Smash and Grab

by Andrew Stuttaford

The Guardian reports on the reaction in Argentina to the announcement that the Spanish-controlled oil company YPF was to be nationalized:

Even as president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announced on TV her plan to nationalise Spanish-owned YPF, her emissaries were at the oil company’s 35-storey Buenos Aires headquarters giving its Spanish directors 15 minutes to leave the building.

But in Argentina, Fernández’s televised announcement that she was sending a bill to Congress to appropriate Repsol’s majority stake in YPF was greeted with cheers of “Cris-ti-na! Cris-ti-na!” by her officials in the audience at the Casa Rosada presidential palace. Members of La Campora, the Peronist youth group founded by her son Máximo Kirchner, these young economists are masterminding the nationalist imprint that characterises her second term after a landslide 54% in last year’s elections.

The tabloid Crónica headlined its front page “Dame Courage”, while a crowd gathered at the Casa Rosada with banners reading “We’re going for everything” – a phrase Fernández has used to describe her “national and popular” government’s battle against the media and “corporations” that she has in the past accused of plotting her overthrow.

The YPF bill giving the government a 51% stake is expected to pass in less than two weeks, but opponents are outraged. “This decision is going to make things worse, rather than better and goes totally against the interests of the Argentine people, and within a year we’re going to be in a worse situation than we are in now,” said the capital’s mayor, Mauricio Macri, of the conservative PRO party, lead contender for 2015′s presidential election.

Macri, not for the first time, is right.

And so is the boss of Repsol, YPF’s unfortunate Spanish owner:

“This is being done to cover up the social and economic crisis in Argentina,” said Repsol’s chief, Antonio Brufau, who flew in last week in an unsuccessful bid to meet Fernández before the takeover. “She refused to hear us, just as she refused to hear the Spanish government,” Brufau said.

And this is no surprise:

Renationalisation is aligned in the minds of Fernández supporters with the renewed demand for sovereignty over the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic claimed by Argentina as “Las Malvinas”.

“The Malvinas are Argentine, so is YPF,” say posters around the country…

Old ghosts are stirring. Oh yes, there could also be more nationalizations to come.

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