WASHINGTON.- Sergio Massa’s visit to the United States was more like that of a president than that of a minister, and exposed the new configuration of the government. Massa arrived in a plane from the presidential fleet – the Tango 04 –, set foot in the White House, the Treasury Department, saw investors, businessmen, analysts, political figures and even a group of young Argentinian professionals. With each passing day, his delegation added officials from Buenos Aires. Every day, his team posts photos and videos, an effort that resulted in the picture starring Janet Yellen.
For the first time in years, Argentina showed Washington an economy minister with his own political powerwhich sometimes seemed to exceed the usual limits of the Palacio de Hacienda.
“I am satisfied with the result, understanding that it is one more step in our responsibilities”, Massa said cautiously before flying to Buenos Aires, capping his trip with a press conference at the Argentine embassy, the busiest for an Argentine minister in Washington for a long time.
All week long, Massa showed his new space in government and the weight of his ties to the United States. Far from carrying the burden of the fifth floor of the Palacio de Hacienda, he was seen to be comfortable, cowardly, smiling, hyperactive. He followed the day-to-day progress of the “soy dollar” and transferred the central effort from the technical discussions with the Fund to “the boys”, as he calls his economic team, while devoting himself to welcoming businessmen at the embassy and his meetings with senior Joe Biden administration officials. At the end, he said he was tired, but happy.
Neither Martín Guzmán nor Batakis officially set foot in the White House when they came to Washington. Where they met political personalities like Jake Sullivan, Juan González, Ricardo Zúñiga or Jack Rosen, president of American Jewish Congress, or Dan Restrepo, one of González’s mentors, who led ties with Latin America during the administration of Barack Obama. With the White House, he spoke about the economy and Argentina, but also about Ukraine, the region, Peru, Chile and Brazil.
No minister, at least in recent years, has brought so many people to the United States. Its economic team is growing day by day. Sunday evening, before closing, Economy distributed a photo where Massa appears seated at the head of a table with ten men from the Palacio de Hacienda and the Central Bank (BCRA), including the president, Miguel Ángel Pesce, and a woman single: his predecessor, Silvina Batakis, summoned with the intention of showing continuity. A cabinet meeting. It is true that several officials went to work face to face with the Monetary Fund, but also there was a clear intention to show that Massa has power that neither Guzmán nor Batakis nor any of Mauricio Macri’s ministers had: control of the entire economic “button panel”.
This power that Massa managed to amass at the worst time of the Frente de Todos and the government of Alberto Fernández aroused obvious interest in the United States, where many see an interlocutor with a back and some autonomy – for now – to make decisions. Massa tried to temper expectations. He asked for patience from the executives who heard him at the powerful chamber of commerce. And he hasn’t set foot in New York: on Wall Street, skepticism is endemic.
The reconstruction of the Ministry of Economy coincides with a renewal of the Fund’s team dedicated to Argentina. Luis Cubeddu will replace Julie Kozack, who left the Fund’s Western Hemisphere department to focus on Ukraine (IMF has yet to officially confirm). This is another change with continuity, which gives the government the peace of mind of knowing that the Fund will maintain a line. Massa also knows Ilan Goldfajn, the boss of Cubeddu, since he was president of the Brazilian central bank.
The new configuration in Buenos Aires and Washington makes it possible to glimpse a more fluid work in the economic program, with less friction, fewer obstacles. But the new setup alone is far from predicting success, or a horizon that offers stability and predictability. The problems persist: the Treasury insisted, once again, on the absence of reforms to gain credibility.
Even with power and support, Massa acknowledged the fragility of the economy and said he was no magician and that work needed to be done to keep the program with the Fund at bay. Nothing is guaranteed. “I row in dulce de leche”, we heard him joking one day at the embassy. He bought time. In Economics it is said that the priority now will be to lower inflation, a long way to go. Massa has one goal in mind: try to reach the end of 2023 with a monthly increase in the cost of living which fluctuates by 2%. A slow, long advance that would bring the country back to the inflation it had at the start of the pandemic, with the economy at a standstill. And as long as there are no bumps along the way. And politics may have dictated a new order, but it is still unpredictable.