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Inicio arrow Análisis arrow Argentina arrow Argentine Political Outlook (May-15-20)

Argentine Political Outlook (May-15-20) PDF Imprimir E-Mail
May-15-20, by Rosendo Fraga

1.     The coronavirus continues to be the priority for the Argentine government, as happens in most of the world's governments. For President Alberto Fernández, his success with the pandemic is the key to his future political projection. His job approval remains high. But while in the first 30 days, people accepted as the sacrifice of "the economy for life" as reasonable, in the last 20 days - the quarantine completed 50 days on May 10 - the natural intolerance to confinement emerged, which in democratic societies, normally occurs after a month and a half. In addition, the concerns about the economy, which globally has its biggest drop in the second quarter, and is expected to be less in the second half. But the President said that "No one has managed to prove that the end of isolation has served the economy," showing a strong contradiction. In this context, the provinces were relaxing confinement in recent days. This is how 14 provinces did it in different degrees. The same has happened in the province of Buenos Aires, where most of the municipalities in the country followed suit. In his speech on Friday, May 8, the President confirmed his decision to maintain the policy of confinement and made it explicit by comparing the models of Norway (confinement) with that of Sweden (social distancing), definitely supporting the former. 

2.  But in fact, confinement is transforming into social distancing. The reality is that the national and provincial and municipal governments are adopting flexibility measures, which validate what is happening. In other words, the relaxation of the restrictions is behind what happens and not before. The central concern of the national government resides in the so-called Metropolitan Region, which is made up of the City of Buenos Aires and the Greater Buenos Aires. Two thirds of the country's population live there, but it concentrates almost two thirds of the infections and the deaths caused by the pandemic. The situation is more critical in the City of Buenos Aires, which with just 8% of the country's inhabitants, reports almost a quarter of the country's infection rate. In addition, more than half of them live in the capital city shantytowns. Under the apparent ratification of a policy, the reality is that the President has changed it. In the City of Buenos Aires, the mayor of the city, Horacio Rodriguez Larreta, is in a complex situation: it is the district where the coronavirus grows the most and at the same time the demand for flexibility is highest. In Greater Buenos Aires, Governor Axel Kicillof fears an escalation of the coronavirus in the shantytowns, as is happening in the city. So he tries - without too much success - to keep confinement as strict as possible in the suburbs. Even though Fernández, Rodriguez Larreta and Kicillof presented the new phase of the quarantine together on Friday, May 8th, in reality is they have different priorities and measures. 

3.  But politics is gaining prominence after 50 days of lockdown and the relationship between the President and the Vice President is the key to it. On Tuesday, May 5, a long three-hour meeting took place between Alberto Fernández and Cristina Kirchner at the presidential residence in Olivos. The last one had taken place almost three weeks earlier, on April 16. Within a profound secrecy, the agenda that "officially" transcended was that they dealt with the negotiation of the debt, the release of prisoners and the quarantine. But the off-the-record rumor indicates that on the debt issue, the position of the Vice President would have been that she strongly supports the proposal of Minister Guzmán, but not its relaxation; as for the release of prisoners, she pointed to "press operations" that identified some officials, as the Secretary of Justice (Mena), as responsible, and as to the quarantine asked that she not to make it flexible in the suburbs due to the risks that this implies and the cost it can generate for Governor Kicillof, a strong ally of hers. But at the same time, the so-called "power building" continues, which is done by appointing second and third-level K officials to key positions, which are led by the President of the ruling bloc in the Lower House, Máximo Kirchner. The Vice President has managed that on May 13, the Senate will meet virtually, with her alone in the room. At the same time, the Speaker of the Lower House, Sergio Massa, failed in the trial so that she could meet virtually, which he will try again this week.


4. Debt negotiation will be a central issue in the next two weeks, the release of prisoners is a problem to be solved and the information from INDEC shows a sharp increase in poverty. The President has decided that the negotiation with the creditors will continue until May 22, after the strong rejection of the Argentine proposal by the creditors in the US. In addition, there's the negotiation of the Buenos Aires debt, as much or more complicated than that of the national government. The question to be resolved is how much flexibility will Kirchnerism allow the Government to improve its proposal, if it finally decides to do so. On Wednesday, May 6, national government officials led by the Secretary of Justice signed a 7-point document with the leaders of the riot at the Devoto Prison. This stopped the forceful measure, which lasted for more than two weeks until that day. For its part, the Federal Penitentiary Service reported that despite the signing of the document, discipline had not been restored within the Prison System. The risk is that a parallel power is beginning to take shape within prisons, as is happening in most Latin American countries. The BA province Supreme Court will have to resolve what will happen now with the releases and it is not ruled out that the situation leads to a definition of the Nation's Supreme Court. INDEC has reported that poverty reached 38.5% in December, at the end of the Macri administration and estimates that it may already be exceeding 45% due to the slowdown in the economy generated by the quarantine. 55% of children under 14 are in this situation. This makes poverty reach 50% in the second half, the same record level that it had in the first half of 2002. 

5.     To conclude: 

a) On Friday, May 8, the president ratified the lockdown policy, stating that a relaxation could cause thousands of deaths as in Sweden. 

b) But in fact, he started a relaxation claimed by people and the economy as well, starting in the provinces and with different modalities in the city and the suburbs. 

c) The relationship between the president and the vice-president is the key to Argentine politics and the latter puts some limits on the former's actions. 

d) In the debt negotiation, the question is what relaxation degree will the Administration have, prisoners' releases are an issue to solve and the steep and quick poverty increase.

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