Penniless Peronism
Por Ignacio Fidanza
The fifth wave of Peronism in Argentina faces an uncomfortable reality: governing without resources to distribute.

The discomfort is obvious. A mixture of surprise and resignation. Macri left the Argentine economy bankrupt and in debt to the limit, with no access to funding. In controlled decline, that is, without an explosion. Like a nuclear submarine sinking in the Arctic.

Alberto chose Martin Guzman as his minister. And the surprises began. "He turned out to be much more of a penny pincher than we expected," admits one minister. He turned off the spending tap as much as possible and only released emissions to keep the necessary oxygen to a minimum. As he said at the beginning of his term, this is an exercise in containment that seeks to prevent a spiral of inflation that remains among the highest in the world. It is a containment exercise that not everyone in the governing coalition recognizes.

"This was never seen before, it's not normal", complains a governor who hurries with displeasure a lunch, after a meeting at the Casa Rosada that went badly. He is one of those who strongly supported the return of Peronism to power.

Now they find out that there is nothing to give out. Positions, but no budget. Ministries that are empty shells. The unfulfilled promises pile up. From the neighborhood clubs, to the gender policies, there's no money for anyone. Public works, impossible.

What we see is an ongoing adjustment, whose heart is the disindexation of social spending and pensions. There are no cuts, there is decoupling. Buying time for the silent killer of inflation to do its job. Liquefy, liquefy.

"It's what we got," says one of the President's closest advisors. But he sets a date: "If the debt is not renegotiated by March 31, we are ready." Alberto said it more clearly: "I have no money to pay the maturities". In April it is 787 million dollars and in May 5,246 million. Just for starters.

The economic and political plan is simple. To obtain a minimum of two years grace period for the payment of the interest on the debt, in order to use that money to reactivate the economy. From the State. Classic Peronism. But this time, by drip. There's no other way.

"Either we are given two years to reactivate with the money that should go to the debt or we default and use the money that should go to the debt", adds the government official. It will be seen. So far, the precedent is called Governor Kicillof and he ended up paying everything.

There is some discomfort with the governor. First because he rushed the creditors from an aggressiveness that the government of Alberto does not use. And then because he paid everything without taking away any period of grace. "The logical consequence of the process he went through was to default if they didn't accept his proposal. To end up paying off everything, he should have done it on day one and we would have avoided all this noise," the source added.

During the days when the market swung to the rhythm of the Buenos Aires Province debt fight, the Central Bank lost more than 300 million dollars in reserves to contain the dollar. Perhaps Guzmán should have been more generous and given the 250 million that Kicillof needed to pay the province's debts. He would have gained money and peace of mind.

More and more provinces are delaying the payment of salaries while they wait for the assistance of the Casa Rosada. One example: Tucumán staggered the payment of public sector salaries, in a schedule that begins on February 7 and ends on the 14th with the teachers. In December, it deactivated the trigger clause and will do the same in March. In the Buenos Aires Province, Kicillof says he is maintaining it for now, but has already postponed payment of a percentage to the teachers that was due this month.

"It's the government of the pedal," says a man with a strong interest in the energy sector. This is known by the generators to whom Cammesa already owes more than 40 billion pesos, for the debt due in November. In addition, another 30 billion pesos are due from fuel imports.

The adjustment is felt strongly in the country. More than 40 percent of the positions remain unappointed. There is talk of an obsession by the President to review every appointment. It could be. But it's also a way to save money. Until the appointments are made and the administrative circuit is completed, it takes months before the first salaries are paid. It's not an Argentine invention. Trump worked for years with even lower rates of political appointments. And nothing more serious happened than what usually happens. Without civil servants, budgets are delayed, and even more so, when they are earned. Chronotherapy from the anesthesiologist, this time to lower spending.

The budget execution for January is at extremely low levels. The specialists maintain that it is normal due to seasonality and more so in a change of government. The ministries do not share this tranquility and wonder if the opposite is not happening, they take advantage of the "seasonality" of the holidays to iron out the spending.

This is not the first time that Peronism has been called upon to manage scarcity. Already in his second term of office, Perón had to appeal to the epic of austerity. But it must be annoying to have to do so after a campaign that focused on questioning the inhumane Macri adjustment. For this reason, the centrality that the current administration gives to the distribution of the food card. This is the initiative that they offer as a political differentiating element and even as an indication of what they would do if they had the money.

But today it is not possible. And in recognition of this ungrateful reality, so far, Alberto and Cristina have demolished the most extreme provisions. 

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