The leak of a luxury trip to the Mediterranean by a senior Peronist official from the province of Buenos Aires, with multiple political implications, has put in check the presidential candidacy of the Minister of Economy, Sergio Massa, in the midst of an electoral dispute all or nothing with the far-right Javier Milei and the conservative Patricia Bullrich.
On Saturday at noon, Sofía Clerici, a model, influencer and businesswoman, published on her Instagram account – with more than two million followers – an image of the chief of staff of the province of Buenos Aires, Martín Insaurralde, from behind, serving himself a champagne on a yacht off the Costa del Sol, in Spain.
Clerici’s previous posts promote her own lingerie brand and include images of Rolex watches and Louis Vuitton handbags with messages of gratitude to her “new bb,” whom she did not name. According to the Instagram record, the trip would have taken place in the second and third week of September off the coast of Marbella, aboard a large vessel named Bandido 90, although the date of the expedition is not clear.
The straw that breaks the camel’s back
Insaurralde’s identity was revealed because Clerici mentioned him on Instagram. The relationship between the two would be recent, given that the Peronist leader has just divorced another model and television presenter with a multi-million dollar agreement, according to the local press, which has questioned the origin of her assets.
The image burst like a bomb one day before the crucial first debate between the five presidential candidates ahead of the first round on October 22, which took place on Sunday in the capital of the province of Santiago del Estero (north). The automatic viralization of images has dominated the debate in days of high politicization.
After years of exhausting debate within the ruling center-left alliance over the enmity between the president, Alberto Fernández, and the vice president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and a present with the highest inflation in three decades, the candidacy of the resilient Minister of Economy Massa seemed to have no room for a black swan.
In a close dispute that has the far-right Javier Milei as a favorite with around 35% of voting intention, Massa around 31% and the right-wing Patricia Bullrich with 27%, according to the average of various pollsters, the campaign strategists They assume that the margin for errors is tiny.
The Argentine political system has become so sensitive to the latent anger of public opinion that a display of ostentation by a Peronist leader in the Mediterranean determines ipso facto the end of his political career.
It is true that not all Argentine politicians pay the same price for their antics. In general, there is an assimilation that certain members of the conservative coalition Together for Change (Bullrich), especially those from the business and consulting fields, have the right to travel the world. The most notable example of this aspect is former president Mauricio Macri, who practically does not spend more than two weeks at a time in his mansion in the north of the Argentine capital because he tours the planet between bridge tournaments, FIFA Foundation events, conferences of the global right, visits to Arab sheikhs and family outings in the capitals of the Old Continent and Miami.
For a Peronist or a leftist leader, living a life of luxury while talking about social justice has become canceling. If signs of possible corruption also arise, there is no way out.
The businesswoman Clerici deleted the publication with the mention of Insaurralde a couple of hours after making it public. On Saturday night, the chief of staff of the province of Buenos Aires resigned from office with a brief message. “I do not want to be used to affect the political space in the electoral process,” he said in a statement. On Monday morning, he did the same with his candidacy for councilor in his municipality, Lomas de Zamora.
Peronism needed to activate immediate decisions, before the debate, as a way of controlling damage, something that four days after the Insaurralde adventure became known, it is not clear that it has achieved.
Clerici tried out an explanation that many have described as implausible regarding the loan by a brother-in-law of the gigantic yacht, whose daily rental price is more than 10,000 euros.
Baron of Greater Buenos Aires
In himself, the disgraced man is a second-rate figure of Peronism who in recent years has taken off as a reference for the mayors of the municipalities of Greater Buenos Aires.
The man who appears to be Sofía Clerici’s new boyfriend was mayor for several terms and remains a strong man of Lomas de Zamora, the second most populated municipality of the 25 that surround the city of Buenos Aires.
Some 10 million inhabitants live in the surroundings of the Argentine federal capital (23% of the population, excluding the city of Buenos Aires itself, where another three million live), a geographical crescent that ends at its tips in the Río de la Silver. Greater Buenos Aires is home to working-class neighborhoods, the largest slums (shanties) in the country, middle-class areas, luxury residential areas, and semi-rural areas.
80% of these municipalities are governed by Peronism, with popular mayors, some with a genuine relationship with the population and the territory, and others more distant from the electorate. By itself, Lomas de Zamora has the electoral weight of a medium-sized Argentine province in the North or Patagonia.
Cristina set her sights on Insaurralde ten years ago in a parliamentary election, just when her former chief of staff Massa separated from official Peronism. The then president chose the mayor of Lomas de Zamora as the head of the list because of his profile similar to that of the rebel who abandoned Kirchnerism (mayor in turn of another municipality in the suburbs), with little ideological density and prone to talking about “municipal management.” . Over time, Massa, now reconciled with Cristina, demonstrated a political talent that Insaurralde lacks.
After that electoral competition, Massa and Clerici’s current boyfriend consolidated a personal bond. Their harmony of character and age united them.
As for the Kirchners, Cristina’s predilection more recently translated into an iron alliance with Máximo Kirchner, son of the vice president. Head of the ultra-Kirchnerist organization La Cámpora, Máximo, one of the most unpopular front-line political leaders in Argentina, but with the most influence, settled in Greater Buenos Aires and sealed his alliance with the Peronist mayors through Insaurralde.
The third key ramification of the former mayor of Lomas de Zamora is in the governor of the province of Buenos Aires, the left-wing Peronist Axel Kicillof. Both leaders could not be more different in lifestyle (the former mayor is fond of luxury, the governor is clearly middle class), political origin (the first is an all-terrain Peronist, the second is on the anti-capitalist left) and intellectual training (Kicillof has a doctorate in Economics). ), but they were forced to coexist when Cristina and Máximo Kirchner imposed Insaurralde as head of the provincial cabinet, in 2021.
The Kirchners’ preference for ideologically flat characters like Insaurralde has been a constant over the last 20 years, at the same time that they built a solid relationship with human rights organizations, popular Peronists and left-wing intellectual leaders. . In Peronism, this strategy is explained with an old maxim by Juan Domingo Perón: “Do not close yourselves, all your companions are important and remember how to make a good adobe: earth, water, straw and dung.”
Kicillof, Cristina’s disciple, with his relationship now broken with Máximo, is running for re-election in the province where 37% of Argentines live, on an area equivalent to three-fifths of that of Spain. Massa’s eventual victory would be unthinkable without Kicillof’s in the province of Buenos Aires. The second seemed very feasible until Saturday, but a publication on Instagram has cast doubt on it.
Massa arrived at Sunday night’s debate with Insaurralde resigning as chief of staff. On Sunday morning, Kicillof issued a contained message in which he argued: “The speed with which things were resolved clearly shows what my position is.” Neither Máximo nor Cristina Kirchner expressed themselves in public.
During the presidential exchange, Bullrich and the left-wing Trotskyist candidate, Myriam Bregman, made some mention of the affair in the Mediterranean, but they did not go in depth.
Upon leaving, around midnight on Sunday, the Peronist candidate demanded that Insaurralde assume the “serious mistake” by also declining the candidacy for councilor, which occurred a few hours later.
In recent weeks, Peronism had found the tone and a dynamic that were absent in the campaign for the first round. The Massa-Kicillof tandem, plus the activation of the party in the provinces and of social, feminist and human rights groups that resist the advance of the right, seemed to rediscover a spirit absent in the last four years of pandemic and war.
An eventual good performance of Peronism in the first round and, even less likely, victory in the second round on November 19 against Milei would be left for the manuals of political science, in the face of such adverse circumstances.
The reason should not be sought so much in the merits of the ruling alliance, but rather in the democratic reserves of a society to stop the abyss of the extreme right. Insaurralde made his contribution to eliminate that possibility.