– But why did you order Federico to be kicked out?
They say that Alberto Fernández was stunned. He was seeing the same thing from Olivos as she was in Recoleta. At noon on Friday, April 30, C5N was unambiguously informing them: Energy Undersecretary Federico Basualdo had been thrown out.
–I knew nothing of this! And you, Cristina?
–But how would I know, Alberto?
According to this narrative, the president found out at the same time as his veep over the phone. The important thing about this story is not its veracity (as published by NOTICIAS in its previous edition, the reality is otherwise) but who leaked it and how – it was Cristina Fernández de Kirchner herself who, from her address in Juncal and Uruguay, set in motion this version, implying that Alberto was misinformed about the course of his own government and hence ultimately innocent.
That Cristina in person should take it upon herself to launch this narrative, that she would descend from her political Olympus for something as mundane as making the media, whom she normally spurns, say what suits her (which makes her an “operator” in press jargon) indicates one thing – that the vice-president understood that it was time to calm the hornet’s nest and consign to the past the scandal which had rocked her government.
This scenario shows how Cristina’s extended family works, with its differing opinions and, above all, colliding futures. But now they have all closed ranks in the face of the Basualdo affair.
Like an experienced mother, CFK sent the message to calm down her own people, who had lined up to bash the economy minister. She understood that they were on the brink of being devoured from outside the government.
The scandal over utility pricing jerked into action the three main legs of the veep’s tripod: Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof attacked Economy Minister Martín Guzmán in an interview; the Instituto Patria, personified by Senator Oscar Parrilli, asked for the incoming money from the International Monetary Fund to be given uses other than those sought by the minister; La Cámpora issued a communiqué virtually accusing the disciple of Joseph Stiglitz of being an amoral operator. The vice-president’s whole clan, up in arms.
But the advance against Guzmán is a confusing reality. “They’re going all out,” said Radical deputy Mario Negri this week, an idea which sells well in the market of ‘la grieta,’ presenting Cristina’s people as united behind a sole interest: more and more power.
Although the latter is true enough (a political ambition shared by all parties), the former less so. Cristina’s power is everywhere but not homogenous.
La Cámpora has a date of foundation – in October, 2010 when 40 of their leading lights, including “Wado” de Pedro, Andrés Larroque, Mariano Recalde and Juan Cabandié, boarded an Aerolíneas Argentinas flight to see a football match between Argentina and Uruguay on the other side of the River Plate.
The scandal was such that most of them remember to this day the scathing reprimand, accompanied by screams and insults, which they received from Néstor Kirchner upon their return. They say it was the first time they saw him so annoyed and, especially, the first time they fully realised who they were and what was expected of them.
From that point various things have happened: the passage of office, of time, defeat, Mauricio Macri in the presidency, the struggle to stay out of jail, and a return to power.
Today La Cámpora is far removed from that bunch of reckless youths who went partying aboard a state aircraft. Now they are the biggest political grouping in the country and the only one, apart from the left, present in every province. According to journalist and author Diego Genoud, they number 35,000 to 40,000 militantes. It is a total only exceeded in local history by the Montoneros 50 years ago.
And that’s just the tip of an iceberg. That total includes seven mayors (Quilmes, Luján, Carmen de Areco, Mercedes, Santa Rosa, Río Grande and Ushuaia), 15 deputies and seven senators, apart from controlling the PAMI healthcare scheme for pensioners, the Correo Argentino post office, ANSES social security administration, Aerolíneas Argentinas, the DGI tax bureau and the Interior Ministry. And those are just the departments they head. In the Social Development, Productive Development, Justice, Transport, Economy and Public Works Ministries, they have secretaries who play strategic roles. To which may be added various trade unions grouping state workers – ATE, UPCN and the court clerks under Vanesa Siley – along with two faculties of the University of Buenos Aires under their control, making the conclusion inevitable: they’re everywhere.
A further conclusion discomforting many in government: due to their abysmal numerical superiority and top-down organisation, it is assumed that they will end up overrunning most government posts. This is a reality of which La Cámpora is aware too.
“If you don’t put Fernanda Raverta in ANSES, Luana Volnovich in PAMI or Basualdo in Energy, who else are you going to put? They might complain in the Casa Rosada but they literally have nobody else,” said one of their spokespersons. And that comes along with something else which they do not feel to be present throughout Frente de Todos: an ethos of militancy.
“We spent four years battling Macri and lawfare, fighting to stay out of jail. The likes of [Santiago] Cafiero, Guzmán, [Gustavo] Beliz, Vilma Ibarra and many others entered government without a drop of perspiration,” they say, in a conclusion which sometimes includes Alberto himself. Whether or not that is true, the important thing is that La Cámpora have a vision which not only precedes the Fernández government but aspires to succeed it.
Máximo Kirchner would like to personify that logic of “the new man,” in the words of Che Guevara. One example from recent days: after long months he took a week off to see his children down in Patagonia, despite which he participated virtually in every activity of his party and the caucus he heads in Congress while maintaining dialogue with his mother, Fernández and Guzmán – from the European trip of the latter pair to the repression in Colombia, the son of CFK is on top of every issue. Because he is so hyperactive and due to his links with Congress Speaker Sergio Massa, many in government are apprehensive as to his intentions and those of his followers.
“But I have no Plan B. If things go badly for this government, it means that they go badly for Luana [Volnovich], Fernanda [Raverta], 'Cuervo' Larroque and La Cámpora. If they go badly for Alberto, they go badly for everybody,” are words he often uses to allay fears, according to one source, justifying his own commitment with a personal sacrifice: sending Larroque, his right-hand man and the main contact for reaching him until then, to Kicillof as the Buenos Aires Province Social Development minister.
The Instituto Patria is not just a building (one which has literally been abandoned during the pandemic) or an institution but, before all else, a gathering of politicians of different origins, whose only point in common is their blind adherence to CFK. They are the kamikaze wing. Although it would be too much to say that nobody in the grouping is capable of an idea of their own, as many both in the government and La Cámpora think and say in private.
“When Parrilli begins to scream like a madman, many of us want to run and hide,” they say in La Cámpora circles. The Instituto Patria is the executive arm of the orders and desires of CFK, and not much more than that, although sometimes they go one step further than Cristina and make mistakes of their own. Apart from the Neuquén senator (“When Oscar Parrilli speaks, she is speaking, make no mistake about that,” they say in the Casa Rosada), that group includes Fernanda Vallejos, the deputy who has declared Guzmán a public enemy, and Leopoldo Moreau, among others.
The Instituto Patria is thus the tool closest to hand for the veep when she wants to stir things up in the government, without the need to send a signed letter herself. The idea pushed by Parrilli of using the money coming from the IMF for social assistance instead of paying off debt, as Guzmán wishes, should therefore be read as CFK’s own move.
The advance of Senator Jorge Taiana (whose long political and academic track record is miles ahead of the others) to nationalise the Hidrovía waterway is along those lines. Unlike La Cámpora, which has its own structure, or Kicillof, now a governor, she can do what she likes with the Instituto Patria lacking a mind of its own.
“Noooooo, when those UBA professors meet, I have to shut up because they talk all fancy and academic but we’re the ones who get our shoes dirty,” says Máximo, laughing, about his meetings with Alberto and Kicillof.
Contrary to common belief, La Cámpora militants, especially their leaders, are the most open to dialogue among Cristina’s followers and the ones with their feet most on the ground. Some examples: via Massa, Máximo has sat down with businessmen whom his mother always detested, has good links with the traditional Peronism, which CFK always mistreated, and a direct line to the local Church, to whom she never paid heed.
“He’s more like Néstor,” say those who know him, although they add that he can also be as stubborn as his father, citing as proof his strange offensive to take over the Buenos Aires provincial branch of Peronism which ended up badly with his abandoning it, only leaving wounds.
Kicillof is more intransigent, as can be noted by the uppercut he threw against Guzmán when defending Basualdo in an interview, as well as being one of the people most apprehensive about Máximo’s BA Province offensive. Whether it was because he had not been notified, because he was otherwise unsure or because it seemed to him gratuitous – there are various accounts of the Governor’s doubts but it remains clear that he feared the deputy being after more than the party chairmanship, following a modus operandi which La Cámpora is starting to carry out throughout the country, as evidenced by the advances of Lucía Alonso in La Pampa, Walter Vouto in Tierra del Fuego or Senator Anabel Fernández Sagasti en Mendoza. First the Peronist party helm and then the province itself.
“It’s not like that. Axel is not interested in being a political wheeler-dealer whereas Máximo is, nothing more than that,” says Kicillof’s circle, playing down the issue. In Buenos Aires City they remain calm.
“Cristina really loves Axel.” This last point suggests a certain jealousy awakening between Máximo and Kicillof, although the dispute might become more practical than theoretical – at some time, whether in 2023 or a more distant future, she is going to have to pick one of them for the presidential race.
Will there be fraternal strife?
Three legs of a tripod
La orga – La Cámpora is the biggest organisation in the country. Everywhere and with presidential plans.
Kicillof – The governor is a one-man engine room. He has his own group, his own plans and, above all, the support of CFK.
Instituto Patria – Spokespersons for the veep.
Luana Volnovich. PAMI chief controls one of the biggest state budgets and has raised her profile considerably, projecting electorally.
Fernanda Raverta. ANSES is another major budget conquered by La Cámpora. Highly respected by Alberto Fernández, very popular in Mar del Plata.
‘Wado’ De Pedro. The Interior Minister is a founder of La Cámpora and its most senior government member, as well as a key player for the administration.
Andrés Larroque. Máximo’s right-hand man whose departure to Kicillof’s Cabinet was a sacrifice for CFK’s son. Also a founder.
Augusto Costa. Buenos Aires Province Production Minister, close to Kicillof and a dark horse for the national Economy Ministry.
Carlos Bianco. Buenos Province Cabinet Chief and a key campaigner in 2019, often heading the attacks against the City Hall of Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta
Oscar Parrilli. Senator for Neuquén who responds to the veep. When he speaks, it’s Cristina talking, her best tool for sending messages.
Leopoldo Moreau. Originally Radical, another dart-thrower on Cristina’s behalf with the judicial system among his preferred victims.
Fernanda Vallejos. The deputy is on the offensive, openly seeking to succeed Guzmán. At times she goes one step further than Cristina and makes mistakes.