Wednesday, July 17, 2024

ARGENTINA | 11-10-2022 16:10

Faithful five: the Cabinet allies who’ve stayed with Alberto Fernández

President Alberto Fernández is nearing almost three years in office, but his team is much changed. Since then, 16 ministers and one secretary have left or changed their posts, leaving just five of the original crew remaining.

As President Alberto Fernández nears three years in office, the Cabinet that answers to him has undergone major changes in its composition: today, just five ministers from his original line-up remain in their posts.

Following the appointments of Victoria Tolosa Paz to the Social Development Ministry, Raquel ‘Kelly’ Olmos to Labour and Ayelén Mazzina to Women, Gender & Diversity after rumours of unrest and resignations, the president has ramped up the quota of women in the Cabinet. 

With the departure of Juan Zabaleta, Claudio Moroni and Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta, the government has seen the change of 16 ministers and one Cabinet secretary. Some of those officials have been relocated to other portfolios, such as Santiago Cafiero (Foreign Ministry) and Agustín Rossi (trustee, AFI Federal Intelligence Agency).

Five officials have remained in their posts since December 10, 2019, the president’s first day in office: Eduardo ‘Wado’ de Pedro (Interior), Gabriel Katopodis (Public Works), Tristán Bauer (Culture) and Juan Cabandié (Environment & Sustainable Development); as well as secretaries Julio Vitobello (secretary-general to the Presidency) and Vilma Ibarra (Legal & Technical).

Of the initial 21 ministers, 14 officials resigned or were dismissed from their posts, three were reshuffled and one of them, former labour minister Mario Meoni, died in a traffic accident. 

The first to resign was María Eugenia Bielsa (Territorial Development & Habitat) on November 13, 2020, after constant questioning of her handling of land occupations and seizures in the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area (AMBA) and parts of Patagonia.

In 2021, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, Ginés González García, until then the head of the Health portfolio, was invited to step aside as a result of the so-called ‘VIP vaccination’ scandal, in which a list of individuals were allowed to queue-jump and receive a first dose of coronavirus vaccine. 

The next to go was Fernández’s ally Marcela Losardo, who left her post as justice minister on March 18, 2021, in the midst of the tensions between the president and Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. The confrontation reached a peak after the government’s defeat in the PASO primary elections in September 2021, which prompted the former president to demand widespread changes in the government’s team in an open letter.

Several officials, led by De Pedro, offered their resignations. The president didn’t accept them all: security minister Sabina Frederic, Roberto Salvarezza, minister of science, technology and innovation and Luis Basterra, agriculture minister walked. Nicolás Trotta, head of the education portfolio, who had not submitted his resignation, quit amid tensions over the health measures adopted by Alberto Fernández in the midst of the Covid-19 lockdown. 

Foreign Minister Felipe Solá was later removed from his post after the fall in the elections: "They sacked me unexpectedly," he denounced on a flight to a foreign summit overseas. In his place, the president imposed his close ally, then-Cabinet chief Santiago Cafiero. Juan Manzur, the provincial governor on leave from Tucumán, arrived at Balcarce 50, to become chief-of-staff. 

The aforementioned Rossi and Daniel Arroyo, who left their posts leading the Defence Ministry and Social Development Ministry respectively to launch their candidacies for senator and deputy, also departed. Rossi is currently the head of the AFI and Arroyo is a national deputy.

Tension between Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Alberto Fernández would soon arise again, prompting a wave of departures. The most resounding were those of Matías Kulfas (Productive Development Ministry) and Martín Guzmán (Economy Ministry), the president's key allies who left their posts overwhelmed by internal disputes and tensions. 

In a letter spanning more than 14 pages, Kulfas left his post with stark criticism of the government’s infighting. Yet it was Guzmán's decision to step aside, almost a month later, that caused the greatest shockwaves. The minister’s departure on Saturday, July 2, precipitated days of unrest, culminating in Fernández’s decision to appoint Daniel Scioli to the Productive Development Ministry and Silvina Batakis to the Economy portfolio. Neither would last long in their post, with Sergio Massa’s arrival as the “super” economy minister seeing him take greater control of the Economy, Productive Development and Agriculture ministries.

Since that sweeping chance, the waters seem to have calmed, until last Friday when Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta stepped aside as Women, Gender & Diversity minister in protest at the handling of a security operation that sought to evict members of the Mapuche indigenous community from seized land in Patagonia.

That move also prompted the departure of Claudio Moroni, a personal friend of Alberto Fernández and another of the officials who have suffered from a wave of Kirchnerite criticism. Citing personal problems, the labour minister also quit the government. Juan Zabaleta also took advantage of the situation and joined those jumping ship, returning to the Hurlingham mayor's office. 

Along with the ministers, a number of government secretaries have also left their posts, though some remain. 

Longtime ally of the president Gustavo Beliz, who served as strategic affairs secretary of the presidency, quit when Massa entered the Cabinet in a powerful new role. The AFI Federal Intelligence Agency has also seen chances. Former head of the agency, Cristina Caamaño, left on June 6, 2022, after Rossi took office as trustee. 

Both Vitobello and Ibarra remain in office and form part of the president's ever-shrinking circle. Though he did not begin on the president’s first day, Human Rights Secretary Horacio Pietragalla Corti has been in his post since December 27, 2019.



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