Sergio Massa is the representative of Peronism in the Argentine presidential race, which will be decided next Sunday (22). In a country tumultuous due to a dramatic socioeconomic situation, a particularly aggressive electoral dispute and a growing disbelief in the political system, he presents himself as the candidate who will defend the workers and promote a government of national unity, which can calm tempers and find a way forward. way out of the crisis.
Massa is the current Minister of Economy, a position he has held for just over a year. With a conciliatory profile, he took over when the president decided to unify the portfolios of Economy, Productive Development and Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries to centralize actions in the face of the worsening crisis. As some say, he is a kind of super minister or the de facto president, responsible for “holding down” the government and leading the renegotiation of the billion-dollar debt with the IMF (International Monetary Fund).
Massa, who is running for president through the União pela Pátria coalition with the conservative Patricia Bullrich (Together for Change) and the ultra-liberal Javier Milei (A Liberdade Avança) — the other candidates are extras, according to the polls — is a pragmatic politician, who dialogues well with the powers, whether international (particularly the IMF), or the internal powers in Argentina.
To help us understand who the government candidate is, journalist Mario Santucho, editor of Crisis magazine, gives a brief history of how his political group was organized in recent years. The Frente de Todos, a Peronist coalition formed to face former president Mauricio Macri (2015-2019), was made up of three currents: Kirchnerism, massism and Albertism.
Kirchnerism, with current vice-president Cristina Kirchner at its head, would be, ideologically, the most left-wing current in the coalition. It includes Axel Kicillof, who is running for re-election as governor of the province of Buenos Aires and has a chance of being re-elected. Albertism, a reference to President Alberto Fernández, would be the center-left. And massism, a reference to Carlos Massa, would be the right of the coalition.
Massa took the lead in the coalition when he became Economy Minister at a time of crisis, when the government was very crowded, with different guidelines that did not agree with each other, recalls Santucho. Supported by Kirchnerism, the majority faction of the coalition, he arranged for the most important sectors to be under his responsibility and then became a candidate — with Agustín Rossi, President Alberto Fernández’s chief of staff, as vice president. He was not Cristina Kirchner’s favorite candidate, but she thought it would be good to support him.
“The crisis is so acute that the government could not finish if Massa were not a candidate, which would be more disastrous”, assesses Santucho. “Massa’s greatest endorsement is his ability to manage and negotiate with the powers, but that was of no use. His management was even worse than the previous one.”
In an atypical electoral campaign like the current one, in which the three main candidates have the support of practically a third of the electorate, as the results of the primary elections demonstrated, analysts point out that anything can happen. Some institutes point to Massa in first place, something that History professor at UnB Carlos Vidigal, who has a doctorate in International Relations and a specialist in Argentina, finds strange because of the country’s economic situation. But he considers that the candidate has the political heritage of Peronism, well-established client networks and the history of the Macri government, which was “very bad”. “So maybe the pendulum is swinging in his favor.”
Asked about the current government, which is also poorly evaluated and is in the midst of a crisis, Vidigal thinks that, even so, the social aspect can cause a considerable movement to maintain the status quo. “Social programs have a very strong appeal in Argentina. While Milei is a threat to social programs, Massa is a guarantee of continuity.” And if the reasoning is to reject the political establishment, one of Milei’s favorite flags, Massa may benefit “because he positioned himself in a middle ground between Peronism and Kirchnerism”, assesses the professor.
Santucho points out three positive aspects in Massa. One of them is the image of courage, of the politician who goes ahead, who “grabbed the hot potato when no one wanted to.” Another is the strong alliance with Kirchnerism, even though it is, in his view, an alliance of mutual convenience, without an ideological basis. And the third is the possibility that the candidate embodies a kind of political mutation for the better, something that “usually happens in Peronism”. An example, he says, is Néstor Kirchner, who was a traditional governor from the south of the country, and as president (2003-2007) “modified his trajectory and linked himself to the best of Argentine democratic traditions.”
“There are those who say that Massa is a similar figure, who could surprise with his desire for power, flexibility and pragmatism. But it could also be that, with so much pragmatism, he will put an end to Kirchnerism once and for all”, speculates the Argentine journalist.
Comings and goings
Massa, who began his political career on the liberal right, later switched to Peronism and became a strong ally of Cristina Kirchner, so much so that he became her chief of staff during the presidency (2007-2015). Around 2013, he became a strong opponent of Kirchnerism, in a split that may have contributed to Macri’s victory six years later.
Mario Santucho, who breathes Argentine politics in his daily professional life, sees Sergio Massa as a center-right political figure in the Argentine ideological spectrum. He points out two arguments, among others: 1. he led a repressive management in terms of security as mayor of Tigre, a municipality neighboring Buenos Aires; 2. did not mobilize to defend the indigenous leader Milagro Sala, victim of “one of the clearest examples of lawfare (political and judicial persecution) against a social leader” — she is in prison, as she was convicted of illicit association, as leader of the organization social Tupac Amaru.
At the end of the campaign in the province of Buenos Aires, Massa, the pragmatist who talks to everyone, announced that, if he wins, his first obligation will be “loyalty to work” and will propose the formation of a government of national unity with ten state policies from December 10th, inauguration day. Such policies, he said, will focus on five areas: formal and protected employment; development of national industry; intelligent exploitation of natural resources; discussion of external debt and human rights.
“On October 17, it was about dipping our toes in the fountain. Today it’s about putting our votes in the ballot box. The objective is the same: defending the same rights, dignity and fighting for a fair, free and sovereign homeland “, he spoke last Tuesday (17), when Peronist Loyalty Day was celebrated.
The reference to feet in the fountain dates back to October 17, 1945, when, under a scorching sun, a mobilization led by a renewed working class invaded Buenos Aires and occupied Plaza de Mayo to demand the freedom of then colonel Juan Domingo Perón, detained by the current government, of which he was part.
In a place traditionally frequented by a well-behaved and well-mannered elite, people from different social and racial backgrounds lifted their pants above their knees and entered a fountain to bathe, a scene that was photographed and entered into posterity. The following year, Perón would be elected president for his first term (1946-1955), while a political current with mass weight emerged, which dialogued with the left and right, and would bear his name.
Alongside Massa at the campaign’s closing event, Kicillof highlighted the difference between the Peronist political project and others. “There are two presidential candidates who have spent their time attacking the achievements of the working people, the middle classes, the national industry. They propose to exterminate Peronism and social justice. They propose hatred and violence”, he said. “We responded with proposals, with love and care for our people.”
“Talking about freedom is one thing, but for there to be freedom, there must first be equal opportunities”, declared the candidate for re-election for the government of Buenos Aires.
Sergio Massa, 51 years old, comes from a family of Italians who arrived in Argentina in the post-war period. At a certain point in his childhood, his paternal grandfather noticed his interest in politics and warned him not to follow that path. “Don’t get into politics, politics is dirty”, the grandfather would have said, according to the candidate’s recollection.
But it was in vain. Massa’s life was punctuated by politics from an early age. He says that, at the age of 11, he climbed on top of a bucket and imitated the authorities’ speeches that he saw on television. As a teenager, he began to join the Democratic Center Union party, on the liberal right. In 1994, he interrupted his law studies at the University of Belgrano, which he would only complete during the 2013 electoral campaign, and began a career in public administration. In 1999, he was elected provincial deputy at the age of 27. In the federal Legislature, he was deputy and president of the Chamber.
With information from Página 12, CNN Brasil, Haroldo magazine and the website A Terra é Redonda.
Editing: Leandro Melito