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Mauricio Macri: No Triumph for the Republic


The election of Mauricio Macri as Argentina’s new president was hailed as a triumph of the republic, both within the country and in the international media. Many of those who voted for him did it as a way to demand better institutions, less corruption, more pluralism and an end to Cristina Kirchner’s confrontational style. Among other international periodicals, The Economist greeted the election as “the end of populism” and the beginning of “a more accountable democracy”. If, like The Economist and other international media, you are primarily interested in having pro-market, right wing, U.S-friendly governments in Latin America, then there are good reasons to be happy with the election. But if you are truly concerned with the health of the republic, the division of powers, and transparency, then the election of Mauricio Macri is bad news.

Indeed, Macri’s credentials as a good republican are extremely weak. His career, first as a businessperson and lately as a mayor of Buenos Aires is tainted with several cases of corruption. To begin with, his fortune –Macri is one of Argentina’s richest men– derives from his father’s, tycoon Franco Macri, who became a millionaire during the last military dictatorship thanks to juicy contracts to provide services for the dictatorial state. As an officer of his father’s company, Mauricio was personally involved in the formidable corruption, exposed in 1989. One of the most famous cases of corruption in Argentina’s history, it led to the impeachment of Peronist leader Juan Carlos Rousselot and the end of his political career. The Macris, good friends of Carlos Menem’s, managed to remain unpunished. In 1993, as CEO of his own company, Mauricio Macri was involved in another episode of corruption, a case of tax evasion through car smuggling. He was processed by the judge in charge of the investigation, but the case was overridden by the intervention of the utterly corrupt Supreme Court appointed by Menem. These are just the two most famous cases of the several dodgy situations in which Macri was involved as a businessperson in those years. In 2010 his own father accused him of stealing one of his companies.

After he took office as mayor of Buenos Aires in 2007, the denunciations for corruption multiplied. Macri is currently indicted in 214 judicial cases (yes, 214) of all types, including for acts of corruption and abuse of authority. One of them is a case of illegal espionage of rival politicians and of his own family, for which he allegedly used the intelligence structure of the local police. In this case Macri is being processed and under trial by confirmation of the Court of Appeals. (Incidentally, the public prosecutor who presented this case against Macri was none other than Alberto Nisman, who died earlier this year in still unclear circumstances.) Other indictments involved huge public works contracts. The media shield for this scandal is such that Macri was allowed to blatantly lie in one of the main TV interviews that he gave just before the elections. When asked about this case he swore that he had never granted any contract to “Caputo Inc,” happily eluding to the fact that his friend is the legal owner of other companies that did benefit from huge contracts. Besides this case, the candidate running in the first place for the congress on behalf of Macri’s party, Fernando Niembro, was forced to quit in the middle of the campaign, as it emerged that he had been given millions in city funds in contracts for inexistent works carried out by phony companies. The investigation is only at the beginning, but it seems to be the top of the iceberg of a network of corruption with city funds.

In the past week, Macri has announced the names of the ministers and state secretaries that will accompany him in his first cabinet. The record of corruption and misbehavior of some of them is equally shocking. The finance minister, Alfonso Prat Gay, is manager of an undeclared bank account through which Argentina’s richest woman evaded taxes. Federico Sturzenegger, who is to become head of the Central Bank, was part of the biggest financial fraud in Argentina’s history. These are only two examples of many. Even the first lady was indicted for producing her brand of clothes in illegal sweatshops (the case was finally dismissed by a judge who immediately afterwards became Macri´s minister in the city of Buenos Aires). On a more comical note, in 2009 the police found Patricia Bullrich drink driving; in spite of that, she will become Macri’s security minister. Of security, yes.

If transparency is not his main strength, his record with regards to the division of powers and to pluralism is equally appalling. As a city mayor, Mauricio Macri vetoed over 130 laws passed by the city council. The vast majority of cases were laws for petty issues that did not compromise in any shape or form his government. He would simply veto any law that he disliked. This little disposition for democratic procedures is particularly shocking, as over 80 of those laws had been passed by the councilors of his own party. Moreover, the new government has already announced that it will rule by decree, bypassing formal procedures if it finds it is necessary.

As for the respect of the independence of the judiciary, news does not call for optimism either. Macri is already demanding the resignation of General Attorney Alejandra Gils Carbó who, like the Supreme Court judges, is an independent officer appointed by the congress with life tenure. He demands her resignation on the grounds that she is a supporter of the former government (never mind the fact that he appointed a former councilor of his own party as general attorney of the city of Buenos Aires). Moreover, last year he made an alliance with oppositional parties to block the appointment of new judges for the Supreme Court, after one of them died and another retired, leaving the body with only three members. By doing that he illegally fabricated a situation so as to have the chance to appoint his own candidates, thus having the majority. Further, he is known to have put pressure on the local judiciary of Buenos Aires to condition their work. He is now doing the same with the Federal judiciary so intensely that Elisa Carrio –his main ally in the election that he has just won– has publicly asked him to stop. Not long ago, another member of his own political alliance pointed out that Macri was using the local judiciary to intimidate citizens and NGOs that opposed some of his measures.

All this information is perfectly public and well known. The fact that those who celebrate Macri’s victory as a triumph for the republic have decided to overlook it, suggests that the well-being of the republic is not their real agenda.

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