Buenos Aires Times

argentina INTERVIEW WITH EDUARDO DUHALDE AND RICARDO ALFONSÍN

‘Lavagna is not currently part of Massa’s alliance. He can overcome the grieta’

Former president Eduardo Duhalde and UCR heavyweight Ricardo Alfonsín on the importance of politicians working together for the country’s betterment and why Roberto Lavagna should be Argentina’s next president.

Saturday 25 August, 2018
Eduardo Duhalde and Ricardo Alfonsín spoke exclusively to Agustino Fontevecchia.
Eduardo Duhalde and Ricardo Alfonsín spoke exclusively to Agustino Fontevecchia. Foto:COURTESY US EMBASSY IN ARGENTINA

Former president Eduardo Duhalde has confirmed that Roberto Lavanga intends to run as a candidate in the 2019 presidential elections against President Mauricio Macri, as well as revealing that the experienced former economy minister – who has always been close to dissident Peronist leader Sergio Massa and his Renewal Front movement – “is no longer part of [Massa’s] front.”

Duhalde’s comments come amid calls for Argentina’s opposition to move toward building a broad political pact aimed at lifting the country out of its political and economic stagnation.

Earlier this month, Massa’s political grouping released a 14-point proposal detailing ideas that would lead Argentina out of its economic crisis. The report was put together by Aldo Pignanelli, Ignacio de Mendiguren, Matías Tombolini and Marco Lavanga, yet many see the plan as belonging to Lavanga Snr., given statements he has given, off the record, to journalists and politicians from a number of political sectors.

The relationship between Lavanga – who served as economy minister under Duhalde and Néstor Kirchner – and Massa, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s ex-Cabinet Chief, has been well documented. Noticias magazine recently published a piece that revealed Massa had taken private economics lessons with Lavanga.

Duhalde’s latest comments were supported by fellow political veteran Ricardo Alfonsín, in a long interview conducted at the headquarters of Movimiento Productivo Argentino (MPA), during which both were critical of Macri’s failure to secure broad political consensus.

A few months back the re-election of Mauricio Macri as president seemed almost certain, the debate was about the 2023 election. But since then, we have suffered a steep devaluation of the peso, an economic contraction and a fall on the government’s approval ratings. What’s your view on the current political scenario?

Ricardo Alfonsín (RA): I’m a member of Cambiemos (Let’s Change), which is the coalition in power and not just PRO. I still believe the same things as in 2015, there was a need for an agreement because of the differences between the political parties. Not a necessarily electoral deal but a pragmatic one to solve the severe problems that we Latin American countries face. We are an underdeveloped country that faces difficult problems, which can only be solved by everybody working together.

Eduardo Duhalde (ED): When ruling, there should not be a ruling party and an opposition. Everybody has to be involved. A government can’t be controlled by people from the same party, that’s immoral and opens the door to unstoppable corruption. We also need a Constitution that doesn’t allow a government to form with a minority in Congress. In order to move forward you have to defeat the...

The enemy?

ED: No, there are no enemies. Those in front of me are my friends and they can make me stronger. We need governments that can rule without confrontation. In one of my last books, Humanisation or Mega-Barbarity, I argued that we are in a phase of mega-barbarity that has to end. For that to happen, we have to be friends with everybody.

In 2000, I was angry at the lack of anticipation from politicians. I had been anticipating the problem of drugs so when I arrived at the national political arena I created the drug-trafficking and drug-dependency commissions. I also presented a project to work on morality in the State, as I anticipated illegality was going to grow. I co-governed Buenos Aires Province with Don Raúl [late president Raúl Alfonsín, and father of Ricardo], with us deciding the policies and them controlling. We did a good job.

Later, four presidents resigned, and I didn’t want to take the presidency. Don Raul called me and said I would be responsible for a slaughter in Argentina. But then, he finally said we would be responsible together.

[Editor’s note: Duhalde is referring to the turmoil of 2001-2002 when the government of Fernando De La Rúa fell and Argentina had five presidents in just two weeks, culminating with Duhalde, who then governed until 2003 and the subsequent elections in which Néstor Kirchner was elected president]

It was an idea of working together.

ED: He asked me to think about it and discuss it with my family. I sat on the edge of the pool at my sister’s house and realised he was right.

He called me again and I told him that I wanted a co-government like in the province, with legislators working together and taking office with nine ministers, one being from another party and three from the Radical Party.

A plural administration

ED: It was a difficult time and we needed a co-government. It was a different way of governance. I had Don Raul’s back, to defend people’s jobs against the international and national interests.

RA: Talking about this administration, since 2015 I have said that we needed a political agreement with the main parties. If the Argentina of the future was in fact so complicated, it seemed a contradiction to solve its problems with a single party. A single party or a single administration can’t solve the country’s problems.

The problems run quite deep, right?

RA: Latin American problems are much more serious than the ones faced by the developed world. Since 2015, we have asked for an agreement between the political parties to end the gap between them. Without dialogue, there is no politics and [there are] no agreements. I highlight this now because if there’s someone with experience of dialogue and difficult situations it is President Duhalde, who knew back then what had to be done.

I know some might think I’m being naive but those who read history know that countries that had to deal with complex situations didn’t figure it out with a single party. In Europe, after the war, an agreement was made between the right and the left, for example. We need something like that in Argentina. We have to set the example for people to relate differently with each other.

My concern isn’t about winning the elections in 2019, as it wasn’t in 2015, rather it’s how to avoid some of the serious problems we have. We’ll be able to avoid them if are able to achieve basic and fundamental deals. President Duhalde can make a significant contribution regarding that.

The government tried to form a governability pact after the elections in 2017, when they called on governors to discuss about the need to approve reform bills. What’s happened since then?

RA: I believe that there are things they don’t understand well due to their lack of political experience. Their government officials come from corporations, believing they are doing the best possible. But there are things that are learned from generations in political parties.

There are decisions that were made in the government without consulting the rest of the political forces. Neither my party or PRO were able to understand the importance of dialogue in politics. Those of us who suffered the military interventions know the importance of dialogue.

ED: Argentina’s situation isn’t that difficult to figure out. The problem is that the exit is in one direction and we are going on the other one. We can’t continue fighting, we need to do everything together. Our debt in relation to our GDP isn’t that big when we compare it to other countries. It’s not difficult to exit the current crisis but we need to listen to each other and the people who know about this, like [former Economy Minister] Roberto Lavagna.

Lavagna’s candidacy has been rumoured for a while now. Is he the right person to overcome the gap and unify non-Kirchnerite Peronism, Radicalism that doesn’t follow Cambiemos (Let’s Change) and those disillusioned with Macri? Has he agreed to be a candidate?

RA: I have a great respect for Lavagna, he was our candidate in 2007. I agree with him on many things, but I carry out discussions only inside my party.

ED: Societies are the ones who elect candidates. In 2003, [ex-Santa Fe Province governor Carlos] Reutemann was the one chosen by society, not by me. [He is] an honest man but not very creative. Then I had [former Buenos Aires Province governor] Felipe Solá, [Senator for San Luis and former interim president] Adolfo Rodríguez Saá, and [former president and current Senator for La Rioja] Carlos Menem. But Menem couldn’t be because he wouldn’t beat anyone in a run-off.

Nobody?

ED: I asked Adolfo Rodríguez Saá to come over and be president but he didn’t want to. So I was left with... Néstor [Kircher].

ED: I had no ties with him. I didn’t dislike him, but I didn’t know him. We made an effort and picked him. Now, I’m sure Roberto [Lavagna] will be the next president. He is the man to overcome the grieta.

And what would Roberto be willing to do?

ED: I’m his close friend and I told him that if we are not able to achieve a government that has a majority in Congress I would advise him not to run for office and that I would retire from politics.

RA: Some say I want to be a candidate, but I couldn’t care less for 2019. The only thing that matters to me is to have the set out the conditions to leave our current problems behind. We’ll have to discuss how to distribute the effort. If all the political parties tell society that they have reached an agreement on the road to take, society will follow.

Peronism has many people looking to take a leading role. Even Lavagna is part of the political alliance with Massa…

ED: Look, he is currently not part of that alliance. There are honest and dishonest people everywhere. I’m not willing to make concessions; we should be joining forces with honest and hard-working people. Governments have a limited energy and they have to use it to fulfill your objectives. When I took office, I only had three core principles: maintaining the democratic system, pacifying the country and changing the economic-social model imposed by the dictatorship.

Roberto is 77 years old and you both have been involved in politics for a long time, with many now talking about a renovation. Isn’t there a nostalgia for the past?

ED: There are moments in life when experience is needed and now is one of those moments. Roberto is a man that the people has chosen. We need experience from someone who has been in times as difficult as the current one.

Assuming that Roberto would be the candidate, if he assembles a team and manages to have a majority in Congress, the question is what would Cristina (Fernandez de Kirchner) and Kirchnerism would do?

ED: Cristina, Menem and Duhalde are now in the past. If they want to continue, they would be unsuccessful and not because of their age. It’s because the people have chosen something else. Before the end of the year, the opinion of the people will change, when someone with experience appears.

Going back to Cristina…

ED: The Radical party in 2015 should have put all its energy in convincing PRO and the rest of the political parties that an agreement was necessary. This is still necessary for 2019. Problems can be solved, but if we do it all together it will be much easier. Cristina can be an obstacle.

If a presidential campaign today costs about US$50 million, how would a Lavagna campaign would be funded?

RA: The state should do it. The people would find that antipathic, but I don’t have to be nice as I’m an old guy and I can say what I think.

ED: I’m disgusted about the issue of the fake campaign contributors. Journalists have every right to talk and justice to be involved. Politicians are hypocrites. Parties have always been funded by businessmen.

Most of the businessmen currently involved in public works are the same ones that have been around since the 1990s. What’s you stand regarding the current notebooks scandal? Could this have happened with a previous government?

ED: Not in my government. We were controlled by the opposition on all aspects. Also, every contract had an anti-corruption clause.

A Perfil investigation found the corruption from public work had totalled US$36 million. Can that be recovered? Are those businessmen who are regretting what they did also responsible?

ED: It’s not the same for the businessmen who had a company all his life and a government imposed a set of conditions that he can’t report it anywhere. We need more businessmen than the ones we have. I’m a fan of Macri’s father [Franco Macri] and [cement tycoon and businesswoman] Amalita Fortabat, [people] who have money and have invested it to create work.

RA: A businessman is not a philanthropist. If he is, he is then expelled from the market. If you impose certain rules to a businessman, he will adjust to them. We need a system that makes it unnecessary for this kind of things to happen.

Now, as my last question, do you have the greenlight from Lavagna to be a candidate?

ED: I talk all the time with him and I wouldn’t be saying all this if I wasn’t aware of his patriotic will. We need someone not only with his experience but with the experience of a team that understands who to solve the current situation.

RA: Society is tired from watching us fight all the time. It’s unsettled about the future and doesn’t know if the kids will be worse off than them. We need to deliver calm and the best way to do it is through agreements between political parties. It’s not easy, despite many in the past thinking it was. It’s much easier to rule a country when there’s certain levels of agreement.

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