Published on The Bubble
The political cards are on the table, and there’s a full deck.
With more than twenty mayoral candidates to choose from in the upcoming City primary elections (also known as the PASO [Primarias Abiertas Simultáneas y Obligatorias]) this Sunday, here are the most relevant political figures in the race and a brief preview of where the political battle lines will be drawn this election season.
Let’s begin with some information about the primaries, because why not.
WHAT IS HAPPENING THIS SUNDAY?
The mayoral primaries are taking place in the city of Buenos Aires this Sunday, April 26th. The mayoral elections are scheduled to take place on July 5th, but each major political party has to select which candidate will represent them at the polls in little more than two months.
While there are many (many) candidates and the PRO party is expected to remain in power since most polls suggest that mayor Macri’s party continues to be supported by a majority of porteños, July is still two months away and a lot can happen in the meantime.
So for now, let’s focus on the who’s who of Sunday’s primaries and learn about the people competing to become the mayor of Buenos Aires.
PARTY: The PRO (AKA: Mayor Macri’s party)
This may be the battle of heavyweights that captivates the political world this weekend: Horacio Rodríguez Larreta and Gabriela Michetti. He’s the current Cabinet Chief of Buenos Aires; she’s a national Senator but used to be Macri’s top congresswoman five years ago. And there’s no love lost between the two, because Larreta is now the Mayor’s right hand man – the position that Michetti lost. He is also openly supported by Macri, who admitted that despite being very fond of Gabriela, he believes Rodríguez Larreta is more capable of running things.
- Horacio Rodríguez Larreta: An economist. A golden boy, Harvard University alumni (he studied there after graduating from the University of Buenos Aires). He embraced neoliberalism in the 90’s; he was the general manager of ANSES during the Menem administration and later a financial operations analyst at Esso. He joined the PRO party in 2002 after other forays into public office. In fact, he was one of the masterminds behind the creation of Mauricio Macri’s party, the Propuesta Republicana or “Republican Proposal”, commonly known as the PRO. He was later Mauricio Macri’s campaign manager when he ran for Congress in 2005 and when he ran for mayor of Buenos Aires in 2007 and 2011. He’s currently the President of the PRO. In simple terms, many see him as Macri’s natural heir and quite possibly the next Mayor of Buenos Aires.
- Gabriela Michetti: She was Deputy Mayor of Buenos Aires during Macri’s first term, but left the office two years later after winning a seat in Congress. Michetti is seen by many as a representative of the Christian right-wing. In fact, the PRO is a pretty Catholic party. So Catholic that the LGBT community strongly condemned Michetti’s position during the same-sex marriage debate back in 2010. When everyone was ripping each other’s throats over the bill, even Macri admitted that there was no point opposing it since “that seemed to be where the world was headed”. Michetti didn’t like that at all. “Civil unions for gay couples, marriage for straight couples”, she argued. *tsk, tsk* She was wrong.
PARTY: Frente Para la Victoria (AKA: Cristina’s party)
Peronism and the city of Buenos Aires have never been a natural match. Although Cristina’s influential figure might help score the Frente para la Victoria (FPV) some votes, her party – or any other Peronist party – has never been strong here.
Even so, five candidates are running and competing in the primaries: Aerolíneas Argentinas CEO Mariano Recalde, ex-City Mayor Aníbal Ibarra, congressman Carlos Heller, Undersecretary of Civil Society Gustavo López and former journalist Gabriela Cerruti.
The biggest variable here, though, might not be any of the candidates but current labor minister Carlos Tomada. He’s running for legislator, a relatively minor office, but is said to be able to sway votes to Recalde, Cerruti or López.
- Mariano Recalde: Mariano carries the Peronist torch. He’s the son of Héctor Recalde, a historical Peronist leader and one of the public officials that has passed the most labor laws in Argentine history. He studied law at UBA. His political positions recall old school Peronism: Social justice is not negotiable. He started in politics when studying law by founding the widely known student group NBI (Necesidades Básicas insatisfechas, which means Unmet Basic Needs). From this on, Recalde achieved something that Kirchnerism always wanted to: the return of young people to politics. Recalde is today one of the visible faces of the Kirchnerite youth organization La Cámpora. He is 42 years old, so when Néstor Kirchner took office in 2003, Recalde was only 30. La Cámpora was in its infancy, and along with other (now) big names such as Máximo Kirchner (the First Son), congressman Andrés Larroque, Justice Secretary Julián Álvarez and now Secretary of the Presidency Wado de Pedro, Recalde was one of Néstor’s chosen few to run the organization. In 2015, we can say mission accomplished. He not only runs Aerolíneas Argentinas, but also has brought many of the La Cámpora doctrine into the airline, spreading Kirchnerist ideology all around a business that has a long union tradition. Recalde has been accused by his critics of using airline funds inappropriately, mostly because Aerolíneas Argentinas numbers are not only shady, but also not public.
- Aníbal Ibarra: Former mayor of Buenos Aires. Pretty liberal guy with a political career ruined after he was impeached and removed from office. A social democrat that stands for progressive causes, income redistribution and human rights. He had a prominent career. Early, as a prosecutor, he questioned Menem’s military pardons defended human rights of kidnapped children (for further info, see this). Time magazine called him “Outstanding young towards XXI century”. But the starts were not aligning properly. Wrong place, wrong time could be the leitmotiv that best defines Ibarra’s political career, as he was impeached and removed from office in 2006 for being found partly responsible of the tragic República de Cromañón fire in Once. He was indicted for failing to enforce safety regulations in or supervising the Federal Police, but accusations of manslaughter were dismissed.
PARTY: Frente Renovador (AKA: Sergio Massa’s party)
“To a Peronist, there’s nothing better than another Peronist”, is a well-worn phrase in Argentine politics.
We can give it a little update, mutadis mutandis, and change it to be more fitting to 2015: “To an ex-Kirchnerite, there’s nothing better that an ex-Kirchnerite”.
Sergio Massa, Néstor Kirchner’s former Cabinet Chief, is now one of the Frente para la Victoria’s main opponents. And he is running for the big seat. He wants to be president this year, but he knows he must at least have a presence in the most relevant districts of Argentina.
His candidate’s name is Guillermo Nielsen, Néstor Kirchner’s former Secretary of Finance. He says he plans to bring Massa’s political project to Buenos Aires.
- Guillermo Nielsen was, in fact, a key piece of the Néstor Kirchner puzzle. He had the impossible task of dealing with Argentina’s huge economic mess post-2001. He led the economics team that developed the most important debt swap in 2005, which managed to bring 76 percent of the creditors to the table (some of those who refused to take the initial offer are known today as “vulture funds”).
- Certainly Massa seems to have a thing for economists. He has also added to his team former Economy Minister Miguel Peirano, former Central Bank governors Aldo Pignanelli and Martín Redrado and José Ignacio De Mendiguren (the former president of the Argentine Industrial Union). Nielsen’s problem? Nobody knows who he is. When it comes to reminiscing about those dark years of economic debacle and slow recovery, people simply remember then-Economy Minister Ricardo Lavagna. Nielsen, well, not so much.
PARTY: ECO (AKA: That guy who was Economy Minister for like, two minutes)
Congressman Martín Lousteau has had a seat in the Lower House since 2013 and is now unapologetically throwing his hat into the ring. Looks young? You bet. Back in December of 2007 he was selected by Cristina, who had been recently inaugurated, to become her new Economy Minister at the young age of 37. And it was all fun and games for five months until his dreams of grandeur collapsed like a house of cards. The now infamous farmers conflict of 2008 became the end of his short-lived political career as a member of the Executive.
- Until then Lousteau boasted an impressive resume: he had attended the London School of Economist, where he obtained a Master of Science and Economics and had been selected president of the Banco de la Provincia de Buenos Aires. His CV clearly impressed Cristina, who invited him to join her Cabinet, but it all evaporated when the controversial 125 Resolution crashed and burned, becoming the first big political defeat for the Kirchner couple since he took office in 2003.
- Turns out that the resolution, which raised export taxes on farmers (mainly on soybean and sunflower farmers) had been masterminded by him. The bill suddenly divided the country into two (some even say this is the time Kirchnerism was born).
- As the conflict deepened, Lousteau maintained a conflictive relationship with former Domestic Trade Secretary Guillermo Moreno. Turns out that the precocious politician dared accuse him of being directly responsible for the sudden appearance of inflation, so he proposed a plan to fix the economy and lower prices. Cristina did not like it, and forced him to resign in April, 2008.
- After that, Lousteau decided to try and bring the economy to the younger generations in a way that was easy to understand. He got a weekly segment on the popular Metro radio show Perros de la Calle and published several books such as Economía en 3D and Otra vuelta de la Economía.
- He decided to run for mayor because, why the hell not?
PARTY: Frente de Izquierda y de los Trabajadores (FIT)
AKA: The “lefties”, the Workers’ Party, the Trotskyists or anything that (according to you) sounds kinda communist.
The party of the left made great strides in the 2013 midterm elections, garnering a record-breaking number of votes (more than 1,300,000) around the country. So now they’re not afraid of going after the Mayor’s seat in Buenos Aires. Their secret weapon? Lawyer Myriam Bregman, pictured above.
Bregman is mostly known for her work as part of the legal team that convicted repressor Miguel Etchecolatz (a relic of the of the dictatorship known for being responsible of the infamous night of the pencils). She’s a prominent human rights activist and continues to do so while pursuing a career in politics.
- Myriam Bregman has stood up for working class people over and over again. The daughter of a small town rural teacher, she began defending human rights in college while protesting against Menem’s controversial Obediencia Debida and Punto Final bills.
- Her biggest achievements on the human rights front came later on, in 2003. When the cases investigating human rights violations by the dictatorship were reopened, Bregman took many ESMA-related cases in her search to finally prosecute hundreds of military officers and bring justice to the families of those who were disappeared or killed.
- She is without a doubt a firm representative of what is known as “the left” in Argentina. While other parties claim to be leftist, there’s no doubt that the FIT has chosen the right candidate to materialize it’s political platform, something leftist parties here often find difficult to achieve.
PARTY: Camino Popular (AKA: Nothing else, because you don’t know it)
Claudio Lozano is the main candidate here. Although he hasn’t soared to any political heights, he’s a name you should remember: Many of Cristina’s key legislative achievements, such as the universal child allowance, had their roots in some of Lozano’s proposals.
- Claudio Lozano is what you could consider a social democrat. He studied Economy and attended the prestigious Nacional Buenos Aires high school. While he started his political career as a militant in Peronist organizations he later distanced himself from the party, mostly after becoming disillusioned with Isabel Martínez de Perón, the former President’s wife, who after his death in 1974 became the Head of State of a nation that would soon enter the darkest period of its history.
- While in college in 1976, he was forced into exile due to his political ideas and fled to the interior. When he returned to Buenos Aires, two years later, he redirected his political career by joining a human rights movement led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Adolfo Pérez Esquivel.
- The biggest accomplishment of his political career is the creation of a union federation in Argentina that was born as an alternative to the traditional CGT umbrella union. Lozano’s organization was called Central de los Trabajadores de la Argentina (CTA) and its raison d’etre was to democratize the unions.
PARTY: Bien Común (AKA: Actually, it’s just known as Bien Común)
This party has only one well-known (at least in the political echo chamber) leader: Gustavo Vera, an anti-human trafficking advocate who has worked tirelessly to go after clothing brands that force employees to work in extremely poor conditions.
Vera gained popularity with two high-profile cases: He accused former Justice Raúl Zaffaroni of running several brothels inside apartments that he owned. Zaffaroni denied all accusations, saying he never knew the activities that took place inside his apartments.
He also met with Pope Francis. Then again, what politician hasn’t?
- Gustavo Vera started his political career when Argentina was going through a really hard time: the 2001 crisis. As people struggled, people gathered in neighborhood assemblies to discuss where their collective future. One of them, located near Mataderos, became a very active organization that worked hard to offer protection to people who were forced to work like slaves. Originally known as 20 de Diciembre, it later changed its name to La Alameda. Vera managed to turn the assembly into a NGO that fights drug and human trafficking and rescues textile workers living and working in inhumane conditions. His case against Zaffaroni also had huge repercussions, since the Supreme Court judge was always seen as a human rights advocate.
- Vera became a City legislator in 2013 after being endorsed by Elisa Carrió and Pino Solanas. Once in office, he left the UNEN party and founded a new political movement inspired by the words of Pope Francis’: “Power is a common good. When it only benefits one person, it’s corruption”. Vera called his own party “Bien Común” (Common Good, in English), and hopes that with some divine intervention he may land on the mayor’s chair.
PARTY: Es Posible (AKA: “Oh, it’s the motochorro guy!”)
Remember the infamous motochorro case? Remember how some washed up actor from the 90’s started touring the TV studios calling for tougher legislation against robbers? Well, then you know who this guy is. (Former? Current? Not certain at this point) Actor Ivo Cutzarida is running for mayor and he wants you to know that he will rule with an iron fist.
Don’t be surprised if he obtains a respectable amount of votes. I mean, polls indicate that the PRO will maintain its position of power in the city, but let’s not rule anything out.
So that’s it. That’s all you need to know. Sure, there are more candidates in this race, but I didn’t want to overwhelm you with names, parties and anecdotes that you will never remember.
And besides, this is just the primary. Which means that it’s nothing more than a mock election, designated purely to know exactly how many votes each party will get and hence predict the outcome of the real elections in two months.
Last but not least, if you’re planning on going out on Saturday, you may have to rethink your plans because restaurants and bars are closed.
No drinking the night before the elections, you know?