Ruling Peronists are mired in infighting while poverty worsens

BUENOS AIRES (Washington Post) – Juan Peron liked to compare power struggles in his party to cats having sex. “It may seem like they are fighting,” the late Argentine leader would say, “but they are really just reproducing. In the end, Peronism survives and expands.”

Today, the successors to Peron are locked in a different fight, one that is threatening to inflict mortal wounds on the renowned party that changed Argentine history and influenced politics throughout Latin America for more than half a century. Analysts say Argentina’s ruling but rudderless Peronists face one their most profound crises since the party’s inception in the 1940s as party bosses engage in a bitter power struggle to be next in line for the presidency.

Peronist leaders have turned on one another, alternately accusing their peers of being mafia bosses and “power obsessed” opportunists. Several claim to have received death threats from their competitors in the presidential race. A couple have raised the prospect of breaking away from the Peronist party altogether and taking their supporters with them.

The infighting has further alienated the already jaded Argentine people, who are suffering the worst economic crisis in history and have put much of the blame on incompetent, corrupt and self-serving politicians.

Argentines watch as the Peronist power struggle leads to repeated changes in the electoral timetable, leaving most voters guessing about the actual dates of their party primaries and presidential elections. Worse, the squabbling Peronists – who control Congress and most of Argentina’s provinces – have brought government to a near standstill.

Peronist lawmakers are falling into step behind different party factions, including many opposed to President Eduardo Duhalde, a former senator and Peronist party heavyweight who was named caretaker leader by Congress in January.

Since then, attempts by Duhalde’s rivals to challenge his leadership and force him to move up the date of presidential elections have left the administration without the clout to push through economic measures demanded by the International Monetary Fund. It has slowed down agreements with the IMF, plunging this nation deeper into a crisis that has already left more than half of all Argentines living below the poverty level of $3 a day and almost 20 percent without jobs.

The result is that Duhalde, already unpopular, has been further weakened politically. Even his hand-picked successor, Jose Manuel de la Sota, the governor of Cordoba province, has tried to avoid being seen alongside Duhalde at public events. Peronist candidates seeking lesser posts in the upper and lower houses of Congress have also tried to distance themselves from Duhalde, making it nearly impossible for the president to corral support for his policies.

“The Peronist party as we knew it has essentially disappeared,” said Rosendo Fraga, a leading Peronist historian. “What you have now are a number of different candidates and individual supporters. The days when the Peronists argued, then picked their leader and united behind him are now gone. We are left only with the fragments of what was Peronism.