Fishing for Venezuelan Voters in Argentina

With a crack appearing in the Maduro-friendly ruling alliance, the local opposition panders to Venezuelan born voters

Photo: AFP

On September 12th, Argentina held legislative primary elections (also known as PASO). Around 34 million Argentinians were called to cast their vote to define the candidates for half of the Chamber of Deputies and one-third of the Chamber of Senators. The election ended in a major loss for the ruling left-wing coalition, Frente de Todos, led by President Alberto Fernández and his vice president, former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (CFK). In Buenos Aires, Juntos por el Cambio, the main opposition force in the country and the capital’s ruling coalition, won the election with 48%. 

Now, the political forces prepare their strategies for the upcoming election on November 14th. And the votes of 40,000 Venezuelans can help in the Argentinian capital. The interesting thing is who’s trying to attract those votes, and who isn’t.

A Quite Visible Presence

The electoral system in Argentina has some peculiarities. PASO isn’t the usual primaries where a party chooses its candidate before an election. Here, most parties already have their list of candidates arranged before the PASO, so they use this election as a huge poll before the general election, given that, at least in Buenos Aires, everyone can vote in PASO, not only party members. When the legislative real elections take place, we know the names of the candidates to seat in Congress. 

This dynamic happens in the most important ring, the capital city. The electoral system in Buenos Aires allows all foreigners over the age of 16 with permanent residency to vote for the members of the legislature of the city. This means that around 40,000 Venezuelans have the right to vote in the upcoming election in November, as we already did in the PASO primaries. 

PASO results confirmed several things regarding Venezuelan votes in Buenos Aires. Although there’s no data that indicates how every Venezuelan voted in PASO, it’s common knowledge that the Venezuelan community is overwhelmingly against chavismo and therefore we don’t support the national government, where CFK, a close friend of the late Hugo Chávez, is a supporter of the Maduro regime. Instead, we tend to vote for right-wing candidates in every political space. This time, Venezuelans voted for the Juntos por el Cambio coalition, which supported center-right liberal candidates like Ricardo López Murphy, former minister of Economy and Defense in the late 1990s and 2000s, during Fernando de la Rúa’s government. PASO also made evident the support of part of the community for a right-wing populist project, when we saw Venezuelan flags and Venezuelan political activists in Javier Milei´s rallies.

Venezuelans happen to be seriously involved in political work in Buenos Aires. Many Venezuelans were observers in many polling stations in the country representing both opposition coalitions. The Venezuelan community in Buenos Aires is well represented, with more than 40 organizations that go from unions to political parties and immigrants’ rights movements. Most of these organizations have legal recognition and offer all kinds of assistance to Venezuelans. The Venezuelan organizations in the city mean a challenge and an opportunity for the parties that need to approach Venezuelan voters. Each coalition has designed its own strategies regarding how to attract our vote. 

The Needs of Macrismo

One would think that the government would be the most interested in attracting our vote. After all,  peronistas (or justicialistas, as they’re called in modern history) are the ones losing in districts that are historically kirchneristas, to the point that they’re now facing the risk of losing the majority in both chambers of Congress. But they understand that Venezuelans in Argentina remember that during Néstor Kirchner and CFK’s presidencies many corruption cases came to light, and that Caracas helped finance the Kirchner campaign in 2007 with suitcases full of cash. So the peronista movement doesn’t count on the Venezuelan vote and their strategy toward us is misinformation: they intend to confuse voters about the electoral process or they’re trying to prevent us from entering the electoral register. With the excuse of the pandemic, the national government has slowed down all migration processes, which impeded many foreigners from getting their DNI (the national identity document) in time to vote.

On the other side of the aisle, Juntos por el Cambio is really focused on capturing Venezuelan votes. This coalition currently rules the capital and needs to keep the majority in the city legislature, so that the chief of government of Buenos Aires, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, could keep his legislative agenda, constantly sabotaged by the national government. Ruling Buenos Aires is a launching platform to the presidency: that’s how Mauricio Macri paved his way to Casa Rosada. In the 2023 general election, Juntos por el Cambio will try to win the government of Buenos Aires for the fifth consecutive time, while two of its leaders, Rodríguez Larreta and former minister of Security Patricia Bullrich, are competing to be Juntos’s candidate for president. 

For both precandidates, the Venezuelan vote is now necessary. In 2023, more Venezuelans will have become Argentinian citizens. That’s why they showed to be close to Venezuelan activists and parties like Vente Venezuela and Primero Justicia during whole campaign for the PASO primaries.

Emmanuel Ferrario, head of the list of candidates of Juntos por el Cambio for the Legislature, made videos asking Venezuelans to vote. The former governor of Buenos Aires and head of the national list for the city, Maria Eugenia Vidal, who’s leading the polls to be Buenos Aires’ next chief of government, did the same thing. 

The Allure of the Argentinian Trump

They should be noticing that many Venezuelans are enchanted by another candidate, economist Javier Milei. The rise of this candidate was the biggest surprise in the city: he got 13% of the vote, the best result in decades for a right-wing candidate, and the first time a libertarian could be elected deputy. These results can be understood for many reasons, such as his disruptive style, with long hair, fiery speeches with a lot of shouting and insults, and his approach to young people: most of Milei´s voters are in the 16 to 30 age range. Many people see in him the hope of solving the eternal structural problems of the economy, with promises such as massive tax cuts and a general reduction of the State. Also, after four years of Mauricio Macri, many voters feel that voting for Juntos por el Cambio is a return to the political instability of Macri´s government that allowed the return of kirchnerismo in 2019—even if Macri is the only non-peronista president to complete this term in modern history. 

The pandemic and its effect on the economy, the populist tone of his speech and the image of being a strong opposition to the government made thousands of Venezuelans look to Milei. Without looking for it, Milei´s La Libertad Avanza has reaped success among our community, a success that translates into a radicalization of his followers and accusing all his detractors of “being communists,” just like Magazuelans in Florida. Maybe we’ll start using the term “Mileizuelans.” We already have a classic image: Azabache, a moderately famous Venezuelan singer in the ‘80s, stood behind Milei during his triumphant speech holding a Venezuelan flag on the night of the primaries. 

In the end, the 40,000 Venezuelans who are going to cast their vote in the legislative elections in November will choose between two opposing forces that offer similar things with different approaches. Milei is selling himself as the ideological antithesis of chavismo but lacks the structure to make fundamental changes in the country, while Juntos por el Cambio’s more moderate candidates are willing to negotiate with justicialismo but have experience in government and an existing party organization. We’ll have to wait until November 14th to see if Venezuelans vote with emotion or rationality for the future of Argentina, home to more than 300,000 Venezuelans.