The way in which the main leaders of both sides of the political spectrum reacted to the march in support of the government on Saturday illustrates how they have decided to deepen the existing polarization, each appealing to the sectors of society that already support them.
As has been happening regularly during the last month, tens of thousands of people gathered in Plaza de Mayo on Saturday to send a political message. However, in contrast with all other demonstrations that took place during the month, this most recent gathering wasn’t protesting the Macri administration at all. In fact, they were doing the complete opposite.
The march, organized on social media, was replicated in several cities throughout the country all with the aim of supporting the government and “in defense of democracy and its institutions.”
This time, the chants had different rallying calls: “Argentina without Cristina [former President Fernández de Kirchner],” “Yes, we can,” “Let’s sing, let’s sing, picketers go to work,” “Democracy, democracy,” “Justice for [late prosecutor Alberto] Nisman,” and “[teachers union Roberto] Baradel, stop fucking around,” were some of them, all making reference to ongoing political disputes between the government and the Victory Front (FpV) or sectors that are perceived as ideologically aligned with the party.
Government representatives didn’t make reference to the march as the day approached. According to several pundits, this was because they couldn’t know for sure whether the march would be a success, mainly because of two things: first, this was a grassroots initiative that wasn’t called on by an organization or a political leader. Second, they didn’t know if their supporters would take the streets like their political opponents do.
To be associated with a failed march, then, would mean another political blow for an administration that suffered more than one mayor hiccup over the past month.
Those fears appear to have been unfounded. The march was massive and showed that there is still a sector of the population that supports the government — be it because it genuinely believes in it or because it despises the alternatives — and was willing to go to the Plaza de Mayo on a Saturday afternoon to demonstrate it.
Once the march’s success became evident, government representatives, led by President Mauricio Macri himself, didn’t waste a second to drop the lukewarm attitude towards it and capitalize the gain.
However, in doing so they also made it clear that the Cambiemos coalition’s political strategy continues to be the same they used during the 2015 presidential elections: to contrast themselves against Kirchnerism and present a scenario with two sole options. One, we could go back to a populist model that would end up with the country in a similar state to Venezuela. Two, we could continue to put up with the struggles and “inconveniences” that come with the measures aimed at “fixing” 12 years of Kirchnerism that will turn Argentina into a prosperous country in the long run.
Macri was in charge of cementing the message. Once the march finished, the president uploaded a video to his Twitter account thanking the support, but throwing a jab at the opposition and its supporters at the same time.
“How beautiful is what just happened across the country,” Macri began. “We have a future to build. Together we will build the basis for our children’s progress and the children of our children’s, all based on telling us the truth and giving our best every day. And we express it from the bottom of our heart, without any buses or choripán,” he pointed out.
This last line illustrates how any intention of bridging the wide political divide is gone. The government is appealing to its base and gives up on the opposition who supported the other marches that took place this month and called him a “cat” — a nondescript derogatory term that began as prison language and grew to become part of popular lexicon.
It argues that those who attended the marches called by the CGT umbrella union, the teachers union and the CTA union, to name a few, don’t do so out of genuine conviction. They sell their political identity and get on the bandwagon set by a union or a Kirchnerite party, ruling out any possibility that they have a legitimate demand.
As a result of this, leaders from the opposition came out to criticize Macri, emphasizing how divisive his message was. Leader of the Justicialist Party (PJ) José Luis Gioja said that “Macri has the duty to govern for all who march: those who did it on Saturday, but also for the unions and the teachers.”
National Deputy Fernando “Chino” Navarro said to Macri, “Those sayings add fuel to the fires of hate,” and compelled him to not forget that “He’s the President of all 40 million Argentines, even of those who criticize him.”
Héctor Daer, member of the CGT triumvirate that will spearhead the first general strike under the Macri administration on Thursday, defended the setting of buses: “There are people who wouldn’t be able to make it to Plaza de Mayo to express themselves without help.”
“It’s not OK to say that because there are people who live in the Buenos Aires province and who haven’t been to the Obelisco because they don’t have the means to go there. That social sector has to express itself, and we need to acknowledge it exists,” he said.
However, that message is actually well received by the better part of the people who, either because of their hatred of Kirchnerism of their genuine support for the current administration, took to the streets on Saturday. This is the portion of the electorate that will vote for them and to whom they will appeal as October’s midterms slowly start to loom large, even if some voices such as Elisa “Lilita” Carrió, leaders of the Radical party (UCR) and President of the Chamber of Deputies Emilio Monzó dissent.
At the end of the day, it’s easier for Cambiemos to try to win the elections by locking up the votes of its base rather than risking to lose it by trying to reconcile these two sides. As this is the strategy on both ends of the political spectrum, the political divide will never even get close to being bridged.