Patricia Bullrich: the security and order hawk with a Peronist past

The security hardliner has undergone political metamorphosis since her Peronist militant youth

Presidential candidate. Security minister. National deputy. Hockey champion. Peronist militant. Montonera? Patricia Bullrich, leader of the right-wing party PRO (Propuesta Republicana), has never been afraid to defend her beliefs. 

Now, as presidential candidate for the opposition coalition Juntos por el Cambio, she is one step from bringing her political vision to bear in Argentina’s Casa Rosada

Since launching her electoral campaign, Bullrich has made no bones about her views: Argentina needs a radical change. Abandoning currency controls, cracking down on social protest, and a zero-tolerance approach to crime are policies she would implement on day one, she has said. 

This hold-no-quarter attitude has differentiated her from rival for the Juntos por el Cambio presidential nomination, Buenos Aires Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, who advocated for a gradualist approach based around building bridges.

Bullrich has consistently defended iron-fisted security policies: as security minister during the 2015-2019 presidency of Mauricio Macri, she trenchantly defended police officers who killed protesters and wrongdoers, even when there were questions about what side of the law the officers stood on. 

The leitmotif of her campaign videos is “We have to put things in order.” This vision extends to social protest: throughout the electoral campaign, she has published videos of the leaders of Argentina’s powerful unions, describing their tactics as “extortion.”

Currency controls

Argentina’s complex web of currency controls, Bullrich says, would be out the window on day one. She suggested creating a new program with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to make this happen in an interview with La Nación + TV channel.

“Under a new program — an agreement — with the IMF that would shield us with US dollars, we will end the cepo [the tight currency controls currently in force] as soon as possible,” she said in late July. “We believe that with a serious [economic] plan such as the one we are proposing — with a long-term horizon, with an investment protection law, with regulatory simplification, with a reasonable tax horizon, with a labor reform, we are going to obtain dollars from the IMF.”

Her choice of words rang alarm bells: in the nadir of his government, beleaguered former President Fernando De la Rua took a loan from the fund, which he described as a blindaje (shielding). Bullrich was De La Rua’s labor minister and signed a law in 2001 cutting pensions and state workers’ salaries by 13% for sums over 500 pesos, which was equivalent to US$500 at the time.

De La Rua’s IMF money failed to contain Argentina’s troubled economy, and the infamous 2001 socioeconomic crisis exploded.

Bullrich has also sought to court Argentina’s countryside, at times being photographed astride a horse in traditional rural wear. In July’s ExpoRural, she promised to eliminate export duties on agricultural commodities such as soya. 

These duties, known in Spanish as retenciones, provoked a major conflict in 2008 between Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who was president at the time, and the agricultural sector, ending in lengthy blockades that stopped meat from reaching Buenos Aires.

Peronist Youth

Bullrich, 67, was born in the city of Buenos Aires in June 1956. Her parents were Alejandro Bullrich, a cardiologist,  and Julieta Luro Pueyrredón — both hailing from wealthy, aristocratic families. As a young woman, she played hockey competitively, but ultimately left the sport and dedicated herself to political activism in Juventud Peronista, the Peronist youth wing.

Her first husband, Marcelo “Pancho” Langieri, was a militant with the leftist guerrilla group the Montoneros. While she has publicly denied that she was involved in the armed group, her associates at the time say she helped with intelligence tasks and attended training exercises.

In 1975, the 19-year-old Bullrich was briefly jailed when she was caught graffitiing the doors of the University of Buenos Aires’ Philosophy and Letters faculty, spending six months in a police holding facility and, later, Devoto prison in Buenos Aires city.

Two years later, during Argentina’s last civic-military dictatorship, she went into exile, spending periods first in Brazil and later in Mexico and Spain. She snuck back into Argentina to give birth to her son, Francisco, in 1979, and again in 1982, as the dictatorship was crumbling after losing the Malvinas war. This second foray led to her being jailed again. She left the country again upon her release, this time for Switzerland — in 1983 she returned to Argentina for good. 

After her return, she dedicated herself to politics, serving three terms as a national deputy for Buenos Aires City: from 1993-1997 and during Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s presidencies, from 2007-2015.

The hawk 

Bullrich’s most recent government role was as security minister during Mauricio Macri’s 2015-2019 presidency. While in office, she showed that she had bite as well as bark: in August 2017, she oversaw an operation that impounded almost two tonnes of cocaine in Santiago del Estero province, one of the biggest drug busts in Argentine history. 

The loot was worth an estimated US$45 million. This kind of track record on narcotrafficking will reassure voters concerned by the rising drug violence in the city of Rosario.

But her forceful stance against crooks has appalled human rights groups. In 2018, Pablo Kukoc, an impoverished 18-year-old who had experienced periods of homelessness and substance abuse issues, stabbed a tourist in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of La Boca. Luis Chocobar, a policeman who arrived at the scene of the crime, shot and killed Kukoc in the back as he fled the scene. He was charged with homicide. 

Bullrich was quick to come out in Chocobar’s defense, receiving him in the Casa Rosada. He was ultimately convicted of aggravated homicide and jailed for two years. She also backed the gendarmes under investigation after artisan Santiago Maldonado disappeared, and the officers who killed the young Mapuche Rafael Nahuel.

After failing to complete studies in her youth, Bullrich graduated with a social sciences degree from the University of Palermo in 2001. She went on to earn a doctorate in political sciences from the National University of San Martin in 2013. Today, she has a research institute, the National Institute of Strategic Studies on Security, which was founded in 2016.

Bullrich has one son, Francisco, and has been married to her second husband, Guillermo Yanco, since 1997.


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