Cracks in the Alliance

The surprise resignation of Argentine Vice President Carlos “Chacho” Alvarez in early October marked a politically explosive climax to the open public feud between President Fernando de la Rúa and his second-in-command over simmering corruption scandals.

Argentine press commentators expressed concern that the departure of Alvarez, who brought his Frepaso party into the Alliance with De la Rúa’s Radicals to win the 1999 presidential election, could precipitate an irreparable breakup of the Alliance, resulting in a minority government forced to negotiate with the Peronist opposition to move its legislative agenda forward in Congress.

Mario Wainfeld, writing in the leftist Página 12 of Buenos Aires (Oct. 12), observed that public assurances from De la Rúa and Alvarez that the Alliance is alive and well “walks a narrow line between boundless delusion and a lie....The presence of Alvarez—that is to say, Frepaso—in the government was, from the moment he agreed to the formula integrating the Alliance, an inescapable key to the coalition. His departure is a blow to the heart that today leaves (the Alliance) on the brink of death.”

De la Rúa found himself backed into a corner by Alvarez’s demands for dismissal of several close presidential advisers, including former Labor Minister Alberto Flamarique and federal intelligence chief Fernando de Santibañes [Santibañes resigned on Oct. 20], who have been implicated in bribes allegedly paid to several senators to secure passage of Argentina’s labor law reform earlier this year, contended Gustavo Fahler López in the Buenos Aires centrist business daily Ambito Financiero (Oct. 11). “If the president of the nation were to accept all his vice president’s impositions, if he were to permit that man to dictate which persons should and...should not be in his...cabinet, then the one who should resign would not be Alvarez, but rather De la Rúa,” said Fahler López.

Within days of Alvarez’s resignation, news that key administration figures linked to the bribery scandal planned to resign merely underscored that “the Argentine political crisis could have been avoided if the leaders of the Frepaso and Radical parties had understood from the start the nature of the coalition that sustains the government,” commented the con- servative O Estado de São Paulo (Oct. 11). Faced with the urgent tasks of reviving a stagnant economy and arresting the climb in double-digit unemployment, “President Fernando de la Rúa now needs to reestablish the unity of the Alliance, restructure his government...and reclaim the confidence of both Argentines and foreign investors, without which he will not be able to overcome the economic crisis,” O Estado concluded.

Paradoxically, De la Rúa’s willingness to reach accommodation with the Peronists on a mutually acceptable candidate to become the Senate’s new leader—number two in the line of succession due to the vice presidential vacancy—bodes well for the president’s prospects to negotiate bipartisan support for his austere fiscal 2001 budget plan, Buenos Aires correspondent Tho-mas Catán reported in the centrist Financial Times of London (Oct. 10). “The whole episode has left a bitter taste in the mouths of many Argentines, who suspect Alvarez was sacrificed because he threatened established interests,” Catan wrote. “But it is a paradox of Argentine politics that the president could now find the country more governable—not less.”