A bucket of cold water

Today I’ve been looking at an Argentinian newspaper, El Clarín, to check out their take on events in Latin America.

This rightish paper leads with an article on President Mauricio Macri’s speech to the closing session of last week’s Summit of the Americas in Peru (Mauricio Macri advirtió que la Argentina desconocerá las elecciones en Venezuela). Changed at the last minute to reflect events in Syria (news of which hit the heads of state assembled for an official dinner “like a bucket of cold water”), Macri’s speech denounced the use of chemical weapons in Syria before getting to the main point, an attack on forthcoming elections in Venezuela, which Argentina is refusing to accept as legitimate, and an appeal to the other countries of the region to put joint pressure on the Venezuelan Government to reform. A big ask, according to the writer, Santiago Fioriti, who points to opposition in Bolivia and elsewhere.

For Fioriti, and for some readers who left comments, what’s really interesting about the speech is what the President didn’t say: he refrained from commenting directly on the US missile attack on Syria, instead calling for international cooperation to avoid escalating the crisis, and was also conspicuously silent on the storm of corruption scandals dominating politics across the region, including in Peru itself, where President Pablo Kuczynski was forced out of office only weeks previously when videos emerged of attempts to buy off legislators ahead of a vote on his impeachment. Fioriti thinks there were hits and misses for Macri at the Summit: he had productive and high-profile discussions with some other leaders, including Canadian President Trudeau, but a one-to-one meeting with Donald Trump was of course cancelled and a hastily-arranged replacement session with Mike Pence was dropped at short notice.

Back home, commentator Julio Blanck talks about the challenge that much worse than expected inflation figures for March this year are throwing up for President Macri (La inflación pone en jaque a la política), with a boost to his political opponents and internal rumblings among his supporters. Blanck argues that the inflation figures have to be seen in the context of a fall in the cost of living since 2016, but admits that they have overshadowed other more positive news on the economy, where there has been a growth in activity, public spending and employment and a decline in poverty. The problem, he points out, is that inflation hits hardest at the middle and lower middle classes who constitute Macri’s voter base. Macri has tried to avoid hardline austerity policies with their consequent social costs, but public confidence in his ability to control inflation is falling, according to recent polls.

The paper also picks up on heated exchanges in a city council meeting (El insólito cruce de una concejal macrista con opositores por su maternidad), where the female chair and mother of a six-month old baby angrily rebutted criticism that she should have taken maternity leave, telling her accusers that it was not available to councillors, and should be; she had had to work, she pointed out, right up to the last week of her pregnancy. Natalín Faravelli later posted a picture of herself breastfeeding her baby in the chamber, with an appeal for more respect and understanding for the problems that female politicians have to overcome. The political world of Argentina is complicated but some issues are familiar.

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