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World & Nation

Macri promises to shake up economy after winning Argentina’s presidency

Macri in Argentina

President-elect Mauricio Macri holds a news conference in Buenos Aires on Nov. 23 after winning Argentina’s presidential election the day before.

(David Fernandez / European Pressphoto Agency)

Sweeping changes lie ahead for Argentina’s economy and foreign policy, including an end to protectionism and unquestioned support for the leftist government in Venezuela, President-elect Mauricio Macri told reporters Monday.

Macri spoke in Buenos Aires at his first news conference after winning Sunday’s runoff election against Daniel Scioli. The victory marks the end of 12 years of Kirchnerismo, the populist left-leaning politics of outgoing President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her late husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner.

Macri said he will implement spending cuts and a slate of free-market policies that will reverse the controls on the economy instituted by Fernandez. Her populist programs sought to keep a lid on domestic prices by shutting off access to foreign markets for Argentine producers of staples such as beef, corn and wheat. But critics say such controls and privatization moves distorted the economy, stunted exports and scared away foreign investors.

Addressing a primary voter concern, Macri said Monday he will declare a state of emergency against the “unpardonable” rise in violent crime across Argentina spurred by an increase in drug use and trafficking. Policing techniques that he said brought crime down in the capital, where he has served as mayor since 2007, will be instituted across the country.

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“It’s a pressing need that we advance professionalism of the nation’s security forces, just as we accomplished it here in the metropolitan force,” Macri said. “We have to start from the first day [in office] to take control of our territory.”

Although Macri promised to rein in government spending that will produce a 7% fiscal deficit this year, he has also vowed to retain her expanded social programs that include education subsidies, pensions and senior citizen care.

The 56-year-old former soccer club president beat Scioli, the governor of Buenos Aires state, by a margin of 51.4% to 48.6%, with a relatively high turnout of 82%. Macri will meet with Fernandez on Tuesday to begin the transition before taking office Dec. 10.

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The incoming president faces serious challenges implementing his proposals as his coalition of parties called Change controls only a minority of seats in both houses of Congress.

Macri served notice that Argentina’s close relationship with the leftist government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro may be coming to an end. He voiced support for opposition politicians, including former Caracas borough Mayor Leopoldo Lopez who has been jailed since early 2014 on what critics maintain are trumped-up charges.

He said he would also propose that Mercosur, the trade bloc of South American nations, suspend Venezuela for its “undemocratic” actions against opposition politicians.

Argentina’s confusing currency policy is also coming to an end, with Macri promising a “single exchange rate.” Currently, the government enforces an official exchange rate between the peso and dollar that is significantly below the unofficial black market rate. Macri has called the policy, which is intended to contain inflation, “an error.”

Many Argentine farmers who opposed Fernandez’s restrictions on their access to foreign markets applauded Macri’s election. They hope it will usher in a period of dialogue with farmers and better access to international markets.

“This is the culmination of a period that started with the conflict between the government and farmers in 2008,” said Mario Caceres, a third-generation cattleman from central Argentina who converted to soy farming after Fernandez restricted beef imports. “It opens an era in which the country can grow with everyone involved.”

Macri also said he would nullify a memorandum of understanding that Fernandez signed with Iranian officials in which she promised to try to lift an Interpol arrest order for 10 Iranians wanted in connection with the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires that killed 85.

A civil engineer by profession, the president-elect hails from the city of Tandil in Buenos Aires state and is the son of one the country’s richest men, Franco Macri, a construction magnate.

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But his career took a sharp turn in 1995 when he became president of one of the country’s most popular soccer clubs, Boca Juniors, where he remained until 2007. His success at running the team in a soccer-mad country opened the door to winning the Buenos Aires mayorship in 2007. His convincing reelection in 2011 made him a front runner in this year’s presidential contest.

Special correspondents D’Alessandro reported from Buenos Aires and Kraul from Bogota, Colombia.

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