Ouch! Eso debe doler...
Cada uno, que saque sus propias conclusiones.Cristina in the land of make-believe
May 1st 2008 | BUENOS AIRES
From The Economist print edition
Dashing hopes of change, Argentina's new president is leading her country into economic peril and social conflictSHE romped to an easy victory in last year's presidential election by promising to maintain Argentina's impressive economic performance while easing its social tensions and rebuilding its foreign relations. Yet just five months after Cristina Fernández succeeded her husband, Néstor Kirchner, in the Casa Rosada, Argentina is worse off on all three counts. Already, her government looks in disarray. It has provoked a tax revolt by farmers. On April 24th, it lost its most important new face when Martín Lousteau resigned as economy minister over a policy disagreement. The price of Argentina's bonds has plunged as investors show little confidence in the government.
With the economy having grown at over 8% a year since 2003, when it began a vigorous recovery from an earlier financial collapse, Mr Kirchner basked in popularity. He was helped by record prices for Argentina's farm exports but pumped up the economy further, with dollops of public spending and an undervalued currency. He brushed off worries about inflation, strong-arming businesses into freezing prices and ordering an underling to doctor the consumer-price index.
During her campaign, Ms Fernández led some analysts to believe that she would be more moderate than her combative husband. But any such hopes have been quickly dashed. She has kept most of his ministers, his policies and his rhetoric. According to unofficial calculations, inflation has reached 25% (officially, it is 9%).
Ms Fernández shows little sign of curtailing the dash for growth at any price. Mr Lousteau's mistake seems to have been his intention to act on her campaign promise to restore credibility to official statistics. His replacement, Carlos Fernández, is a non-entity. In practice, Mr Kirchner himself seems still to be in charge of economic policy. “We don't want a cooling of the economy because that always brought us unemployment, poverty, exclusion and economic concentration,” he told a recent rally of the ruling Peronist movement.
But overheating and inflation are already bringing Argentines some of these woes—and if unchecked will in time bring all of them. The statistics agency has stopped releasing poverty figures. Using an independent estimate of inflation, the poverty rate has risen from 27% in 2006 to 30%, with 1.3m Argentines descending into poverty last year, according to calculations by Ernesto Kritz, a labour economist in Buenos Aires.
To tame inflation and stabilise the economy, the government needs to allow the peso to appreciate, curb spending growth and energy subsidies, and raise interest rates. The longer such measures are postponed, the more painful and unpopular they will be.
Ms Fernández is already in a weaker position than her husband was. Several recent opinion polls give her an approval rating of only 35%. Mr Kirchner used lavish fiscal transfers to buy the support of provincial governors and mayors. But it is getting harder for his wife to match that.
To compensate for Mr Kirchner's pre-election spending binge, in March she raised taxes on agricultural exports. Buoyed by record world commodity prices and a favourable exchange rate, farmers had hitherto grudgingly accepted the levies. But the tax increase, together with rising inflation, cut the profit margin on soyabeans to just 6%, for example. The farmers launched an unprecedented campaign of strikes, roadblocks and pot-banging protests in city centres.
Taken aback, Ms Fernández's response was tellingly authoritarian and unstatesmanlike. She accused the farmers of greed and, improbably, of seeking a military coup. Government rent-a-mobs of piqueteros (unemployed protesters receiving state welfare payments) were unleashed against the farmers and their supporters. That backfired. “Cristina managed to do in three weeks what Argentina's farmers couldn't over 50 years: unite them,” says Gustavo Martínez of Salvador University in Buenos Aires. The farmers suspended their protests to allow talks to take place. The government seems to be seeking a way to back down.
Even in foreign policy, in which Mr Kirchner showed no interest, Ms Fernández has had little success. Her expressed desire to improve relations with the United States foundered on a complicated campaign-finance imbroglio. Last year customs officers at a Buenos Aires airport impounded $800,000 in cash being brought in by Guido Antonini Wilson, a Venezuelan-American who had arrived on a private plane rented by the Argentine government. Two days after Ms Fernández's inauguration, American prosecutors charged five men who they said threatened Mr Antonini, who lives in Miami, and claimed to have evidence that the money was for her presidential campaign.
The president seemed to blame the United States government, rather than its courts, for what she called “a garbage operation” against her. A planned visit to Europe last month was curtailed because of the farmers' protests. While foreign investment pours into neighbouring Brazil, Ms Fernández has done nothing to assure investors that they will enjoy predictable policies while she is in power. The government signed a contract this week for a $3.7 billion high-speed train from Buenos Aires to Córdoba, the first of its kind in Latin America, but it will be paid for with debt.
Ms Fernández still has plenty of time to correct her mistakes. She is blessed with a weak and divided opposition. Her husband has installed himself as president of the Peronist party, still Argentina's most formidable political machine. But the first couple's support is narrowing to not much more than the urban underclass organised by that machine.
After her bumpy start, Ms Fernández is being compared to Michelle Bachelet, the similarly hapless president of neighbouring Chile, with whom she is friendly. But at least Ms Bachelet is making her own mistakes. The suspicion in Buenos Aires is that Cristina is paying the price for her husband's pigheadedness, even if that is something she shares. “The Kirchners' golden age is over,” says Sergio Berensztein, a political consultant. “Now they'll have to get used to it.”