President Alberto Fernández reshuffled his Cabinet this week, swearing in Jorge Taiana as Argentina’s new defence minister and appointing Juan Horacio Zabaleta to head the Social Development Ministry.
The incoming officials were sworn-in at a ceremony at the Casa Rosada led by the Frente de Todos leader, with Fernández paying tribute to outgoing ministers Agustín Rossi (Defence) and Daniel Arroyo (Social Development) and thanking them for their service at “such a complex moment” for the country.
The departing ministers are leaving their posts as a consequence of their decisions to launch runs for elected office in the upcoming midterm elections. Arroyo will run for national deputy in Buenos Aires Province, while Rossi will seek a Senate seat representing Santa Fe Province.
Brushing off reports that he is unhappy with Rossi’s decision to run for office and challenge another government-backed list of candidates in the province, Fernández said that their “friendship has not been broken, nor is it going to break.”
Zabaleta, for his part, declared that it would not be necessary to “block streets to be able to dialogue” – a reference to recent demonstrations that have caused havoc in downtown Buenos Aires.
“"It will not be necessary with this minister, with Juan Zabaleta, to block streets to be able to dialogue. This will be a Ministry of open doors, dialogue and social containment," said the ex-Hurlingham mayor.
"The social deterioration that we inherited from the pandemic has been tackled with a great capacity and response. We have to learn to listen more, we have to represent each and every one of those who are outside the system,” he added.
Argentina’s new defence minister, meanwhile, promised to implement training programmes for the Armed Forces, vowing new equipment and “deployment based on defence objectives.”
Taiana, 71, is a familiar face to political observers. The veteran Peronist served as Argentina’s foreign minister from 2005 to 2010, serving in both the Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administrations.
Despite resigning that post due to “differences” with then-president Fernández de Kirchner, he has remained her ally since, accompanying the two-term leader’s senatorial run in 2017 and taking her seat in the upper house two years later, when she resigned to be sworn-in as the nation’s vice-president.
Taiana, in turn, will now give up his seat in order to lead the Defence Ministry, with Juliana Di Tullio, Fernández de Kirchner’s close ally, set to take the Senate seat.
Zabaleta, 54, is a newcomer to the Cabinet. Seen as close to President Fernández, the Haedo-born politician was elected mayor of Hurlingham in 2015 after previously having been elected councillor. He won re-election in 2019 and with a mandate running until December 10, 2023, he will request a leave of absence in order to take up his new post.
Before becoming mayor, Zabaleta passed through the Senate and the ANSES social security agency, experiences that will hopefully serve him well when leading the Social Development Ministry. That portfolio took on a key role during the Covid-19 pandemic under Arroyo, developing social aid policies, grants and subsidies to support the most disadvantaged citizens.
Argentina's PASO primaries, in which Arroyo and Rossi will both run, will take place on September 12, with midterm legislative elections due November 14. Half of the lower house Chamber of Deputies will be renewed, along with a third of the Senate.