Argentina’s president-elect Alberto Fernandez says he will “turn the page” and take the country to a new direction amid deep economic crisis which is blamed on his pro-West predecessor Mauricio Macri.
Fernandez won the Sunday election with 48 percent of votes, according to figures from the National Electoral Directorate. His right-wing rival managed to garner 40.4 percent with more than 95 percent of votes counted.
The president-elect held talks with his predecessor on Monday about a transition of power, which will take place in December.
Under Macri, Latin America’s number three economy is teetering on the brink of a $100 billion debt default, its second in less than two decades.
Voters punished Macri for inflicting painful austerity measures which triggered a deep recession and slashed living standards.
During his victory speech on Monday, Fernandez vowed to “turn the page” on Macri’s liberalization and austerity policies, which are backed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
“This page will be forgotten and we will start writing another story on December 10 when we arrive with (former president) Cristina [Fernandez de Kirchner] in government,” he said in reference to his vice presidential running mate.
The result creates a political headache for the Trump administration, which had tried to forge a strong regional alliance of like-minded leaders to advance its Latin American agenda of squeezing the governments of Venezuela and Cuba and resisting the growth of Chinese investment.
Macri’s defeat came less than four weeks after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo heaped praise on his “leadership” during a visit to Buenos Aires and hoped “others will follow Argentina’s lead and example.”
The results mark a shift leftward for the South America region, leaving pro-West conservatives in Chile, Colombia and Brazil more isolated.
Since Mexico swung sharply to the left last year under Andrés Manuel López Obrador, this would leave Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro as the only pro-West president among the continent’s big three economies.
On Monday Bolsonaro declined to congratulate Fernandez, calling him a “red bandit” and saying Argentine voters had made a mistake by choosing him.
Unlike Bolsonaro, Mexico’s Lopez Obrador said he would call to congratulate Fernandez and Bolivian President Evo Morales who won a fourth term this month in elections denounced by the US, Brazil and Colombia.
Argentina is Brazil’s third largest trade partner, after China and the United States. The two Latin American countries, along with Paraguay and Uruguay, are the members of Mercosur trade bloc.
Fernandez has vowed to reconsider his country’s membership in the bloc. Observers say the greater threat, however, may be to a trade deal between Mercosur and the EU, which has taken two decades to negotiate.
Fernandez has said he wants to renegotiate parts of the EU agreement that do not suit Argentina, which could delay its ratification with lengthy new rounds of talks.
According to Daniel Kerner, head of Latin America at Eurasia, a political risk consultancy, Bolsonaro could go the same way as Macri if his “economic reforms” do not work.
Brazil’s economy is teetering on the brink of recession. Still, the Brazilian president is not the only Latin American leader likely to be feeling uncomfortable after voters punished Macri for inflicting painful austerity measures.
Ecuador’s President Lenín Moreno is following a similar path, like Argentina with support from the IMF and the Trump administration.
In Colombia, President Ivan Duque, another close Trump ally, has seen his reforms bogged down in congress and the economy slowing. In Chile, President Sebastian Pinera fired six ministers in June amid stalling growth and plunging poll ratings.
Brazil’s Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo cast the result of the Argentine election in “apocalyptic terms”, Reuters reported.
“The forces of evil are celebrating. The forces of democracy are lamenting for Argentina, Mercosur and all of South America,” he wrote on Twitter.