The beginning of the end for Argentina’s Macri

By Martin Burgos.

“Political vacuum”, “default” and “hyperinflation”: these are the terms being used by several economists from Argentina’s public service, discussing the country’s current political and economic situation.

Earlier this month, the Peronist opposition led by Alberto Fernández defeated the right-wing government of President Mauricio Macri in the primary elections by 47 per cent to 32 per cent. Primary elections in Argentina feature a selection of candidates and are open to the entire electorate, not only party members. the system was introduced in 2009 as a way of reducing the number of candidates in presidential elections. The participation rate for the the primaries held on August 11 was 75 per cent of the electorate.

Right-wing Argentinian President Mauricio Macri looks set to lose the Presidential election on October 27

This result, in effect, means that there is no chance that President Macri can reverse the situation in the presidential elections scheduled for October 27. Fernández leads the main opposition coalition, Frente de Todos, and his running mate is the former left-wing President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. If he succeeds in gaining 45 per cent of the vote (or 40 per cent with a 10 per centage point lead), he will be elected President in the first round.

This situation means that we currently have a president continuing in office, with Fernández waiting to be able to assume his duties on December 10, after the ratification of his election in October.

As a result, Macri and his government exist in a political vacuum: he does not have the real power to lead the country and implement economic policies, while Fernández has real power, but not formal power. Game theory identifies this as a potentially dangerous situation, especially since the outgoing president has chosen an aggressive strategy that may be explosive for the country. This moment is reminiscent of the 1989 Alfonsin-Menem transition, when the former president had to anticipate the transition of power in the middle of an episode of hyperinflation.

The reasons for Macri’s defeat are clear: the electorate soundly rejected his neoliberal economic policies that have led to indebtedness, rising interest rates, the fall in GDP and wages since 2016, increases in utility rates, the rise in inflation that has reached 52 per cent (compared to 25 per cent in 2015) and the tumbling exchange rate (at 45 pesos per dollar, compared to nine pesos per dollar in 2015). The economic crisis of 2018, from which the country never recovered, combined with the unification of the opposition explains this political Waterloo of the Argentinian right.

Markets react with capital flight

The day after the primary elections, the exchange rate tumbled further, from 45 to 55 pesos, and the stock market fell by 30 per cent. The Emerging Market Bond Index (EMBI) Country Risk rose from 800 to 1800 points, illustrating investors’ doubts about Argentina’s ability to repay its debts. The 75 per cent interest rate the day after the primaries did not have positive effect on monetary variables, and the rush to the dollar was unstoppable.

For the “markets”, the defeat of their champion is grim news, especially as the talk on Wall Street describes Alberto Fernández as a puppet of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and fears a return of “populism” and “Chavismo” in Argentina.

The risk for Macri is that the economic chaos caused by his allies in the financial world will be used against him in the presidential campaign. For the moment, the support of the International Monetary Fund is propping up the government. The IMF sent the director of the central bank to Washington to request a $20 billion loan from the US government.

While US President Donald Trump has consistently helped Macri, it is very likely that this aid will end. That day, the government will have a hard time coping with the forces of the “market”, the very same forces that promoted Macri to power.

Martin Burgos is an economist at the Centro Cultural de la Cooperación in Argentina. Title photo shows Alberto Fernández, right, with former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner

Save Our Sperrins: Water, more precious than gold

By Niamh Ní Bhriain.

The hills of the Sperrins in County Tyrone are criss-crossed with natural springs that flow off the western slopes towards the River Foyle, while to the east they meander down to Lough Neagh. This endless trickle of water recalls the natural order – water belongs here. But the people of this remote area are struggling to protect it from an impending and devastating gold rush.

Gold deposits

In the 1980s, geochemical surveys confirmed substantial gold deposits in the hills of county Tyrone. Mining companies were however reluctant to exploit the undeveloped gold seam because of the volatile political situation and ongoing armed conflict.

Fast forward 30 years and Canadian mining company, Dalradian Gold, has submitted a 10,000 page planning application to develop an underground mine, estimated to be the seventh largest in the world.

A cocktail of cyanide, mercury, toxic waste and sinkholes

The technical jargon and the enormity of the proposal in the planning application makes for arduous reading. The mine initially envisaged the construction of a cyanide processing plant, a mercury smelting furnace, a toxic waste storage dump, contaminated water storage ponds, a waste water treatment plant and an explosives store, all in a designated area of outstanding natural beauty and within one kilometre of Greencastle primary school and sports grounds.

On 13 August 2019, Dalradian announced that it no longer plans to use cyanide, that the ore would instead be exported for treatment elsewhere, but did not mention where.  The possibility remains that the cyanide processing will simply be displaced to some other corner of the globe and some other community will be left with the consequences. Similarly, the company could not confirm if mercury would be used – a significant detail considering the dangers associated with metal poisoning.

Cyanide or not, other problems remain. In a village in county Monaghan at least three sinkholes have opened recently as a result of mining activity leading to the evacuation of homes and the local school, road closure rendering local businesses inaccessible, and the GAA grounds were permanently destroyed by a large crevice that extends across the entire sports pitch.  

Save Our Sperrins protest
Protestors from the Save Our Sperrins campaign

Dalradian maintains that the impact will be minimal. The entrance will be shaded by trees, the building infrastructure will be similar to local farm sheds, and grass will be sown on top of the dump creating a nice new green hill for the Sperrins – albeit a toxic one – so, nothing to worry about it would seem. [The author contacted  Dalradian for further information and its Public Relations representatives had no information about whether mercury would be used or not but were clear that the visual impact would be minimal.]    

Pacification and resistance

Save our Sperrins (SOS) organised to peacefully resist against the advancing gold rush. To date 18,500 objection letters have been submitted to Derry’s Strategic Planning Division. But organising to protect the environment has come at a price. Some protesters have been subjected to acts of intimidation, smear campaigns, verbal abuse, physical violence, and death threats.

The role of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has raised serious concerns that it is dedicated to protecting the company rather than “keeping people safe”, as its slogan suggests.

Protestors described intimidation, surveillance and interrogation by police officers. Rumours suggesting the protestors are dangerous dissident republicans who may be hiding firearms in their protest camp may have been initiated by the police, according to protestors, who prefer not to be named. In one particular case, the police allegedly tried to bribe a protester to become an informer to alert them of any “trouble”.

The author conducted interviews with a number of protesters in July 2019 but will refrain from naming them here for their own safety. Statements to support these testimonies appear on the Greencastle People’s Office and the Save our Sperrins Facebook pages. The author repeatedly contacted the PSNI for a statement regarding their policing of the mining situation   but did not receive a response.

In 2016 the PSNI invoiced Dalradian Gold for approximately £400,000 for their role in escorting explosives related to mining operations. The lines between public policing and private security become dangerously blurred when a state police force can invoice a private company for services provided.

Who then are the police actually serving – the corporation or the people?

What emerges is a pattern of police intimidation, harassment, surveillance, and the blurring of the lines between public policing and private security that exemplifies a global model of policing extractivisim through the pacification of resistance. Pacification, which is often misrepresented as security, encompasses an attempt to police the contours of discontent by shutting down progressive spaces that endeavour to challenge corporate power through legitimate, peaceful resistance.

What next?

With no sitting government in Northern Ireland, Brexit looming large, and the value of gold on the rise as fears grow of another global recession, no one knows exactly what will happen next.

One thing is clear though: the spirit of resistance is palpable in the hills of Tyrone, where the water runs clear and is worth more than gold to the people. They are prepared to protect it.

Niamh Ní Bhriain is coordinator of the Transnational Institute’s War and Pacification programme. Photos by Niamh Ní Bhriain and Lorraine Ní Bhriain. Follow the Save Our Sperrins Facebook page here.