January 16, 2018
Friday, May 12, 2017

Macri’s gradual ‘cultural change’

President Mauricio Macri delivers a speech.
President Mauricio Macri delivers a speech.
President Mauricio Macri delivers a speech.
By Marcelo J. García
For The Herald

The president promised to unify all Argentines, but there’s not much of that so far

President Mauricio Macri is trying to introduce, gradually but steadfastly, a cultural change in Argentina. It has many facets.

In the economy, Macri believes that the country should concentrate on sectors that are naturally competitive, starting of course with the rich farming pampas, energy and mining. The president thinks reward should come from merit, although — coming from the most privileged strata of Argentina’s society — he struggles to grasp how inequalities are most of the time the result of something other than just individual efforts. In his labour policy, Macri wants the unions to agree to law changes to enhance productivity. Unions call it flexibility — and mostly don’t like it.

He also promised during his presidential campaign that he would “unite” Argentines. The “unity” referred to the alleged “division” and “conflict” encouraged during the Kirchnerite era through its self-declared quest for social justice. Some divisions were real and some were imagined. Argentina’s political system spends a great amount of its time squabbling over conflicts that are not always worth the effort and miss the target of the country’s real problems.

Macri has not changed that. His government appeared to seek a crack where there wasn’t one in the language of its human rights policy. It, for instance, delivered a non-existent commemoration of the March 24 anniversary of the last military coup of 1976: the president posted on Facebook as the only official ceremony. Ruling party legislators were photographed with a banner criticising the “business” of human rights, an obvious reference to the policies of the Kirchnerite governments. Prior to that, the administration had fuelled a useless debate about whether the number of people who “disappeared” during the military dictatorship was 30,000, as human rights organizations claim, or less.

Whether this zeitgeist contributed to the Supreme Court ruling that benefitted a former paramilitary agent, Luis Muiña, with the so-called “2x1” law might be up to the history books to determine, but the truth is that the court’s divided decision does not contribute at all to any form of unity. After the ruling, the government first reacted with a certain aloofness, playing the Republican card of separation of powers, only to shift later to a more hardline stance once it became clear (reflected in the polls) that most of the public did not want to have former torturers walking free. To make matters worse for the administration, two of the three justices that signed the controversial ruling were appointed by Macri.

Directly blaming the government for the Supreme Court’s ruling is unfair but not totally off-target at the same time. Political analyst Rosendo Fraga, who is also an expert on military affairs, wrote in his weekly newsletter of restricted circulation that the government had “accompanied” the ruling at the beginning because it thought it could contribute to consolidating the “military vote,” which he estimated to be around one million people including families and friends, in the coming mid-term elections.

Campaign mode

The government is now officially in campaign mode. On Tuesday, the administration published in the Official Gazette that the undersecretary for citizen liaison, Guillermo Riera, has resigned. The name might sound fancy, but Riera’s job is to coordinate the government’s hyperactive social media apparatus. The “liaison” will now happen for a campaign instead of a government. Or is it the same?

“We have a big election coming up and I have to devote (myself) to that, because we have to feed the central campaign and support the teams in each district,” Riera told the news website Infobae.

The government’s political communication uses social media as one of its backbones. The ruling PRO party has chosen to have “direct” communication with the people through digital channels. The administration also has a face-to-face method: the timbreo “doorbell-ringing” walks they take to talk to people at their homes. Last year, the administration devoted 160 million pesos to trumpeting its message on social media ­— including official accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and the like. The budget included cash for digital ads, technology and wages.

PRO is a 21st century party, born in 2003. In Argentina, it is the most advanced in terms of digital communication, a field where there are not many truths written on stone and most of the “experts” just learn by doing.

The fact that a government social media officer is quitting to service the campaign instead is both good and bad news. Macri’s predecessor, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and her administration were latecomers into the world of social media but eventually exploited it, making virtually no distinction between the government and the party, to such an extent that the day Fernández de Kirchner left office on December 9, 2015, her staff walked away with the (until then) official Government House twitter handle @casarosadaar. The Macri administration could not recover it and had to open a new handle, accurately named @casarosada. It is to be expected though that once Macri leaves office, the handle will be transferred to his successor, just as the Vatican does with @pontifex or the US government with @potus.

But Riera’s resignation, while not relevant per se, also shows us the interchangeability of roles, between those of the government and party communication. Was his pompously named “liaison” undersecretary post serving the public with the information they need to be good citizens or just firing off propaganda? Governments, after all, live in a permanent state of campaign.



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