Centroizquierda se busca

The elusive space of the centre-left
Conservative turn of Radical party, UNEN coalition leaves centre-left vacancy in 2015

por Federico Poore
Buenos Aires Herald, 25-11-2014

The row over a potential alliance with centre-right leaders like Sergio Massa or Mauricio Macri has sparked bitter infighting among leaders of the non-Peronist UNEN coalition. Last week, firebrand Civic Coalition lawmaker Elisa Carrió left the political grouping and blasted her former colleagues for their lack of ambition after several of the so-called progressives among them took a hard line with the PRO party.

So what’s progressive in UNEN? A reformulation of the Broad Progressive Front that finished second in the 2011 presidential race? What will non-Peronist, centre-left figures hope to achieve if conservative leaders like lawmaker Julio Cobos and Senator Ernesto Sanz retain the leadership of the Radical (UCR) party, and in turn the backbone of the coalition?

In an op-ed published in April, sociologist Maristella Svampa said that “before the trouble of the disputes within the centre-left, (a space which has been) almost completely dominated by Kirchnerism throughout the decade, we have witnessed different and surprising alliances.”

In this context, Svampa said, several centre-left leaders have added a pragmatic twist to their attempts to seduce an electorate disenchanted with Kirchnerism.

“The result was the ‘right-wingization’ of political forces that were, until recently, part of the progressive camp — and a relative revival of the Radical party, whose policies in the provinces have nothing progressive about them.”

According to the author of Exclusive Society: Argentina Under Neoliberalism, the centre-left camp has offered voters some major leaders like Fernando “Pino” Solanas, Margarita Stolbizer and the heads of the Socialist Party. But the country has failed to create “a strong space for progressive politicians willing to go for deep changes.”

Analogías consultancy head Analía del Franco seemed to agree.

“Progressive voters will need to ponder a lot in 2015,” Del Franco told the Herald.

With nine months to go until the primaries, Macri, Massa and Buenos Aires province Governor Daniel Scioli (a Kirchnerite ally who began his political career during the neo-conservative administration of Carlos Menem) are leading the polls. The three of them are seen as either conservative liberals or populist Peronists — in any case, more rightist than the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration.

“Progressives are one thing, but non-Peronists are another,” she stressed. “Sanz or Cobos seem to be leading the coalition, but the major progressive figure in UNEN is actually (former Santa Fe governor Hermes) Binner.”

In one piece — or several

This begs the question of whether the coalition will make it to the presidential race at all.

“I find it hard to believe UNEN will reach the 2015 elections in one piece,” sociologist Gerardo Aboy Carlés told the Herald. “The coalition has committed several mistakes.”

What were those errors? “For starters, the Radical party acted as an heterogeneous group without clear leadership. It behaves as a federation of local blocs.”

Then there’s the role played by the Socialist Party, Aboy Carlés said.

“I believe the Socialists should have been more emphatic from the very beginning in their rejection of an alliance with Massa and Macri.”

Carrió and Sanz have voiced their call for a deal with the centre-right party that rules Buenos Aires City so that the coalition can reach a potential runoff, as most polls have UNEN in fourth place. This debate has been dragging on since the alliance was founded earlier this year, but especially since the Civic Coalition leader walked out of a UNEN event in BA City while Solanas delivered a speech strongly dismissing any partnership with “modern right-wing parties.”

So should centre-left leaders quit UNEN as well?

“It’s a possibility,” Del Franco said. “I don’t rule out Binner running by himself, along with other progressive groups like the Libres del Sur party” led by Humberto Tumini and Victoria Donda.

A full-out progressive ticket is not likely to get them to the Pink House in 2015, but it might secure a far from negligible voter base.

If they fail to do so, the sociologist said, chances are that left-wing parties gain some votes at the expense of former progressives.

“I see (Workers’ Party leader Jorge) Altamira and (PTS lawmaker Nicolás) del Caño taking votes if progressives are unwilling to vote for the candidates on offer. But it’s obviously a minor, more sophisticated vote.”

Even the ruling Victory Front (FpV) might benefit from this “progressive failure” as centre-left sectors of Kirchnerism could capture a share of this vote, Del Franco concluded.

Pasa con cambios la Ley de Telecomunicaciones

Senate OKs revised telco bill for debate
Net neutrality strengthened as Kirchnerite senators incorporate conclusions of previous debate

por Federico Poore
Buenos Aires Herald, 20-11-2014

Telecommunication companies will not be allowed to provide satellite TV services and cooperatives will receive special funds that will help them compete with big players. These were the two major amendments made to the Digital Argentina bill by lawmakers from the ruling Victory Front (FpV) following criticism and suggestions for the regulation — set to replace the 1972 Telecommunications Law — which was first announced last month.

The bill was yesterday cleared for debate during a meeting of the Media and Freedom of Expression Committee presided over by Senator Liliana Fellner (FpV-Jujuy). The Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration now expects to have it passed in both houses of Congress by the end of the year.

The new bill establishes that the government should “guarantee competition and push for the development of regional markets,” with the goal of avoiding asymmetries between companies.

Enforcement authorities are encouraged to implement regularization programmes for small-sized cable TV providers operating in the country’s interior, allowing these firms to get their paperwork in order.

“It’s been said that Digital Argentina would end up benefiting the communication powers-that-be, but that’s not true. The voice of small- and medium-sized companies is included in several articles of the bill,” Fellner said yesterday. “The rights of telecommunications cooperatives and small-sized companies will be protected.”

In previous weeks, representatives from such firms had stressed that in their current form the articles did not “distinguish” between their small-scale operations and companies having dominant market positions. This was a worrying fact as the new bill allowed for the renting of space on existing telecommunications networks that have been established by their competitors in exchange for a fee.

In this context, representatives noted that they would struggle to compete against large telecommunication companies like Telecom or Telefónica if they had to lend them their infrastructure.

Following the latest changes, telecommunication companies should abide by “exclusion zones” yet to be determined that will prevent them from offering broadcast services immediatly after the law is passed.

‘GOOD DEFINITION’ OF NET NEUTRALITY

Article 8 says companies offering telecommunication services must obtain a licence in order to operate. The following article specifies that all firms are obliged to register whether these companies offer “landline or mobile, hard-wired or wireless, national or international, with or without infrastructure of its own,” with the enforcement authority.

Activist groups like the Argentine Pirate Party argue that this (together with Article 6 that includes a broad definitions of “information and communications technology services”) may force even small manufacturers with a mobile app in the marketplace to register as a telecom provider with federal authorities.

Nevertheless, the Pirate Party — a staunch defender of users and their online rights — hailed changes made to other sections of the bill, such as the chapter regarding net neutrality, that is, the concept that Internet service providers (ISPs) must treat all traffic as equal.

As the Herald reported earlier this month, the Digital Argentina bill unveiled in October used such broad language that some worried it could become meaningless, especially since lawmakers have been discussing the issue in the Freedom of Speech and Media Committee for one year and seven months. (In its first draft, the measure only said that the country’s leaders will “guarantee” net neutrality.)

Now most of the issues that have already been discussed in the Senate committee were added to Digital Argentina, including a set of prohibitions. If the bill is passed, telcos will not be able “to block, interfere with, discriminate, hinder, nor restrict the right of any Internet user of using, sending, receiving or offering any content.”

The incorporation of the Senate’s opinion will also mean companies will be obliged to provide customers with minimum connection speeds. The speeds, still to be defined, must be revised every two years.

Another major modification is that the bill now confirms landline telephone as a “public service,” which ratifies the government’s authority to regulate tariffs. The first draft had declared the service a matter of “public interest,” which at the time was seen as a way of de-regulating the market.

CONCERNS OVER NEW AUTHORITIES

“My main concern with the bill is that it is still leaving the main definitions and the concrete implementation of the law to an enforcement authority to be appointed by the Executive branch,” Gustavo Fontanals, a media expert and investigator at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA), told the Herald.

“This authority will be in charge of defining the main aspects of the regulation, that is, the degree of openness of local networks, the implementation of differentiated tariffs, the definition of companies having ‘significant market power’ and the measures to promote competition, among others.”

In this regard, the bill echoes the main problem with the current regulation: the concentration of all important decisions in the top ranks of the Executive branch.

“This means there will be no institutional channels for the participation of public agents such as Congress, academic representatives, consumers’ associations or related businessmen,” Fontanals said.

Until now, the sector’s companies are overseen by the Communications Secretariat led by Norberto Brenner.

Telecommunications analyst Enrique Carrier seemed to agree with Fontanals.

“It’s a good move not to allow telcos to offer satellite TV, but this issue with the enforcement authority — that is now too discretionality — must be solved as well,” Carrier wrote on his Twitter acount.

Opposition blocs have so far failed to comment on the amendments to the bill.

Senator Gerardo Morales (UCR-Jujuy) said his colleagues needed “at least one week to analyze them” and asked Fellner for a week’s time before the committee gives its opinion. But the FpV representative said “all voices had been heard” and went on with the decision, which passed with the FpV’s majority.

The government wants to discuss the issue on the floor next Wednesday so as to allow the Lower House to secure its final approval before the end of the year.

¿Por qué somos el país más anti-norteamericano del continente?

Anti-US sentiment rises in Argentina Uncle Sam’s popularity lowest in the region as disillusionment with President Obama kicks in

por Ignacio Portes y Federico Poore
Buenos Aires Herald, 17-11-2014

Anti-US sentiment is running high in the country, with a recent poll indicating that only 36 percent of Argentines have a favourable view of the United States.

The staggering figure is a full five percent lower than last year and the lowest of the Barack Obama era, the survey — conducted by the Pew Research Centre — revealed.

Experts consulted by the Herald argued that while the US has at times been a scapegoat for the local political class since the mid-20th century, developments like the role played by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in recent years, and the failed promises of the Obama administration have led to disenchantment with the world’s number one economy.

Uncle Sam’s popularity in the land of tango is the lowest in Latin America, way below figures from other key countries in the region such as Chile (72 percent), Brazil (65 percent) and Venezuela (62 percent). In fact, Argentines seems to be even more “anti-American” than Arab nations like Tunisia (42 percent) and Lebanon (41 percent).

In a list of G20 nations, ranked according to their “favourable” views of the US, Argentina scores among the bottom three spots, with admiration of the US only lower in Russia — a long-time foe of Washington — and surprisingly, in Turkey.

Carlos Escudé, scholar and former foreign policy adviser to the Carlos Menem administration, said he was not surprised by results.

“Argentines have in mind that our country historically entertained not-so-good relations with the US — unlike other Latin American nations such as Brazil,” Escudé told the Herald.

“The conflict comes from long ago, when Brazil and the US became members of the allied coalition that participated in World War I. These smooth relations continued beyond the forties and into the postwar period, while Argentina was being economically boycotted by the United States,” Escudé recalled.

According to historian Mario Rapoport, Argentina has “never been understood” by the US.

“I’ve read scores of diplomatic documents where the US talks about Argentina and vice-versa, and there’s an incredible amount of verbal violence when they refer to us, and not so much the other way round. The accusations of Nazism against Argentina were always led by the US, and they weren’t really true,” Rapoport argued.

Both specialists agree about the role of the economy in the historic rivalry. In Escudé’s view, “the Brazilian economy, unlike Argentina’s, got developed in a way which was complementary to that of the US,” while Rapoport adds that “Brazil sold the US its coffee, Chile its copper, but Argentina was seen as more of a competitor.”

One should also take into account the appeal that Europe’s always had to the Argentine elite and middle classes, Escudé said, explaining that other countries which have also clashed strongly with the the US such as Mexico or more recently Venezuela have, instead, “a strong US influence at a very popular level: I mean, people play baseball, something unthinkable in Argentina.”

Even though some specialists trace the conflict back to the early 19th century, when Argentine conservatives favoured the UK over the rising US, the first tenure of Juan Domingo Perón is widely seen as a turning point in the popular sentiment regarding this rocky bilateral relation.

Perón won the election with the historical slogan “Braden or Perón,” which confronted him with the then US ambassador Spruille Braden, a businessman tied to the United Fruit Company and Standard Oil, who had accused Perón of being sympathetic towards the Nazis. Even if relations with the US improved afterwards, with Perón signing an oil contract with California’s Standard Oil, large parts of the labour movement would go on to fondly remember Perón’s period with the chant “neither Yankees nor Marxists: Peronists”.

“Argentina has a very politicized society, there are pro- and anti- feelings about everything. And the relationship with the US has been politicized since, at least, the 1940s,” says political scientist María Esperanza Casullo, who runs the news portal Artepolítica.

The sentiment has deepened in recent years, Casullo added.

“Overexposure of IMF officials during the 2001 economic crisis surely added to the mix,” she says, and recalled the fact that Anoop Singh’s IMF mission to Argentina Anoop Singh made it to the local headlines for almost a year.

“In any other country no one would recall the surname — not to say the face — of a third-rank official of the IMF,” Casullo argued.

During the 1990s, Argentina held a close — “carnal”, in the words of then-Foreign Minister Guido di Tella — relationship with the United States, but the decade ended in tears, with a five-year recession started in 1997, for which the US ended up getting a significant portion of the blame.

“Di Tella and (his predecessor Domingo) Cavallo tried to changed Argentina’s political culture toward the United States in the 90s,” explained Escudé, who was part of that effort, “but regrettably it failed.”

In his view, this has meant that the US remains a convenient scapegoat used by the political classes to try to influence the mood of the masses in the local political battleground.

Obama: no hope

A more recent shift was the country’s opinion of the incumbent US president. Confidence in Obama has fallen from 41 to 31 percent in just one year. It is not only the lowest in the region (even 33 percent of Venezuelans have a positive view in the US president) but the lowest since the Democrat leader took office in 2009.

At the beginning of the first Obama administration, 61 percent of Argentines were confident in the powerful head of state (a major improvement since the all-time-low seven-per-cent popularity of George W. Bush). But trust has been eroding ever since.

“The war against Iraq launched by Bush had a major impact here,” Casullo said. “But we must not forget that Obama’s policies toward the region are very similar to the ones of his predecessor.”

Historian Mario Rapoport seems to agree — but with a disenchanted twist.

“Argentina was never a major area of interest for Obama,” Rapoport told the Herald. “As a matter of fact, the country has never been a priority for the US when it comes to its relationship with Latin America.”

But the sentiment is a two-way street, the historian said.

“Argentina has always maintained privileged relations with Europe in terms of markets and cultural affinity.”

The US free-market culture is much less trusted than Europe’s economic ideas, seen as more friendly to the idea of state intervention.

Most recently, the US administration was seen as unsopportive of Argentina’s position in the sovereign debt conflict with the Paul Singer-led vulture funds in New York’s courts, with President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner complaining about Obama’s lack of intervention, compared to when even his predecessor George W. Bush helped Congo in a similar case.