The President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, and the Argentine President, Mauricio Macri, met in Chacabuco for the celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the battle of homonymous. The two presidents, together with their Minister for Foreign Affairs agreed on the need to strengthen relations between the countries of South America without failing the “convergence in diversity” principle, this means strengthening the economic integration with MERCOSUR and the political with the Pacific Alliance, also presidents both agree on the need to fight the political populism and xenophobia, this to highlight the difference of views between South America and the new US administration.
The first six months of Macri’s presidency marked a turning point in Argentina’s history. After 12 years of a Peronist government ruled by the Kirchner spouses, Argentina changed its route in internal policy as well as in international relations. Mauricio Macri won the presidential elections on the 22nd of November in 2015, and he immediately started to implement a series of reforms in contrast with the policies adopted by his predecessors.
Firstly, Macri’s government adopted a series of measures in order to reduce public spending on social welfare. These measures consist in the increase in public transport fees, energy and petrol prices, in addition to the layoff of part of the public employees. The Argentine population is not satisfied about these measures. On the other hand, it is important to point out that the government approved tax cuts for businesses, in order to stimulate the growth in export of wheat, corn, meat and minerals. One of the latest proposals of the government was the reform of the electoral system, in order to introduce the electronic voting. The declared intention of President Macri is to promote a modernization of the country as well as bolstering the economic recovery. Moreover, the new President reached a landmark agreement with foreign creditors of the country. The government accepted to pay its debts so that Argentina will be able to regain trust in international markets. In addition to that, the government is seeking to attract foreign investments in the country.
Undoubtedly, the agreement with the foreign creditors had a positive impact on the relations between Argentina and the United States, as well as Europe. In fact, these countries tightened its bonds with Argentina, and this led to an official visit of President Obama in Argentina, after 20 years of difficult relations between the two countries. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and President François Hollande also visited the new Argentine President. Argentina’s new position on the world’s stage led to a weakening in its relations with the previous allies: particularly Venezuela and Russia. One of the main challenges proposed by Macri in foreign policy it is to strengthen Mercosur and to promote free trade in Latin America, as well as opening new commercial routes in the Pacific area.
It is important to mention the cold relations between Macri’s government and the Holy See, even though it is not something new if compared with the previous Argentine government. On the 9th of June, the association Scholas Ocurrentes, a pontifical foundation that opened schools in Argentina and other countries, refused, under Pope’s instructions, a 16 million pesos donation from President Macri. Pope Francis argued that the foundation should be careful in order to avoid corruption. Macri’s offer was considered by the Pope as a strategy to improve his relations with the Holy See. The public response of Bergoglio was that “Argentine government has to cope with many people’s needs, so that the managers of the foundation do not have the right to ask the government for anything”. The Casa Rosada was surprised about this response, mainly because the foundation asked the government for that quantity of money. Macri underlined that the support to Scholas Ocurrentes was a policy in line with the previous government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. The real message of Pope Francis seems to be that Macri’s government should change its strategy to gain Vatican’s trust as well as its attitude towards lower social classes.
Argentina’s political change is part of a more general phenomenon affecting Latin America. Many of the socialist governments that had great success at beginning of the 21st century, are now suffering from a reduced popularity. However, Argentina’s government will not be able to ignore the legacy of Kirchner’s era, which mainly consists in the social achievements obtained by Argentines over the last decade.
by Elena Saroni