Juan Grabois: “There is a crisis in Peronism”

Following the primary elections Argentina, former candidate Juan Grabois says that the ultra-right is rising in working class sectors

August 31, 2023 by Patrícia de Matos
For Juan Grabois, who contested the previous elections in Argentina, the performance of the extreme right is not an isolated fact and exposes the disorientation of Peronism - VICTOR CARREIRA / TELAM / AFP

On August 13, many sectors of Argentine society were left with a bitter taste: Javier Milei, candidate of the ultra-right “La Libertad Avanza” coalition, came first in the primary presidential elections, better known as PASO (Primary, Open, Simultaneous and Compulsory Elections), with 31% of the votes.

The result has shook a country suffering from a deep economic crisis and in which uncertainties about the future seem to have taken root.

Argentina is mired in annual inflation of 113.4%. In August of this year, the poverty rate reached 38.7% of the population, according to an annual compilation by Argentina’s National Statistics and Census Institute (Indec).

A total of 11 million Argentinians, out of just over 45 million inhabitants, expect to be evicted from their homes at any moment because they can’t afford to pay rent, while the government faces a tug-of-war with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to which it owes USD 2.7 billion.

The PASO elections have been held in Argentina since 2009 and they define the candidate of each coalition that will run in the country’s presidential elections, scheduled for October 22. Current Minister of the Economy Sergio Massa will lead the rebranded Frente de Todos peronista coalition, Union for the Homeland (UxP).

Running against him for the ticket was leftist movement leader Juan Grabois, who with his candidacy sought to introduce “measures to restore the income lost [by the population due to the economic crisis]”. Grabois only received 5.7% of the vote and thus will not proceed to the general elections, but he didn’t leave without making some noise.

Running in the same coalition as Sergio Massa, Grabois sees left-wing politicians as distant from the population and advocates that those in positions of power lead simple lives / ALEJANDRO PAGNI / AFP

Grabois is a critical voice of the current government, while maintaining distance from right-wing opposition sectors. The former candidate told Brasil de Fato that the administration of Alberto Fernandez, the current president of Argentina, has not been effective, because “there has been no profound reform”, nor “redistribution of wealth” and that this, in the end, “has allowed the national and popular movement to have its hegemony hijacked and that the hegemony has remained with sectors of the center-right.”

For him, the arrival of an ultra-right candidate in first place was not an isolated incident, because he managed, in the face of the weakness of the Peronist camp, to “penetrate the popular sectors”. Therefore, Grabois argues, that the rise of Javier Milei is not “a phenomenon of the middle classes, nor a phenomenon of the big urban centers. It’s a phenomenon of the provinces and the lower middle classes, who are looking for a false messiah.”

Juan Grabois is part of the Frente Patria Grande. The organization was born in 2018 by a group of young people “tired of the traditional political parties”, according to a manifesto on the movement’s institutional website. Juan, who is also a lawyer and close to the Vatican currently occupied by his fellow compatriot Pope Francis, says his fight is mainly in the field of “counterculture”.

In 2018, Juan Grabois was appointed by Pope Francis as a consultant to the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace / Personal archive

Despite being a critic of Sergio Massa’s candidacy, Grabois sees chances of victory for the UxP candidate. According to him, Massa is not just a candidate, but a “Minister of the Economy, who has more power than any other in Argentina’s history.”

Last Monday August 28, Massa traveled to Brasilia to meet with President Lula and the Minister of the Economy, Fernando Haddad, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mauro Vieira, to discuss trade issues and Argentina’s recent entry into the BRICS.

The neighboring country’s entry into the bloc was a request from Brazil and should, according to analysts, create conditions for Argentina to negotiate better conditions with the IMF. The trip took place just one day after the Argentine minister and presidential candidate announced economic measures to curb inflation and the growth of poverty in his country.

To understand what is happening in Argentina and what are the expectations for the upcoming electoral process, from the point of view of someone who experienced it up close, read the full interview with Juan Grabois with Brasil de Fato.

Brasil de Fato: We had one of the worst results for Peronism in the elections in Argentina. What is happening in Argentine society that the politicians aren’t seeing?

Juan Grabois: Our people are coming from two great disappointments. From almost eight years of social and economic degradation, an increase in inequality, a deterioration in the salaries of formal workers, both in the public and private sectors.  And this is exacerbated among the informal sectors, which make up almost half of Argentina’s working class. The first disappointment was the government of Mauricio Macri, who came to power in Argentina with a discourse that is far from the Bolsonaro narrative.

And Argentina finishes this government [of Mauricio Macri] with a ten percentage point increase in poverty, from 25 to 35%, and with debt to multilateral financial organizations that is the biggest in our history and in the biggest of our creditor, the International Monetary Fund.

What happened was that there was no profound reform, no process of redistribution of wealth. And so we reached the end of Alberto’s term with another 6 to 7 points increase in poverty. With almost 40% poverty in Argentina, now it’s certainly more. And with 70% child poverty.

I believe that the people are critical of this status quo, which has not changed substantially in the last eight years, at least in economic terms. On the other hand, there is a strong questioning of what we like to call “nominalism”, the narrative that is totally dissociated from the material reality of the people. A progressive and popular narrative and a people who are impoverished and whose rights are violated in their effective, concrete and daily reality, in other words, rights are expanded nominally, verbally, but are reduced in practical terms.

In this context, a phenomenon emerges from the point of view, in principle, strongly accentuated by the system, by the national bourgeoisie, by the main media conglomerates. It is the phenomenon of a libertarian right, of extreme neoliberalism, which calls itself anarcho-capitalist, in other words, the destruction of the state in order to implement a system exclusively governed by the market, which includes agendas that are foreign to our way of life, such as the legalization of the sale of organs.

In other words, the absolute commodification of everything. The privatization of public education, the privatization of scientific and technical entities. But despite this discourse, this positioning, this ultra-individualist and ultra-liberal ideology, he proposes a very accurate diagnosis.

Then, on the basis of an accurate diagnosis, they come to dehumanizing conclusions. But the correct diagnosis is based on two pillars: the existence of a political caste that represents, in some way, a system of power based on relationships of friendship, nepotism, the encapsulation of politics, self-interest, the corporatization of politics.

BdF: Historically, Peronism has always led against the traditional right. Now we have [Javier] Milei in the lead. Do you think Massa has real chances of winning?

JG: Our aim is for each of these votes to condition the policy of UxP, both in this critical moment now, because we are coming from a 20% devaluation and there is a situation of exorbitant price increases, and in a possible government program for the future, but with an absolute awareness that it will be necessary to fight. There really is a crisis in Peronism.

This crisis stems from the existence of a strategic leadership that sets very clear guidelines that are very similar to our thinking, embodied by Cristina Kirchner. But this strategic leadership cannot exercise electoral positions due to a de facto proscription by the judicial mafia system and the communications system and a large part of the political system, because they consider her the only electorally competitive leader who can confront these interests. Therefore, they have done everything you can imagine, including an assassination attempt, to prevent her from being a candidate or being a protagonist in decisions.

And this has allowed the national and popular movement to have its hegemony hijacked and for the hegemony to be left to center-right sectors. They are the hegemony of the movement today. This means an enormous crisis, because it generates enormous disorientation in the intense militancy itself of trade union, student and social sectors.

So it’s a crisis that can do very deep damage to the movement, added to the electoral difficulty we have, which, in my humble opinion, can be reversed, because the defeat we suffered is comparable to the defeat of the traditional right.

We received 27.5%, the traditional right received 28.5%, Macrism, and Milei 30%. We are one point behind the traditional right and three points behind the neoliberal ultra-right. The fundamental difference between now and then is that the neoliberal ultra-right has a working class base. It has managed to penetrate the working class sectors. And, rationally, the popular sectors are turning their backs on us, who claim to defend their interests, but in practice are not doing so correctly. In other words, it’s not a phenomenon of the middle classes, nor is it a phenomenon of the big urban centers. It’s a phenomenon of the provinces and the lower and lower-middle classes, who are looking for a false messiah.

Faced with the loss of all hope, they are looking for a false messiah who, in reality, is the Pied Piper of Hamelin who is going to lead our people to collective suicide. Unfortunately, the reaction of the political class is to be angry with the electorate instead of making a strong self-criticism of the absolute failure of government policies to change people’s lives.

BdF: What actions are you planning to take in the short term to ensure victory in the October elections?

JG: I think there are conditions to win, as long as measures are taken starting today. Because Massa isn’t just the candidate, he’s the economy minister. And he has more power than anyone in Argentina’s history. He’s practically the president.

If there are no measures to compensate for the devaluation of the currency, that is, to recover the real wages of both formal salaried workers and the self-employed and informal workers, there is no way of predicting the outcome.

So, for reasons that combine the prospect of social justice with the prospect of an electoral victory, we are using our votes to push for a policy of income recovery, which is what we have been negotiating over the last few days.

In addition, there is a very deep housing crisis in Argentina. We are pushing for them to launch a program that is already prepared for the distribution of land that is fundamentally urban, as well as rural, but fundamentally urban. Argentina is a highly urbanized country, 93% of the population is urban.

And there are more than 6 million people living in “villas”, which are slums. And 11 million people live in rented accommodation. In other words, there is a brutal housing crisis, because devaluation leads to an increase in all rental contracts and the anguish of the millions of families who are on the verge of being evicted needs to be remedied with very firm measures, such as the distribution of land and also the freezing of rental contracts for at least six months.

So there are a series of tough measures that need to be taken, and they are not extreme measures. In our program, we propose an extreme measure for a country that is within Western capitalism and US geopolitical hegemony, which is to cancel the program agreed with the IMF now.

We are not asking Massa for this. Nor are we asking for the nationalization of Argentina’s lithium and strategic assets. We’re not asking for that. We are simply asking for measures to restore lost income, measures to level out the social distribution of income, measures to provide access to urban land for the construction of housing and measures for the housing and food crisis, because at the moment the community canteens are working at maximum capacity due to the lack of food at reasonable prices for the popular sectors.

BdF: On the website of the “Frente Patria Grande” there is a quote that says you are tired of traditional politics. What do you mean by that?

JG: Our generation was fundamentally formed during the 2001 crisis. We, who are now 40 years old, are the oldest members of the Patria Grande Front. Our organization is “sub-40”. The oldest must be 45. And this is the generation of “everyone out!”

It’s the generation of the piquetero movement, the rural movement, the recyclers movement, the reclaimed factories, the independent student movement. It’s a generation that was formed outside the traditional political structures and which then acquired, in a way, an awareness of the need to intervene in the process of fighting for the state, without losing its own identity.

So the effort we make is that participation in the electoral political system doesn’t take away from us the revolutionary perspective, of profound changes, of putting the human being at the center, above macroeconomic theories, because we see a dehumanization, not only in politics but also in culture and society.

So our struggle is counter-cultural. It’s linked to certain ethical values, for example, the humbleness of the leaders. Our field has already suffered a lot of damage due to the fact that most of the leaders are multi-millionaires. It’s very difficult to explain why we, who fight for social justice, have a leadership that lives like the upper bourgeoisie. On the other hand, there are issues that are taboo in Argentina, such as agrarian reform, which are strategic needs.

And we are proposing all of this without considering ourselves a rupture, as if history had begun when we arrived. The history of the popular movement in Argentina and Latin America goes back hundreds of years, from the struggle of the Indigenous peoples, the wars of independence, Peronism, the popular Latin American governments, Evo, Lula, Néstor, Cristina, Correa, Chávez.

We are claiming the history of popular Latin American governments, now with Petro, López Obrador, Lula again. That’s why we set up international solidarity brigades in Brazil, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. We recorded violations in Bolivia, human rights violations during the dictatorship and persecution processes in each of these countries.

We have a very solid team of lawyers and anthropologists who work on human rights issues. And we were present at the difficult moments of each process. Because we also believe that Argentina’s macroeconomic problem cannot be solved without Latin American unity, just as we believe that the social, territorial and environmental problems of Brazil or Paraguay will not be solved without Latin American unity, for reasons of historical perspective, but also for very practical reasons, such as climate change, deforestation, logging, water pollution, which have no political borders.

And in our case in particular, the permanent flight of foreign currency cannot be avoided with a tight central market like ours. We need monetary unification first of all with Brazil, to create a regional currency, a South American and Latin American euro, a common Central Bank, critically reproducing the experience of the European Union, understanding its mistakes and limitations, giving it a Latin American impetus, but also assuming that our Latin American territorial space has been balkanized by imperial interests and that reunification is a strategic necessity, without which it is not possible to humanize politics, geopolitics, the economy and society, because local scales do not allow it.

BdF: The youth were very important in stopping Bolsonaro in Brazil. And in Argentina, the youth seem to have sympathy for Milei. Has the left lost its ability to channel the revolt of the youth?

JG: It has lost the ability to channel any transgression or revolt. And when it does, it’s to moderate, curb or contain the revolt. This has happened in the social movements, in the rural, Indigenous and feminist movements. In other words, it has become trapped in a regrettable nationalization.

In the last four years, while people lost rights, organizations were empowered. And this has brought organizations into question. Because the organizations are stronger and the population is more impoverished and has fewer rights.

This applies to all movements, including student and youth movements. So I believe that there is a strong reaction to this hypocrisy and that the fight to recover from it is going to be difficult, very difficult. But the possibility of a victory today is slim, but very feasible.

Because it’s not as if Milei had 50% of the vote. He has a third of the electorate. The traditional right has a third. And we have a third of the electorate. There will probably be a second round and in the second round we unfortunately won’t have a popular progressive front against the right, but we could have a scheme more similar to Macron’s in France, with a center alliance in the face of the danger that Milei represents not only for working class interests, but also for the bourgeoisie, in other words, a sector with irrational, openly dehumanizing, dogmatic and ideological proposals is not preferred by Argentina’s economic, political and corporate system.

So the whole thing is complex. It’s not linear, in terms of good and bad. It’s all mixed together, like wheat. And in this sense, our force, which today is expanded into a coalition, which is “Argentina Humana”, has the obligation to develop the main contradiction, which today is against the right and the ultra-right, but without losing sight of the secondary contradiction.

The secondary contradiction is also very acute. The contradiction within the “Union for the Homeland” is also very acute. And we have to make a great effort to change the orientation of the hegemonic political proposal in our space towards an orientation that calls for the distribution of wealth, distribution of income, care for nature and with less frivolity in politics.

This article was translated from an article originally published in Portuguese on Brasil de Fato