"Don't be afraid" is the message of Argentine President-elect Mauricio Macri. After 12 years of Peronist rule, the people of Argentina have voted for a pro-market industrialist.
Who's afraid of Mauricio Macri? Argentina's president-elect is one of the richest men in the country. He's a pro-business conservative. Although many Argentines mistrust the free market economy, a majority voted for the businessman over Daniel Scioli in Sunday's runoff.
The 56-year-old construction boss had made growth and development the central message of his election campaign. He had promised not to make a complete 180-degree turn, but to institute changes in consultation with labor unions and to maintain a certain degree of protectionism.
"We have learned from mistakes made in the past," Rogelio Frigerio, who was briefly appointed to the Economy Ministry after Argentina declared bankruptcy in 1998, told the Spanish daily El Pais. Frigerio now heads Banco Ciudad in Buenos Aires, the capital. "The market doesn't demand any blood price," Frigerio told the newspapaer. "Argentina can take out a loan without there being any deaths on the streets."
Frigerio's drastic words illustrate Argentina's national trauma. In 2001, the country declared its insolvency. Former Economics Minister Domingo Cavallo had to admit that that implementing neoliberal reforms and pegging the Argentine peso to the US dollar had failed.
After 12 years of Peronist rule - eight under President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who will step down in December after being termed out, and her late husband and predecessor, Nestor - Argentina does appear ready to make a 180-degree turn, in spite of what the incoming Macri had pledged. With Argentina in economic doldrums all over again, the newly elected president will likely make cutting social programs and state subsidies one of his first acts.
Macri has always been anxious to diffuse the fear of social cuts. He speaks of new investments, of an efficient use of social expenditure, of questionable energy subsidies that favor the rich, of corruption and an inflated civil service apparatus.
Beautiful capital, poor capital
The incoming president has gathered a lot of political experience, having spent the past eight years as mayor of Buenos Aires. The main emphasis of his administration was the renovation of rundown school buildings, investments in health care, restoration of public squares and the creation of a municipal police unit.
"The biggest criticism of his period in office is the excessive public debt," the Argentine newspaper Pagina 12 reported. The TV channel Telesur expressed it more drastically: "Macri's administration was characterized by its inefficient building projects, poor residential building policies and an exorbitant debt."
Macri was already well-known in Argentina in the 1990s. As son of the Italian-born industry magnate Franco Macri, he took on several senior positions in his father's Grupo Macri. The conglomerate handles a number of public contracts: from construction to waste management.
In 1995, Macri was voted president of the famous Argentine sports club Atletico Boca Juniors. The position, which he held until 2007, made him a secret folk hero. After a short intermezzo as deputy in the Argentine parliament he founded the conservative Republican Proposition alliance, launching his political career.
"I am Mauricio Macri," his presidential campaign had announced. "I promise to solve your problems without taking anything away from your property." Fifty-one percent of Argentina's electorate saw fit to take the former sport manager and mayor up on his offer.
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