President Alberto Fernández swore in a host of new Cabinet ministers on Monday, a symbolic step in his quest to mend ties in his fractured Frente de Todos coalition and boost his government’s chances in November’s midterm elections.
During a ceremony at the Casa Rosada, the Peronist leader swore in Tucumán Province Governor Juan Manzur as his new Cabinet Chief, replacing the president’s ally Santiago Cafiero, who has been criticised by a number of Kirchnerite officials loyal to Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
Cafiero has instead been appointed foreign minister, replacing veteran politician Felipe Solá.
The president also gave the oath of office to the new ministers of Agriculture, Livestock & Fisheries, Julián Domínguez; of Security, Aníbal Fernández; of Education, Jaime Perczyk; and Science & Technology, Daniel Filmus.
"We are passing the time of the pandemic. I ask each and every one of them [the new ministers] to use all their strength. The solution is that we are more united than ever to face what is needed. They will not see me caught up in unnecessary disputes, internal disputes," declared the president in a brief speech prior to swearing in the new officials.
Monday’s swearing-in ceremony took place just eight days after the Peronist coalition suffered a heavy loss in the PASO primaries. Frente de Todos took just 31 percent of votes nationwide and lost in 17 provinces to the opposition Juntos coalition. The government lost voters in traditionally Peronist areas and low-income areas, where poverty has struck hard. More than 40 percent of the population is considered poor and turnout in the PASO reached only 67 percent.
The Cabinet changes are a bid to curtail the political crisis unleashed by that result, with the reshuffle arriving just a day after Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner called for an overhaul of the cabinet in an open letter that blamed Fernández for the poor result in the vote.
The vice president, who had chosen Fernández to lead their Peronist coalition for the 2019 presidential elections, called the midterm primaries a “political catastrophe” caused by his economic strategy. She criticised him for his lack of social spending, adding pressure on Fernandez even as he seeks to renegotiate a US$45-billion loan with the International Monetary Fund.
In the letter, she said she had proposed Manzur for the Cabinet chief post in a face-to-face conversation with Fernandez earlier in the week.
Fernández returned to Buenos Aires on Monday after spending the weekend in La Rioja Province. As well as meeting with a host of local and national officials, the president spent the weeknd in Chilecito, the city where his foster father was born.
The government is expected to announce a host of new economic measures in the next 48 hours aimed at supporting low-income workers, the retired and pensioners, as well as boosting consumption.
Purchasing power has fallen dramatically in Argentina as inflation continues to soar. Prices increased 32.3 percent in the first eight months of the year, outshooting the government’s annual target of 29 percent.
Manzur, a key figure in the new Cabinet, is seen as a leader who can work closely with provincial Peronist leaders, while other incoming officials such as Aníbal Fernández and Daniel Filmus are viewed as experienced hands.
A number of officials in key positions, including Economy Minister Martín Guzmán, Productive Development Minister Matías Kulfas and Interior Eduardo ‘Wado’ de Pedro, will remain in their posts.
Manzur’s departure from office in Tucumán, meanwhile, has been far from smooth. According to reports, negotiations with Deputy Governor Osvaldo Jaldo over the outgoing provincial leader’s leave of absence dragged on, mainly because the duo had to resume dialogue after allegedly having not spoken to one another in months.
The two leaders, who come from two different strands of Peronism that faced off against each other in the recent PASO primaries, were reportedly behind an agreement that will see the movement’s factions unite in the provincial legislature to approve Manzur’s request for a leave of absence.
During an impromptu press conference on Monday, Jaldo said that their “major differences had been clarified” and that both sides were “acting accordingly.”
Denying reports that President Fernández had offered him a post in the national government, the deputy governor said that the president had contacted him prior to talks with Manzur.
The Tucumán leader;s move to the national government did not go unnoticed by local opposition leaders either.
Concepción Mayor Roberto Sánchez, of Mauricio Macri’s PRO party, described the new Cabinet chief’s appointment as “an inconsistency” for the national government.
"In Tucumán [Province], more than 60 percent of children are poor," the PRO party politician observed in an interview with CNN Radio, alleging that provincial politicians was dominated by “patronage.”
Journalist Daniel Dessien, the director of La Gaceta de Tucumán, told the same radio station that “Manzur and Jaldo had been in conflict for six months over the dispute over the governorship in 2023,” alleging that the outgoing governor “wanted to reform the constitution in order to be re-elected” and had not been speaking to each other.
"Manzur wants to be president of the Nation," claimed Dessien.