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Argentina’s Progressive parties are no longer an alternative to the Kirchner government.
May 8, 2012
The recent support of the self-defined “progressive” sectors of the Argentine legislature for the nationalization of the majority share of YPF shows they are no longer an alternative to the Kirchner government, in political or economic terms.
By Gabriel C. Salvia

by Gabriel C.Salvia (*)

The recent support of the self-defined “progressive” sectors of the Argentine legislature for the nationalization of the majority share of YPF shows they are no longer an alternative to the Kirchner government, in political or economic terms.

Firstly, in terms of politics and political institutions, they rapidly voted for a bill that did not permit the thorough debate deserved by its content, violating the principle of publicity in the legislative process. Jurist Roberto Gargarella, a well-known progressive intellectual, considers this type of express procedure to be “unconstitutional”.

The fact is, for a progressive, the republican forms of government can’t be considered a minor question: as such, it’s not enough to briefly treat them in a parliamentary speech before voting for a law to the beat of the government’s drums.

From this progressive political perspective, the end does not justify the means. To make use of a circumstantial majority, debilitating the legislative process and in this way impeding the wide debate deserved by the citizenry is a Conservative method.

Although curiously enough, the populist Conservative government of Carlos Menem took a year to achieve legislative approval for the privatization of YPF in the National Congress.

Moving onto economics, the Progressives once again, with their tilt towards nationalism and against globalization, showed their ideological backwardness. This is something that distances them more and more from their peers in the Southern Cone.

Speaking of these peers, nobody could doubt the Progressive politics of Michele Bachelet, former president of Chile. An important part of the success of her government can be attributed to the efficient labor of her Finance Minister, Andrés Velasco.

From Columbia University (where he currently gives classes) Velasco wrote an article highly critical of the expropriation of YPF titled “The Last Argentine Picture Show”.

Velasco began by indicating, “the only thing worse than a terrible movie is a terrible movie that we have already seen”. Later he wrote, “by nationalizing oil giant YPF, Argentina has treated us to a tale of economic nationalism of a kind that the world knows all too well. We have seen this show before, and it ends badly”, he predicted.

In his article, published on May 2 in European Voice, Velasco rejected the conservative warnings that with this measure “no one will ever again invest in Argentina”, reminding readers that the same was said of the country “after its umpteenth debt default”. Populism affects “not the fate of foreign investors, but of the country’s citizens”.

After criticizing the energy policy implemented during recent years in Argentina, the former minister of Chile’s Concertación discussed the investments that will be required to exploit the reserves of shale gas “at the suggestively named Vaca Muerta (Dead Cow) field” and advised of the risk implied in the incorporation in this project of certain foreign partners, like the Chinese.

Velasco concluded that “the new YPF is unlikely to be a model company” and compared its possible political management with the Code of Good Practices established by the OECD, which were the “principles at work when the Chilean Congress, as part of Chile’s accession to the OECD, voted in 2009 to revamp the corporate governance of copper giant CODELCO”.

As can be seen, the analysis made by this center-left Chilean economist is very different to that of the Unión Cívica Radical (UCR) and the Frente Amplio Progresista (FAP) in Argentina. Neither the UCR nor the FAP, neither in form nor reason, were able to show themselves as a political alternative to the Kirchner government. And this is very bad news for Argentine democracy.

(*) Gabriel C. Salvia is the General Director of the Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America (CADAL).

Translation by Camden Luxford.