Alberto Fernández: the fifth Peronism?

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When he proposes to “inaugurate” a new branch of Peronism, Fernández, while maintaining the evolutionary tradition, positions himself as different

By José Carlos Callegari*

Alberto Fernández was elected president of Argentina at the end of October with almost 48% of the votes, displacing the liberal Mauricio Macri and promising to get the country out of a deep economic and social crisis that led to the decree, by Congress, of a state of food emergency until 2022 due to the vertiginous growth of people below the poverty line.

Fernández's announcement as a presidential candidate came as a surprise to anyone who expected Cristina Kirchner, his vice-president, to embark on a new electoral campaign. Former president of the nation, Cristina has been involved in recent years in several accusations of corruption, which she attributes to a judicial persecution of the opposition, and chose to run for vice in a gesture of pragmatism that was interpreted by the opponents as a way to maintain her position of senator, and consequently her parliamentary immunity, and by allies as a gesture of political composition and appeal to consensus.

Pragmatism that is a hallmark of the new Argentine president. In his youth, during the brutal Argentine dictatorship, Fernández participated in the conservative student movement, sometimes flirting with right-wing Peronism and sometimes with independent groups. In 1983, already graduated in law from the University of Buenos Aires, he joined the Nationalist Constitutional Party, an association that in 2019 supported Macri, but soon migrated to the Justicialist Party, the classic Peronist party founded in 1946 by Perón himself.

This does not, however, prevent Fernández from participating in the government of Raul Alfonsín, the first president of Argentina's re-democratization and affiliated with the UCR (Radical Civic Union), a traditional opposition party to Peronism since the time Lieutenant Juan Domingo Perón ascended to power and radically changed the Argentine political history.

Alberto Fernández continues his political trajectory participating in the neoliberal government of the Peronist Carlos Menem and reaches his, until then, maximum position as Head of the Cabinet of Ministers, a kind of Minister-Chief of the Civil House, of the also Peronist, but with progressive traits, Nestor Kirchner.

Explaining Peronism is not an easy task. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of very consistent studies have focused, and still are, on this political phenomenon that made the Argentine State tremble in the 40s of the last century and still plays a central role in the political debate of the neighboring country. Since Perón participated in the military coup of 1943, putting an end to the dictatorship of the “infamous decade”, he was elected in 1946, overthrown by a coup in 1955 that made it a crime to simply carry a photo of the Lieutenant General, he returned from exile and was elected again in 1973, died in 1974 and left the government with his second wife Isabel, who lost control of the country and paved the way for the 1976 coup, Argentina went through several phases of the so-called Peronism.

Alejandro Horowicz, journalist, essayist and scholar of Peronism, in his classic book The Four Peronisms (Buenos Aires, Edhasa) establishes this classification in phases.

The first phase goes from the profound social unrest of the masses, which even created the Peronist Loyalty Day (October 17, 1945) – a date equaled to May 1st as a national holiday of exaltation to the government during Perón’s first terms in office – until the coup de 1955. The second Peronism, called by other authors such as Daniel James, “Peronism of resistance”, occurs during the general's exile. The third Peronism would be his third presidency until his death.

The fourth Peronism corresponds to Isabel's right-wing government, which practically led Argentina to a civil war with a resurgence of military repression and the rise of the tone of the left-wing guerrillas. During all these years, left and right movements joined the ranks of Peronism. From extreme right-wing armed groups to extreme left-wing revolutionary guerrillas, who clashed and killed each other, were all Peronists.

Kirchnerism, identified with Peronism, founded its own center-left party, the Civic Unit, but it failed to establish itself as an autonomous political force, and perhaps that was not even the intention. Cristina's gesture of assuming the vice-presidency on Alberto's ticket, in addition to the pragmatic and imaginary motives of Kirchnerism, served, albeit as a side effect, to rehabilitate Peronism as a political force opposing Mauricio Macri.

In a recent interview with journalist Cynthia García, Fernández declared: “I feel like a left-wing liberal, a progressive liberal. I believe in individual freedoms and I believe that the State has to be present for whatever the market needs. And I am a Peronist. I am inaugurating the branch of Peronist progressive liberalism”.

Alberto Fernández knows Argentine history and knows the history of Peronism. By intending to “inaugurate” a branch of Peronism, he maintains the evolutionary tradition of this political movement and places himself as new, as something different from what existed before. It's still too early to talk about a fifth Peronism, and it's not even known if that's exactly what will happen.

But the fact is that the memory of Juan Domingo Perón is stronger than ever in Argentina and that the success of Alberto Fernández's government will be the success of that memory as well, but the eventual failure, given all the changing history of Peronism, will not be enough to bury the movement that remains alive and influential in Argentina more than 70 years after the first election of Lieutenant General Juan Domingo Perón.

*Jose Carlos Callegari He is a lawyer and a graduate student at the Faculty of Law at USP

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