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ARGENTINA | 14-12-2019 09:26

Newly inaugurated Fernández off to frantic start

Peronist leader’s first few days as head of state have moved at a frenetic pace, as Argentina’s new president offers the first real indications about what his administration’s priorities will be.

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 four years.

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 educational organisation.

INAUGURATION

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.

SUPPORT

“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 her “disappear.”

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.

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