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State aid for the poorest in Argentina exacerbates the power struggle in the Casa Rosada

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Piqueteros demonstrate against the agreement with the IMF on June 9, 2022 in Buenos Aires.Victor R Caivano (AP)

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has shown a great ability to add new enemies. On Monday, during a rally organized by related unions in Avellaneda, in the southern industrial area of ​​the city of Buenos Aires, she demanded that Alberto Fernández’s government, where she is vice president, regain control of social plans. Kirchner doesn’t like that two major picket groups, the Evita movement and Barrios de Pie, have leaders in high positions at the Department of Social Development, the portfolio responsible for managing some of the millions of dollars, about 4,000, that spent each year The Argentine government provides funds to help the poorest.

Kirchner said in his speech that “outsourcing” this aid to these groups was “not Peronism,” a movement that has made being close to the poorest its political DNA. Behind Kirchner’s claim is a poisoned dart aimed at Fernández, the target of all his attacks today, and an attempt to retake the streets in those neighborhoods where picket movements have gradually supplanted traditional union and party structures.

Every speech Cristina Kirchner gives is a long list of accusations against Fernández, the figure who put her into the presidency just over two years ago. The attacks are nuanced with long essays on the economy, always self-referential quotes and recommendations on what to do and what the president shouldn’t do. In the past he has called for the resignation of ministers, criticized economic policies and anti-inflation strategies, or criticized the agreement signed with the International Monetary Fund in January. But he had never fired into the heart of social movements or pickets.

“I want to be honest: We have 7% unemployment, but a million social plans,” said Cristina Kirchner. “With this level of unemployment, we should have fewer social plans. The state must control social policy, which cannot be further outsourced. This isn’t Peronism, Peronism is hard work, work, you can’t rely on a neighborhood leader pacing, no!” he said. In case there was any doubt that he was primarily speaking about the Evita movement, he ended his speech by praising the movement’s founding fathers: Perón and Evita. “If Evita saw them, mommy… mommy!” she added. The public might not be the most appropriate: unions gathered in the CTA, an alternative current to the traditional CGT, and mayors from the Buenos Aires suburbs responding.

A little history is needed to understand Kirchner’s new attack on Fernández. Social movements were born with the crisis of the 1990s, when Carlos Menem’s neoliberal policies triggered unemployment. Those who remained outside the labor system, and thus outside the unions, gradually grouped into unemployment movements. To make their voices heard, they resorted to picketing or blocking roads and highways. The 2001 crisis triggered the number of pickets as they grew organizationally. Labor cooperatives and even vocational schools were set up. The Peronist unions never got along with these movements that demanded rights but stood outside the labor system.

The pickets have a great destabilizing power, but they also guarantee social peace. With every government of any kind, they sold peace in exchange for economic aid. With Fernández coming to power in 2019, they took another step: they joined the power structure. Emilio Pérsico and Fernando Navarro of the Evita movement and Daniel Menéndez of Barrios de Pie are officials of Alberto Fernández. From social development they manage the social plans, to the chagrin of the exuberant movements. But it’s not the war with these groups that concerned Cristina Kirchner so much on Monday. It happens that the government pickets are gradually encroaching on forbidden territory: that which Vice President La Cámpora is allocating to the Kirchnerist movement led by her son Máximo. Every day, Kirchnerism sees itself losing control of the streets in those suburbs where its constituency resides. It’s basically a struggle for control of territory and the voices that emanate from there.

President Fernández on Tuesday took up the gauntlet that his vice president had thrown the previous day. “He often says things that are unfair,” Fernández said of Kirchner’s statements. “I want to thank the social organizations that helped us contain the most vulnerable sectors and bring solidarity where there was no solidarity,” he immediately added. Since the piqueteros movements were implied, they were less diplomatic. “Weak in memory and in gratitude, Cristina declared war on all social movements in Argentina,” said Luis D’Elia, a piquetero leader who blocked streets in the Buenos Aires suburbs as early as the 1990s.

The memory D’Elia is demanding goes back to the time when the pickets supported Kirchnerism and Cristina. “The way he spoke hurts us,” said Fernando Navarro of the Evita movement. “Obviously I don’t share his words. With great sadness because Cristina is without a doubt a reference in the room,” added Barrios de Pie’s Daniel Menéndez. “To reduce the task of social movements to the beginning or the end of a plan seems to me to be a very short-sighted attitude in relation to the task to be carried out,” Menéndez lamented.

Fernández is a weakened president who faces daily criticism from Kirchnerism, the main movement in the coalition that holds him in power today. The social movements that support him are his main political mainstay. Attacking them from the inside means blowing up one of the last tricks left to the President.

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Source elpais.com

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