Argentina: Macri’s Popularity Keeps Falling Amid Inflation and Corruption Accusations

Photo: Ricardo Mazalan / Associated Press

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Amid the highest inflation jump that Argentina has faced since 2002 and a growing scandal linking him to the Panama Papers leak, Argentine President Mauricio Macri’s popularity levels have fallen for the fourth straight month.

According to a release from the Grupo de Opinión Pública (GOP), the percentage of respondents who view Macri positively has fallen to 51.3 percent, a figure that is 2.5 percentage points lower than the March poll and nearly 13 percent lower than when Macri assumed power in mid-December of 2015.

The survey was carried out in late April and early May, and given that the economic situation has not improved in this period, Macri’s approval ratings are likely even lower if the survey was carried out today.

Raúl Timerman, the director of the GOP, said that the top reasons for discontent in the survey were the quickly rising costs of living, mass layoffs, curbed wages and high inflation.

The issue of high inflation is a very touchy one in Argentina.

Amid a struggling, neoliberal-oriented economy, then-leader Fernando de la Rúa (who served as president from December of 1999 to December of 2001 and eventually left the Casa Rosada amid riots and unrest) restricted many workers’ rights (like Macri plans to do) while de la Rúa’s other bills simultaneously cut public spending drastically in order to placate the IMF’s demands in exchange for more loan funds.

The austerity measures took their toll economically and that same issue of inflation reared its ugly head as the numbers continued to grow out of control. Unrest ensued with riots taking place across the country and a state of emergency was declared to try to curb the protests; 26 people were killed in the chaos and hundreds more were injured.

De la Rúa was cleared in a case several years ago where he was charged with homicide for the aforementioned 26 deaths despite witness accounts by several of his own cabinet members who alleged that he personally ordered the violent crackdown.

Protestors continued to show their displeasure despite the police presence and encircled the Casa Rosada. De la Rúa was forced to flee from the rooftop of the presidential palace by helicopter.

De la Rúa’s conservative economic policies and austerity measures eventually failed, even with the IMF loans as inflation soared and foreign investment practically disappeared. Argentina was forced to default on its debt several days after de la Rúa stepped down on December 21, 2001 and its economy experienced a national collapse.

Given this history, it makes sense that Argentines are preoccupied with the issue of inflation, and seeing the current levels of inflation in the country continue to rise certainly played a role in Macri’s falling popularity.

Earlier this week, a statement released by Federico Sturzenegger, the head of the Central Bank of Argentina, revealed that inflation in April had reached its highest month-to-month increase since 2002 when the country was in the midst of crisis. Specifically, inflation rose from March to April by a rate of 6.7 percent, a number last seen 14 years ago.

Thus, when added to the other months of 2016, this meant that inflation has risen by 19.4 percent from January to May. In comparison, during the same period in 2015 under Macri’s predecessor Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (2007-2015), the figure was 8.0 percent. The year-on-year inflation rate was 41.7 percent.

Macri, a wealthy businessman and politician born to an Italian billionaire construction tycoon who arrived in Argentina in 1949, has hit the ground running in his first five full months in office by removing currency regulation (which has led to a 30 percent depreciation in the Argentine Peso), laying off over 150,000 public workers and agreeing to pay the New York-based vulture funds that have refused to accept restructured loan payments.

Furthermore, Macri has removed the subsidies instituted by Fernández de Kirchner and even added higher taxes on vital services like public transport fares, electricity, gas and water (which increased between 200 percent and 700 percent in price) and is warning of even higher prices and more layoffs.

All these economic issues have led to a worsening economic picture, headlined by growing inflation, which Macri has said is being caused by the “painful but necessary” economic measures he has taken that are “needed to attract foreign investment and increase exports.”

The inflation figures and their details, however, provided by market-friendly private companies, explained that the measures were responsible for 66 percent of the inflation increase at the most.

In truth, Macri did say earlier in the year when he instituted the changes that the nation would not see the benefits of his measures until the second part of year, i.e. July.

In the meantime, the more vulnerable sectors of society are feeling the pain of the economic measures. Several demonstrations have taken place across the country in recent months (with each growing in size) against Macri and general strikes are planned for June. In fact, Macri spent much of May 25th (the national day of independence) sitting closed off in the Casa Rosada as it was cordoned off by riot police that were watching a demonstration.

The policies that have affected the working class and poor of Argentina, a large chunk of society, are reflected in another segment of the GOP’s poll as 53.2 percent of respondents said they believe Macri is ruling simply to benefit the rich of the nation.

Macri, whose Mussolini-supporter father’s businesses benefited from lucrative deals made with the ruling junta during Argentina’s 1976-1983 right-wing military dictatorship, has also been damaged recently due to his inclusion in the Panama Papers.

The national leader has accused Fernández de Kirchner of illegal enrichment during her time as president, but this week, Macri released his personal income information for the first time since assuming power.

His wealth was listed at just over $7.5 million, a figure that is strangely more than double the number he gave at the same time last year when he was mayor of Buenos Aires.

Furthermore, Macri did divulge that he has some $1.25 in an offshore account in the tax haven of the Bahamas but that the funds were declared with the proper fiscal authorities in Argentina.

The information comes at a controversial time as Macri has admitted to having offshore accounts yet is attempting to pass a tax amnesty bill that aims to return fortunes stored abroad (mostly by very wealthy Argentines) that some say may reach a total of up to $200 billion.

The bill, which is promoted by Macri and his Economic Minister Alfonso Prat-Gay (who assessed an illegal Swiss account of Argentine billionaire heiress Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat but denied having an account of his own) aims to return the money from abroad with a lowered tax of 10 percent.

Macri also appeared on the list in the Panama Papers, but denied any wrongdoing or involvement in illegal offshore accounts or shell companies. He said that any companies linked to him actually belong to his father and that he only has a collateral interest in those companies and does not receive any compensation.

He did not include these companies in any income reports but did outline close financial links with Nicolás Caputo and Néstor Grindetti, two of his close friends (and political allies) who have also been implicated in the Panama Papers for illegal offshore accounts and money laundering.

Both men are accused of committing these acts (and using the ill-gained money to fund political campaigns for over the last decade) during the time they worked under Macri when he was mayor of the capital; Caputo was Macri’s primary advisor (and is the current vice-president of Macri’s conservative PRO Party) and Grindetti was Finance Minister.

For all the aforementioned reasons, perhaps the most poignant question posed in the poll was if the current situation is better than this time last year. In March, 41.4 percent of people said the situation had worsened in comparison and in April, this figure reached nearly 60 percent. This is certainly a negative sign for Macri who is constantly touting the “wave of change” he has ushered in for “the new Argentina.”

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