The new Argentinian president has taken steps towards altering continental politics, but he faces challenges from the neighbourhood. Is this a turning point for South America?
Mauricio Macri, the newly elected Argentinian president, has already hinted at his future South American policy. During the Mercosur Summit on 21st December he will announce his determination to invoke the Mercosur democratic clause against Venezuela.
This announcement will set a needed tone of change in South America. However, which challenges will Macri’s presidency face when dealing with other South American countries, and with Mercosur in particular?
A turn of tides
Macri’s election campaign repudiated Cristina Kirchner’s legacy on both internal issues and foreign policy. During the last 12 years, Kirchnerism used institutions such as Unasul and Mercosur to build ties with leftwing leaders in South America – from the moderate Brazilian president Lula to Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela – and positioned itself distant from the United States.
Macri and Paraguayan president Horacio Cartes are now the only center-right presidents in Mercosur. The group (which is formed by Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela) has had left-wing leaders for more than a decade, but Macri’s election has represented a turn of tides in traditional alliances such as the one between Venezuela and Argentina.
Nonetheless, Macri does not intend to isolate Argentina in the region; he prefers to change the foreign policy focus. On Latin American issues, Macri has declared that he will maintain stable relations with neighbors, but will not tolerate undemocratic governments.
A high symbol of this position was the presence during his winning speech of Lilian Tintori, the wife of the Venezuelan opposition political leader Leopoldo Lopez, who was arrested on political grounds.
Concerning his regional integration policy, Macri will deal with different reactions towards his position in Latin America. In the political sphere, he will face resistance from Bolivarism ideology, yet economically his open market stance may help him to integrate with its neighbors.
Politically, Macri’s task in Latin America will not be easy. Concerning Mercosur, he has already declared that he will push the group to suspend Venezuela from membership if the Venezuelan parliamentary election – to be held December 6th – is not democratic, and political leaders are not released from prison.
Until today, the Mercosur members did not intervene in Venezuelan internal issues, and some analysts believe that the new Argentinian stance will help to encourage other governments to challenge Maduro. However, the elected Argentinian president will have to surpass the strong ideological hurdle that has loomed over Latin America over past decades.
He is unlikely to overcome it without resistance as most leaders from South America – such as Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Uruguay – have supported Daniel Scioli, his Peronist opponent during the elections.
Political dissemblance notwithstanding, Argentina’s elected president will not experience the same pitfalls in the economic sector when dealing with Latin America. He has declared his intention to hasten the ongoing negotiation of a Free Trade Agreement between Mercosur and the European Union (EU), and reinforce Mercosur partnership with the Mexico-Peru-Chile Pacific Alliance.
This is something that will definitely please Dilma Roussef and her economic team. Amidst an economic recession and corruption scandals, Roussef is in urgent need of a positive agenda to convince Brazilians she must stay in office. Achieving a free trade agreement with the EU and showing its will to promote free market in Latin America is definitely a priority.
Macri may benefit from this scenario and promote his pro-market agenda between Mercosur and other countries in the region.
However, before venturing into South American issues, Macri has to fix the sagging Argentinian economy and win the majority in the Parliament. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives are led by the Kirchnerists and Peronists, which may spoil some of Macri’s plans for regional integration. To approve a Free Trade agreement with the EU, for example, Macri will need Congressional support.
Regardless, Macri will take office on December 10th, and he promises to shake Latin America’s politics. Argentina’s economy has not grown in the last years and its inflation is reaching high levels. But change will happen in Argentina; let us expect it to happen in the rest of South America too.