From the moment Alberto
Fernández got into his
car on Tuesday to drive
himself, his partner Fabiola
Yáñez, and his longtime
friend and chauffeur Daniel
Rodríguez to Congress, his
life began speeding up at an
incredible, frantic pace.
It’s a pace worthy of the momentous task he faces. President Fernández’s first days in
power have been nail-biting,
marked by a dynamic and
evolving agenda that mixed
protocol, on-the-fly meetings
and an attempt to continue on
with the life he will never go
back to – at least for the next
Friday morning, for example, found Argentina’s newly
inaugurated leader at the
Buenos A ires University
(UBA) law department, a familiar setting, for examinations on his “General theory
of crime and punishment systems” course.
Fernández had spent the night at the presidential residence in Olivos, on the outskirts of
Buenos Aires City, and had arrived at the Casa
Rosada earlier that morning aboard the official
helicopter. That same day, Yáñez – in her début
act as first lady – met Pope Francis in Vatican
City where she flew to participate in an event
hosted by Scholas Ocurrentes, a pontificate
Fernández, 60, has tried to impose his own
style on the presidency from the off. His decision to take the driver’s seat of his own Toyota
Corolla car for the ride that took him from his
apartment in the swanky City neighbourhood
of Puerto Madero to Congress, where he was
sworn in as commander in chief on Tuesday,
was rife with symbolism.
All eyes were on conduct, with Mauricio Macri receiving plaudits were the democratic handover and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s
reactions to the outgoing leader drawing amusement and anger in equal measure.
Once everything had settled, Fernández
gave his first address to the Legislative Assembly, where he laid out the pillars of his administration, under the attentive watch of his new
vice-president, who read the speech word-forword over his shoulder.
“I come before you to call for unity from all
of Argentina, to build a new social contract of
brotherhood and solidarity,” Fernández said in
his inaugural address, promising to prioritise
poverty and the people over debt repayments.
“I come before you calling for all to put Argentina on its feet, to put the country on a path
toward development and social justice.”
The message was clear. Much of the rest of
it was aimed directly at the Mauricio Macri
administration and its failures, as Fernández
explained the road ahead.
“The country is indebted, cloaked by an instability that discards the possibility
of development and leaves it hostage to foreign financial markets,” he said. “Argentina should grow with a project of its own and implemented by Argentines,
not dictated by foreigners with old recipes that always fail.”
Speaking for the first time as head of state, he warned that the country would
be unable to pay all its debts on time.
Afterwards, there was little time to catch a breath as the new leader raced to
the Casa Rosara to meet foreign dignitaries and swear-in his Cabinet officials.
Later that day, the stellar electoral performance of the Frente de Todos coalition
– ousting Macri after four years in office marked by an economic disaster – and
Cristina’s triumphant return to the centre of the political scene was crowned by
a “popular party” at the Plaza de Mayo that welcomed the president to his new
digs, complete with musical acts and passionate speeches.
As Alberto stood on the Plaza de Mayo that evening facing the crowd, the
streets were packed from the Casa Rosada to Congress. As he finished his
speech, fireworks were shot up into the air in celebration. It was his vice-president, though, who stole the show, addressing a jubilant and devoted crowd,
who chanted and sang in unison.
“Trust your people, never betray them, they
are the most loyal, just ask to defend and represent them,” declared Fernández de Kirchner, dressed in all white, from a stage in front
of the Casa Rosada.
Revelling in the moment, she mounted a
fierce defence of her administration, accusing
Macri, the courts and the mainstream media
of mounting a campaign of persecution against
her with the ultimate goal of “literally” making
The vice-president, however, is now back on
top. Despite multiple corruption allegations in
the courts, she has secured control of the Peronist bloc in both chambers of Congress, and
has indicated she believes she is the victim of
“lawfare,” a conspiracy aimed at eliminating
Latin America’s populist leaders from power
by ruling elites.
The following day, after spending his first
night in the Olivos residence, President Fernández went to the inaugurations of Buenos
Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof (accompanied by Fernández de Kirchner), Santa Fe
provincial leader Omar Perotti, and Entre Ríos
Province Governor Gustavo Bordet, lending
them his support.
He also found time for Michael Kozak, Acting Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs of the US State Department,
amid controversy over the early departure of
a US official, who had skipped the inauguration because of the presence of a Venezuelan
official. It was a reminder that Fernández, even
at pace, must tread carefully. The bilateral relationship with Washington, given its weight
in the International Monetary Fund.
The day before, in her first official act of
business, Fernández de Kirchner had met with
officials from China and the Russian Federation, Arken Imirbaki and Konstantin Kosachev, respectively.
The president spent Thursday out of the limelight, having slept the night before
in his Puerto Madero apartment. But still, the cycle ticked on. Cabinet Chief Santiago Cafiero told the press that the new president would summon Congress for
“extraordinary sessions” to deal with emergency bills including one related to what
the government considers a “food emergency,” given the deep economic crisis.
That same day, former Bolivian President Evo Morales arrived in Buenos Aires
to seek status as a political refugee, as Fernández continued to bedazzle with his
foreign policy redirection, led by new foreign minister, Felipe Solá.
After seeing his students on Friday, the president returned to the Casa Rosada
where he received Health Minister Ginés González García and Women, Gender,
and Diversity Minister Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta, as his government put in place a
new abortion protocol, which had been blocked during Macri’s final days in office.
For Fernández, work has already begun. With an economy set to shrink by 3.1
percent this year, runaway inflation and poverty on the rise, the challenges are vast.
He has promised a summer of hard work to “get the nation back on its feet” lies
ahead. He’s hit the ground running, and for now, he’s managed to keep up.