Argentina: Horacio Rodríguez Larreta: “We have to do something different in the economy in Argentina” | International

Horacio Rodríguez Larreta (Buenos Aires, 56 years old) has been the mayor of the Argentine capital since 2015 and is a more than likely presidential candidate in 2023. He does not want to announce his candidacy yet, but this week he has traveled to Germany and Madrid -place of the interview- with a clear intention of making himself known as a future key man in Argentine politics. For this, he needs Mauricio Macri (president between 2015 and 2019), who was his boss and now could be his rival, to agree to make way for him. Larreta is very careful not to criticize his mentor but admits that mistakes were made that led to Macri’s defeat in 2019 and believes that a different economic policy must be made than that of those years, which ended with an IMF bailout and inflation of 50%. He now harshly criticizes the current Peronist government of Alberto Fernández but believes that Argentina can recover if there is a plan that 70% of the population can support to prevent it from changing with each government.

Ask. How are Argentina and Buenos Aires after the pandemic?

Answer. We are leaving, the city is fully reviving, tourism is returning. The pandemic has been very hard for everyone, for the children who did not go to school, for those who had to close their businesses, and much more for those who lost their loved ones. In the city there was a very strong commitment. They spent more than 50,000 people to isolate in hotels, for example. The vaccination worked very well, we have 94% of two doses. We made a decision: the national government wanted to close our schools and we kept them open, and the Supreme Court agreed with us.

P. Did the pandemic finish off Argentina?

R. Argentina is experiencing a very difficult situation. Today it does not have a government or a clear economic course. There is no plan, no vision of the future. It is the main problem.

P. Have Spanish businessmen asked you about the viability of Argentina? What does it tell them?

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R. I have no doubt about the viability of Argentina in the long term. We have natural resources, one of the most fertile agricultural areas in the world, we have lithium, which is a mineral of the future, a very long coastline to exploit the coast. A highly qualified human capital: Argentine unicorns continue to appear, in Latin America we are the country that has the most. But right now we are going through a difficult situation.

P. The opposition voted in favor of the agreement with the IMF that some sectors of the Argentine government criticize. Is it a good deal?

R. We vote so that Argentina does not fall into default. We are all clear about the precedent of 2001, poverty went to 60%. That’s why we support it. Kirchnerism voted against the agreement or did not vote, they would have sent Argentina to the default. The opposition acted very responsibly. But the Government has committed to an economic plan with the IMF that we do not subscribe to, because we do not see that it provides a solution to the underlying problem.

P. Can Argentina pay that debt?

R. Depends. If Argentina grows, it is payable. If not, there is no negotiation worth.

P. Is a strong adjustment coming in Argentina?

R. Without a plan, it is difficult to foresee what is coming. Also for Spanish or international businessmen, and Argentines. That’s why they don’t invest. The president announces a plan against inflation that has nothing.

P. If you were president what would you do?

R. I’m not. At Together for Change we aspire to achieve the presidency in 2023 and there are teams working on that plan. Today it is still impossible to have it because we do not know which country we are going to receive. The debt would not be a problem if we grow, but we have to grow.

Today Argentina does not have a government or a clear economic course.

Horacio Rodriguez Larreta

P. Will you be a candidate? What position is he in?

R. In a position to build an alternative with Together for Change. Things change from power. But my main role is to be head of the Government of the city of Buenos Aires.

P. Will he be a candidate?

R. Missing for the nominations. There is a year and a half of work left in the city.

P. Many people see him as a natural candidate.

R. I perceive that people value what we do in the city. There are many people who want a change. But from there to advance a candidacy is not the time, there is no rush. But more important than the candidate today is the economic plan. I travel to Madrid to talk about Buenos Aires, I meet with the president of Madrid, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, and the mayor, José Luis Martínez Almeida, to exchange ideas and projects. Obviously I come here to listen to visions, to learn about the world, about international politics. But my focus is the city, I was in Hannover to sign a great agreement for a huge fair that we are going to take to Buenos Aires.

P. Can you imagine a competition in the primaries between Mauricio Macri, the former president, with whom you worked for many years, and you?

R. Today I can’t imagine that. Mauricio also did not express his willingness to be a candidate. He is in the right of it. I have worked with him for 20 years, I respect him a lot, as president he did very good things, for example the policy of reintegration of Argentina in the world, the Spanish businessmen told me at lunch. Neither of us clearly expressed a vocation to be candidates.

P. Did Macri burn out with the IMF bailout in 2018?

R. The current government also signed an agreement with the IMF now. The IMF is a historical issue in Argentina. The problem is that we spend more than we have. The question is why Argentina always has a deficit.

We spend more than we have. The question is why Argentina always has a deficit.

Horacio Rodriguez Larreta

P. Was Macri not touched as a candidate with the 2019 defeat?

R. If he wants, he can be a candidate. But he did not express it. Neither do I. The candidates will leave the PASO [las primarias]. That goes for everyone. It is the healthiest.

P. What mistakes did Macri make to end up rescued by the IMF again?

R. I think that the most important thing for the future is that a broader consensus must be achieved to build the future of Argentina. We need 70% support for a plan. What is enough to win the election, 51%, is not enough for deep transformations. We need a broader consensus. The way Mauricio arrived, somewhat unexpectedly, about the end [por solo tres puntos de diferencia con el peronismo] made it very difficult. Today we have to build a broader coalition. Like Spain, when it came out of the dictatorship, it had 25 or 30 years of stability, governments changed and policy changes were subtle. That is what we need in Argentina, a plan that we sustain for 20 or 30 years, whoever is the president. For me it is the challenge, to build that broad coalition that is something different from what was done in 2015.

Argentina needs a plan that we sustain for 20 or 30 years, whoever is the president.

Horacio Rodriguez Larreta

P. Is that coalition easier with Larreta than with Macri, who has positioned himself far to the right?

R. I don’t know why the comparison. I have always defended this position and I am consistent.

P. Shouldn’t your project start from the self-criticism of what happened with Macri? They were defeated at the polls and came out with 50% inflation and bailed out by the IMF.

R. The search to form a broader coalition is a self-criticism in itself, because it was not done before. I do this in the city, in the last elections we made a coalition from [el diputado José Luis] Espert, who today represents the right, even socialism, all inside.

P. Would you now include the hardest right, Javier Milei, in your coalition?

R. Let’s see, I have an attitude of adding, it’s already been done, but I don’t want to talk about names in particular. I also want to add people disenchanted with Peronism.

P. Should Macri’s economic policy that led to that 50% inflation and the IMF bailout also need to be changed?

R. It is not that the Macri government brought inflation there, it is a problem that we have had for 70 years. In any case, he couldn’t fix it. Obviously we have to do something different economically. We need a development plan that increases exports so as not to strangle the balance of payments. We are working on that.

P. How would you define yourself in ideological terms?

R. I don’t believe much in those things, it ends up pigeonholing. I am a developmentalist by family history, I don’t know in Europe what that corresponds to. I have a very practical vision of things, I believe that the State has to get the leg out of the heads of those who produce, release the forces of entrepreneurial energy in Argentina. I think we have to make an aggressive policy of insertion into the world, we are one of the countries that trades the least in the world. I believe in individual freedoms, and in a much more federal country, power is highly concentrated in Buenos Aires. In the city we have a very strong policy of social inclusion, you were with me touring the village 31 [una villa miseria con 40.000 personas en el centro de la ciudad]is the example of what I think should be done with the humble areas of the country.

P. What Argentina in the world would propose?

R. One with a much more open attitude. The crisis in Russia and Ukraine gives us an opportunity because it is an area that, like us, generates a lot of food, and now they are out of the market. We have to go out and take over markets, now we have a government that last year prohibited the export of meat.

P. Was Alberto Fernández’s trip to Moscow shortly before the war a mistake?

R. That trip to Moscow shows the lack of direction. While you were in Moscow saying that Argentina will be Russia’s gateway, you are asking the IMF, with a strong US presence, to renegotiate your debt. Thus, Argentina was slow to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In the city we were forceful. We should resume the agreement with Mercosur, enter the OECD, which is inviting us and the Government does not have a very clear answer.

P. People saw Argentina fall many times. Why should this be any different now?

R. I told the Spanish businessmen here in Madrid that the situation is difficult, that the two years ahead with this government will be difficult, that inflation is very high. But I also say that we have a lot of potential. Food is going to be worth more, that is the trend in the world, having land is worth more, tourism, fishing. We need that plan that we have not had for decades and that can be maintained over time. A broad coalition has never been formed in Argentina, we have to try something different.

A broad coalition has never been formed in Argentina, we have to try something different.

Horacio Rodriguez Larreta

P. There is a wave of the left in Latin America, will Argentina be different?

R. Well, there is the counterexample of Ecuador. [Gabriel] Boric to be elected ran to the center. Lula [da Silva] puts it from vice to [Geraldo] Alckmin. Several of them have made efforts to moderate themselves. I don’t believe in extremes. I think there is rather a shift towards the center. [Jair] Bolsonaro for me failed in Brazil, I do not believe in that extreme policy, I do not want it for Argentina. That is why I work for a consensual alternative, of dialogue. I want consensus, not unanimity: with Kirchnerism, which believes that human rights are not violated in Venezuela, I will never agree. But I can with a part of the right, of Peronism, of socialism.

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