter and receive all the key information on current affairs in the region.*100022 *

More news