The first presidential debate between the five contenders for the Argentine presidency was held on Sunday in Santiago del Estero, without any of the candidates outperforming the others. However, Patricia Bullrich of the opposition coalition Juntos por el Cambio (JxC) was criticized for her stiffness on stage and for failing to explain how she would bring about the changes the country so desperately needs.
In this scenario, libertarian Congressman Javier Milei and Córdoba Governor Juan Schiaretti reminded Economy Minister Sergio Massa that under his management Argentina was once again on the brink of hyperinflation, while leftist Congresswoman Myriam Bregman focused on her coalition's values, sparring with Milei over the alleged wage gap between men and women and the number of people who disappeared during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship.
Milei claimed that if such a difference were true, businessmen - being the greedy people they are - would only hire female employers. He also insisted on a figure of less than 9,000, as opposed to the generally accepted 30,000. We cherish the vision of memory, truth, and justice. Let's start with the truth, there were not 30,000 disappeared, there were 8753.
We are absolutely against a one-eyed vision of history. For us, there was a war in the 1970s. In that war, the state forces committed excesses, he added.
The libertarian candidate also highlighted his project to drastically reduce public spending, simplify taxation, and get rid of the disastrous state companies and close the Central Bank through dollarization.
With this set of reforms, Argentina could reach a standard of living similar to that of Italy or France in 15 years. If you give me 20, Germany, and if you give me 35, the United States, Milei claimed.
Massa replied that dollarization was only used in Zimbabwe, El Salvador, and Ecuador. He then explained that Argentina must aim at fiscal balance without giving up the sovereignty of the peso. Be patriotic, defend our currency, and do not promote the use of the dollar, he said.
He also asked Milei if he would apologize to Pope Francis for speaking ill of the most important Argentine in history, in addition to being the head of the Catholic Church. Milei replied that he had already done so.
Massa pledged to toughen the laws on tax evasion leading to the actual incarceration of those who fail to comply. Bullrich then told him to arrest Martín Insaurralde, an official who had just been reported to be spending a fortnight off Marbella on a luxury yacht with a high-class escort. Go and look for him, Bullrich stressed.
Insaurralde was the Mayor of Lomas de Zamora on leave while serving as Cabinet Chief for Buenos Aires Governor Axel Kiciloff. He resigned from that position after the scandal broke out.
Regarding her past as an alleged member of the Montoneros guerrilla group in the 1970s, Bullrich clung to the examples of Nelson Mandela and José Mujica, who had become Presidents of their countries (South Africa and Uruguay respectively) after a violent background. The only way to do politics is in peace. That is why I chose the path of the rule of law. I go straight ahead. I am branded as violent. But I am not. I was part of a youth organization, she argued.
Schiaretti underlined his performance as Governor of Córdoba and promised he could do that again at a national level. His speech also revolved around the idea of cutting privileges to the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area (AMBA) where fares and utilities are much lower than in the provinces.
The debate lasted almost two hours and ten minutes. It was held at the old railway station in Santiago del Estero which has been turned into a convention center with a hall that can accommodate up to 3,000 people.
Law 27.337 calls for two mandatory debates and a third one if there is a runoff. The second presidential debate will be held on Oct. 8 at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) Law School.