In the past fifteen years, several of South America’s governments have faced a problem like that of fictional male supermodel Derek Zoolander. Zoolander claims to be deprived of the privileges of “ambi-turners,” who, unlike him, have the ability to turn to the left. Conversely, the major governments of our southern neighbors—including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Venezuela—have been unable to turn to the right. Since the beginning of the 2000s, several South American countries have been entrenched in a “Pink Tide”—a trend of populist and socialist governments inspired to varying degrees by commanding leaders such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Argentina’s Juan Peron. At several points in the past decade, over 75% of South America’s inhabitants lived under a “left-leaning” president.

Yet as of just last month, this “Pink Tide” is beginning to ebb. Argentina’s November presidential runoff produced Mauricio Macri, a center-right candidate who has broken the nearly fifteen-year trend of left-wing populism. Macri, the former mayor of Buenos Aires and member of the Republican Proposal Party, represents a shift in Argentina away from the leftist populism of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her husband, Nestor.

Under both of the Kirchners, Argentina’s  economy has sputtered, and its status as a democracy has continuously come into question. Under Cristina alone, the fiscal deficit rose 6%, while Central Bank reserves have reached near-zero levels, only to maintain an overvalued official exchange rate. In 2001, the Argentine government converted all dollar savings into pesos at an overwhelmingly unfavorable rate, leaving many in contempt but leaving few with a resolution. Ten years later, an alternative currency exchange began to take stride in the form of the “blue” dollar trade. The “blue” market is essentially an underground method of exchanging dollars for pesos at a rate more relevant to the international economy—not the unreasonable rate that had been continually imposed by the Kirchner governments. While perhaps comparable to black market behavior, the “blue” is used by tourists and businessmen alike to evade excessive fees.

Mauricio Macri seems to offer a transparent and trustworthy alternative for a depleted country. Portrayed as a center-right candidate, Macri ultimately represents a free-market, neoliberal political system contrary to Kirchner’s stringent economic sanctions and seemingly unending corruption. He has already expressed his will to end Argentine currency controls, which have been in place since the establishment of the “blue” market. Furthermore, he has gone to great lengths to denounce the populist government of Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro, the heir of Hugo Chavez’s socialist regime.

However, immediate change is a long shot for the Argentine economy, as Macri can only start to heal the wound by stopping the bleeding. Faced with an economy that has barely grown since October of 2011 and with an inflation rate of 25%, Argentina will surely face some sort of recession in the coming years to curb inflation and kickstart its permanent return to the international economy. This means Argentina will need to reach out to investors who were, for the lack of a better term, betrayed by the Kirchners. This will not be easy for Macri; he barely won the presidential nomination against his counterpart, former State Governor of Buenos Aires Daniel Scioli, and now faces the leftovers from the Kirchners’ reigns in a largely Peronist Congress.

Another country in the midst of economic disarray, Venezuela, saw similar results just last week in their parliamentary elections. The Democratic Unity Party, in opposition to the Socialist Party of Nicolás Maduro, was able to garner a two-thirds majority. The new parliamentary leadership will seek to call a referendum on Maduro’s leadership, which could potentially curb the Socialist movement that began in 1999 and serve as an inspiration to neighboring South American countries. However, until Venezuela can accomplish a change in leadership comparable to that of Argentina, it will continue to be denounced by Macri, who has already called for Venezuela’s suspension from Mercosur, a sub-regional economic pact that includes the two countries. While Macri may represent an impetus for regional change, he also has the capacity to stoke ideological polarization, which might only lead to further tension.

As the Pink Tide begins to subside, another country whose leadership has come into question is Brazil. Under its current president Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s ride has been all but smooth. Rousseff has faced corruption accusations related to her previous role at Brazilian oil giant Petrobras, as well as declining approval ratings that dipped below 10% in July of this year. Formal processions towards her impeachment have already begun in the Brazilian congress. While this may serve to catalyze a Brazilian movement to the right as well, Mauricio Macri, with no time to spare, has nonetheless sought to facilitate relations with Brazil.

He has expressed hope for Argentina’s trade relations with Brazil in a “strategic alliance”, and his first trip as president-elect was to Brasília to meet with Rousseff. While his neighbor to the north may not be completely on board with his political ideals, Macri realizes Brazil’s standing as Argentina’s primary commercial partner. Later that day, Macri travelled to Santiago de Chile to meet President Michelle Bachelet. His warm disposition and will to facilitate change in the region is already apparent, even in his first days in office.

Though he is placing a strong emphasis on regional ties, Macri understands the importance of amity with the United States. Having spent but a days in office following his December 10th inauguration, he already has plans to tighten ties with Washington. This might prove to be an easier feat for Macri, who starts on a clean slate, than for Kirchner, who defaulted in 2014 on loans to several major American banks. Macri also pledges to work with the American government to fight Argentina’s drug epidemic, which has stained the villas (slums) of Buenos Aires and other urban centers around the country. Macri has additionally voiced his commitment to improving relations with Great Britain, abandoning the seemingly antiquated Falkland Island dispute and moving towards constructive dialogue.

While there is still a Peronist majority in the Argentine senate, and his election in no way represents an economic panacea, Mauricio Macri gives the people of Argentina and South America hope for their future. In Macri, many see a level headed man who can foster in Argentina the democratic standards of freedom and honesty, which several young voters have yet to fully experience in their lifetime. While several conservative American presidential candidates, like Donald Trump and Ben Carson, seem to be turning back the clocks with their questionable policy proposals, Macri shares with them only their title of “conservative politician” and should hardly be held in the same light. Already, Macri has been progressively pushing for change in the highest ranks of the Argentine government. And with Cambiemos—“lets change”—as his campaign slogan, this push for change will assuredly continue.

The ghost of Hugo Chavez lives on in the likes of Rousseff and Maduro. But a new legacy might be emerging, a legacy that holds the ability to alter the momentum of decades of South American politics. Yet Mauricio Macri can only move Argentina forward in a symbiotic relationship with the Argentine people. In his efforts for a better Argentina, he faces not only a dubious international community, but also a politically disillusioned populace at home. Thus, he embarks on his political journey with just one plea: “Do not leave me alone.”

 

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