New Argentine president assumes power, promises many changes
Published Thursday, December 10, 2015 6:58AM EST Last Updated Thursday, December 10, 2015 10:21AM EST
In this Friday, Dec. 4, 2015 photo, Argentina's President-elect Mauricio Macri walks down an inner ramp of the Planalto Presidential Palace, after meeting with Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff, in Brasilia, Brazil. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- Argentine President Mauricio Macri was sworn in Thursday, inheriting myriad economic problems from the often divisive outgoing President Cristina Fernandez, who skipped the inauguration in a final sign of confrontation that underscored deep polarization in the South American nation.
Macri, the former mayor of Buenos Aires who hails from one of Argentina's richest families, took the oath of office in Congress in front of legislators, several Latin American heads of state and other dignitaries, like former Spanish King Juan Carlos I.
"Today a dream is being realized,"said Macri as he took the oath.
The 56-year-old ran on promises to usher in an era of more civil discourse and roll back much of the Fernandez administration spending that many economists say has brought Argentina to the brink of another financial crisis.
Throughout his campaign, Macri argued that measured free-market reforms would overhaul the struggling economy. He also promised to be a leader "who listens more and talks less," a clear dig at Fernandez, who frequently blasted opponents during hours-long speeches.
Fernandez, and before her late husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, dominated Argentina's political landscape for the last 12 years. The power couple sharply increased spending on social welfare programs while raising tariffs in attempts to protect local industries and aligning the country with leftist leaders like late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales.
Macri has promised to undo many of those policies and improve relations with the United States. While his election victory represented a seismic change in Argentine politics, enacting his reforms will prove difficult.
On Thursday, he inherited the country's problems: Inflation around 30 per cent, dangerously low foreign reserves for the third largest economy in Latin America and a long-time spat with a group of creditors in the U.S. that has kept Argentina on the margins of international credit markets.
Macri will be wedged in by campaign promises to lift restrictions on buying U.S. dollars, and thus eliminate a booming black market that has made it difficult for local businesses to operate. The lifting of restrictions will likely lead to a devaluation of the Argentine peso, a scary proposition in a country that defaulted on $100 billion in debt during a 2001-2002 financial crisis that plunged half the country into poverty.
Macri will have to manoeuvr without ruling majorities in either chamber of Congress. However, his party will control both the city of Buenos Aires and the vast Buenos Aires province, where 40 per cent of the country's 41 million people live.
He will also have to work to win over a polarized electorate and Fernandez has made clear she will be a stiff opposition opponent.
In recent weeks, she rushed dozens of bills through Congress, appointed ambassadors and many other public workers and cut some taxes on the provinces, which will all make Macri's initial months more difficult.
She has also decided not to attend Thursday's inauguration ceremony after she and Macri bickered for weeks about logistical details. Macri wanted to receive the presidential baton and sash from Fernandez in the government house, or Casa Rosada. However, Fernandez insisted that Macri receive them in Congress.
The tiff, which had many Argentines shaking their head in shame, ended earlier when Fernandez said she would simply not attend. It was the first time since the country's return to democracy in 1983 that an outgoing president has not attended the inauguration.