BUENOS AIRES Ė Complete text of the exclusive interview with Argentine President Mauricio Macri, done by EFE Agency in Buenos Aires.
Mr. President, is governing Argentina more difficult than you imagined? Are you comfortable in the Casa Rosada (Argentine presidential home and office)?
I feel comfortable, committed. I love my country. I am passionate about my fellow citizens, which is why I promised to lead them towards the growth we all need and believe in. The start was without a doubt bad because of the economic crisis left over by the previous Government, which was awash with corruption and lies. Fortunately, we Argentinians are capable of recovering and we are passionately dedicated to achieving our goals.
Your government promised to control inflation, but it is still through the roof. Could it be a failure for your Government? You also promised ďzero poverty,Ē but statistics say there are still many poor people in the country.
First, I want to say that I imagine that neither in Spain nor in the rest of the world are things done from one day to the next or from one year to the next, or even one presidency. When we said that a fundamental concept for us in Argentina was ďzero poverty,Ē we meant a path that fortunately we are already on. If you were to review these past nine months, you would see that every day we are doing better. For example, with regards to inflation, no-one believed us, just like no-one believed that we were going to leave the capital controls and unify the exchange rate in one week and cancel the conflict with holdouts in three months. We said we were going to lower inflation in the second semester and inflation, which was at 40 percent, is now at rates projected to be under 20 percent. We are going to keep working because, clearly, telling a Spaniard that we are at 20 percent is still unacceptable. It is for Argentina and we are going to keep working hard so that in three years we are at single-digit inflation, like in most other countries.
Your opponents assure that your Government is all front and lacks depth, that you are a government of rich people who donít understand the poor. Does your Government really have more depth?
I feel like I kept one of the promises I made to Argentinians: create the best possible team in the last 50 years. Itís formed by people who have been with me for the past 10 years that Iíve been in politics, managing the city (of Buenos Aires as mayor), on a national level, many people who had never done politics, who came from their private activities. I think weíve marked a new rhythm, a new horizon, a new vocation, and especially, a new level of transparency that was fundamental, that Argentina needed in public governance. Having taken some very difficult and painful decisions, we have done so always thinking of those who are more vulnerable, those that suffer first when the disappointment arrives, following the unrealistic or populist proposals weíve had in Argentina. We have worked hard on this, which is why today we have over 10 million Argentinians that have received social support larger than the one they received before we arrived in order to cross this path between where we are and where we want to be.
From the outside, Argentina, and in particular you yourself, have an exceptional image, but once in a while we still see that there are protests and pickets. Is the quality of life really improving since you took office?
Itís true that Argentina is receiving an almost unprecedented amount of interest. There is a lot of enthusiasm, which is why more than 2,000 people from 67 countries came to this negotiations forum (referring to the Argentina Business & Investment Forum that ended on Thursday). Internally, Argentina has developed its freedom of expression, and thatís a good thing. I am very happy that one of the things I brought to Argentina was absolute freedom of speech and everyone expresses themselves in whichever way they feel like. We need to correct some forms, because you canít express yourself in a way that makes life more difficult for someone else. But it should be understood that Argentina is coming from very frustrating times. Many things were promised, many things were said that were not true. In Argentina, today more than 30 percent of people live in poverty. This is going to need many years of work, but, I insist, the important thing is that we have begun already. We have already started walking on the paths towards investment, development, jobs and personal efforts. No more shortcuts, no more believing in magic recipes.
The topic of energy has created great expectations not just inside the country but also out. Firstly because of how low rates were and the readjustments you made, and now because of the Argentinian Supreme Courtís blunder. How are you going to tackle this problem after the Supreme Courtís failure?
Well, as is suitable. Accepting the Courtís failure in an Argentina that is moving towards a new institutionalism. We are having a public hearing this Friday, and weíre hoping to present the final report from there and raise rates in a three-year plan that will take us to international prices. Like all normal countries, everyone needs to pay for the energy they use, just like in Spain. Except those that are on social rates. We are very worried about people who have less resources, but the rest of us have to pay for what we consume and most importantly, try to consume as little as possible because that pollutes the environment and energy is non-renewable, except the new energies which we are also launching.
And the nationís budget, which you are about to approve. Has it been much affected by the Courtís failure to stop the increases in gas rates?
No, we have already finished it and we are presenting it these days, and itís going to have a gradual reduction for the fiscal deficit. Just like Spain is doing.
How do you see the political situation in Venezuela? Do you think a regime like Venezuelaís can form part of Mercosur? Is the opposition doing all it must, or should it be more strict?
It doesnít look good to me. Everything thatís happening in Venezuela looks bad to me. It worries me, and it drives me to despair because every day its worse, every day more people suffer the consequences, every day peopleís lives are worth less, every day more human rights are violated and clearly Latin America cannot turn its back on whatís happening. We canít live with whatís happening. Thatís my position. I said it and I maintain it. Venezuela did not meet the requirements and does not meet with what I think it must be to be able to form part of Mercosur.
And continuing with the topic, are you closer to the positions of Felipe Gonzalez or those of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero?
Iím not sure of the details, but history would say Felipe Gonzalez.
Why are you the Government from the area that most supports Michel Temer, who was also very criticized on the streets lately?
I donít know what the ranking is for who supports him the most, I havenít seen it. Brazil is Argentinaís strategic partner, we are very respectful of Brazilís institutional processes, and we are working with the one the Brazilian people choose. If itís Dilma, we work with Dilma, if it was Temer, we worked with Temer, because if Brazil is going well, then Argentina does well too, and vice versa. We want to cooperate: that is our idea for the future with respect to Mercosur.
It is said that there is tension between you and the Pope. The Pope dedicated 22 minutes to you, but Hebe de Bonafini, President of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, spent two hours with him. It is said that the Pope is a Peronist. What do you have to say about this?
That we have known the Pope for some time now. He was the Bishop of Buenos Aires while I was the mayor. So I know the good relationship I have with the Pope, the mutual respect that we have for each other. I am going to Rome in October for the canonization of the priest Jose Gabriel Brochero; he asked me to come with my wife and daughter, Antonia, who is four years old and wants to meet him. I leave it as a part of interpretation, which is often wrong.
You know that a non-Peronist has never finished his mandate in Argentina. Why are you going to be different?
Because, Iím here because the people chose me. Argentinians chose change, change comes from the bottom to the top, not from top down. This change isnít to do with doing politics differently and Peronism needs to make a serious self-evaluation because they have governed almost continuously for decades and what we have now in Argentina is more poverty, more exclusion, more injustice. I think we are going to govern by involving everyone. You saw all the leaders that could come to the Forum, even the Peronist leaders, with whom we work side-by-side. This is a different Argentina in which we have understood many things. Which does not mean that everyone wants to have access to power, and in time there will be competition, but the reality is that this Argentina now expresses a more mature version of itself.
What are you expecting from this Forum for Argentina?
I was with an Egyptian who came Ė no-one knew how he got here Ė who was a very important entrepreneur, the most important from there, in love with Argentina and wanting to invest in three or four sectors. Many of those who came have come to the conclusion that there is no better place in the world to invest right now than Argentina, there is no place with the potential for growth that Argentina has. In hope the Spanish accompany us and all these entrepreneurs from around the world in this new development.
Are you really waiting for Spanish companies to return to Argentina? What reasons are there for their return? What would you say to them?
Because weíre brothers, we have a long history. I am the grandchild of people descended from Spaniards Ė half of Argentina is, Spaniards understand us better than anyone, they know how to interpret the reality of Argentina. Theyíre the first that realized that Argentina has returned to the world. Argentina is today a great opportunity and especially those who survived the last decade, which was very hard for many Spanish companies, they are stronger than ever to invest and grow with us.
Do you think that the decision that was made about Repsol in your day was right?
A: No, it was terrible. It was abuse, it was a violation of the national Constitution and the law. That was not an expropriation, it was a confiscation that over time became an expropriation. And, like so many other things the previous government did wrong, Repsol ended up doing the best business. Because it sold at a higher oil price when oil was worth a fifth. Well, the truth is that nothing justifies violating the constitution of our country. We have a wonderful constitution upon which we will build the great Argentina we dream of.
What is your opinion on Spainís situation of ungovernability?
I discussed it with President Mariano Rajoy. The truth is that what is happening is astonishing. Itís impossible to understand. The truth is that it is an unprecedented case, especially with a Spain that is recovering economically. In the face of all that is happening in Europe, Spain is one of the countries that is doing the best. So I canít understand why Spanish politics does not support, as it had done in the past, the one who gets the minimum to form a Government. Itís almost inexplicable. Itís wanting to halt a recovery process which is very important for the country. There are still many unemployed people. Stopping this with the noise made by political instability is not good.
You always say that you want Argentina to be a predictable country, which is what Rajoy also says about his politics and Spain. Would you like Rajoy to continue ruling the country? What is your opinion on some of the populist movements that have emerged in Spain, like for example Podemos?
I am critical of these populist movements because we have already seen them governing in Argentina. The ones who have governed. And the ones that create false expectations that donít match reality. This generates frustration, anger and violence and destroys the future. Populism destroys the future because it spends savings and infrastructures to create a short-term feeling of prosperity and that isnít good for anyone. Populism has been a real misfortune for Argentina, and it is a misfortune for any country that falls into its grip. Because clearly the future is built on each personís personal effort. That which gratifies you, enthuses you, raises your self-esteem. I have known Mariano Rajoy a long time, I respect him a lot and I think he had a very brave attitude during a time of crisis which he inherited from Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapateroís government. He has managed to slowly take Spain in the right direction, so thatís my opinion.
When will your visit to Spain be, and when will the Spanish King visit Argentina?
I think it will be me first, in February for the ARCO (contemporary art) fair. Iím excited about going. I love Spain and feel very comfortable there. I have gone as a soccer club CEO to sell or buy players to and from Spanish clubs, and I have been as mayor and now I hope to return as President.
May I ask you some very short questions, with very short answers?
1. Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?
Letís say I have worked more with Hillary in the last few years and the continuity with Obama, with whom we get along well.
2: Does Trump scare you?
That would be advancing into more complex areas, but I think we need to build networks, not build walls.
3: Jose Maria Aznar or Felipe Gonzalez?
They are two different personalities. I respect and cherish both.
4: Rajoy or Zapatero?
Youíre going to have to allow me some questions about soccer, because in Spain we feel a lot of passion for soccer and for Argentinian soccer and players. What does Messi represent for Argentina? Is his return to the national team a source of relief for the people of the country?
Itís a relief. We are proud to have the best soccer player in the world; this is something unique for a soccer playing country such as our own. I greatly admire Messi for his determination. And I am very grateful to him because, thanks to him and the team, we have had three incredible championships, we have not lost a single match in regulation time. Sometimes you have to lose through penalties, no? These are things that happen.
And how did you find Diego Simeone in the reception that you had a few months ago in Buenos Aires?
What virtues do you think ďEl CholoĒ Simeone has as a coach?
He has great leadership skills. He transmits a certain conviction and strength. What he did at Atletico Madrid, supported by great leaders Miguel Angel Gil and Enrique Cerezo, was a great job. Iím very proud that this coach is also Argentinian.