President Alberto Fernández on Wednesday swore in Agustín Rossi as his new Cabinet chief, using the ceremony to praise the veteran politician’s commitment to the unity of the ruling Frente de Todos coalition.
“Agustín will set his own stamp [on the job],” Casa Rosada sources briefed reporters, anticipating hands-on, day-to-day work and a more political approach than his predecessor in the post Juan Manzur. Previous to his appointment, Rossi served as trustee of the AFI intelligence services.
Fernández presented the man known as ‘Chivo’ by saying: “I want to welcome dear Agustín back to the Cabinet. When we began with Néstor [Kirchner in 2003] and still had to get serious, one day [current Ambassador to Washington] Jorge Argüello came along and said that there was a municipal councillor in Rosario who could play for our team.”
He added fondly: “I’m very happy to have you next door to my office, you’re very welcome.”
The president went on to thank Manzur for his service, paying tribute to his work and wishing him well in his return Tucumán provincial politics.
Fernández also recalled that 40 years of democracy to be celebrated later this year, highlighting the presence of Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo head Estela Barnes de Carlotto and former junta trial judge Carlos Arslanian at the ceremony.
Underlining the desire to pitch coalition unity to voters, ministers Sergio Massa (Economy), Santiago Cafiero (Foreign Relations and a previous Cabinet chief), Jorge Taiana (Defence), Victoria Tolosa Paz (Social Development), Eduardo de Pedro (Interior), Jaime Perczyk (Education), Gabriel Katopodis (Public Works), Daniel Filmus (Science and Technology) and Raquel “Kelly” Olmos (Labour) were also in attendance, with teamster Hugo Moyano and CGT Secretary-General Héctor Daer representing organised labour. More radical figures such as the deputy Hugo Yasky of the CTA labour umbrella and the teacher unionist Roberto Baradel, among others, were also present, though no provincial governors.
Prior to serving as AFI intelligence trustee for the last eight months, Rossi served as defence minister for the Frente de Todos administration from its entry into office in late 2019 to when he was caught up in the politics of the 2021 midterms, returning to his native Santa Fe Province in a vain bid for a Senate seat.
Manzur’s departure had been forewarned, long declaring his intention to return to his home province of Tucumán to be the running-mate of current Governor Osvaldo Jaldo on his ticket as his future lieutenant-governor. Elections are to be held in the province on May 14.
The move forced the hand of the head of state, which has chosen to complete his Cabinet line-up with Rossi, a leader who has always defined himself as a Kirchnerite and who headed the Defence Ministry during the first 18 months of the president’s administration.
Rossi, 63, left his post in 2021 after choosing to complete in legislative elections in Santa Fe Province as a senatorial hopeful in the local Frente de Todos primaries with the backing of the provincial governor, Omar Perotti, the President and Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner before the latter changed her mind in favour of current Senator Marcelo Lewandowski. The relationship between “el Chivo” and the ruling coalition’s main leaders cooled, but as the months have gone by, and in the midst of a turbulent period for the coalition, he has always spoken up for unity. Fernández, faced with the possibility of replacing Cristina Caamaño at the head of AFI, thought of Rossi.
The portfolio’s number two will remain unchanged: despite speculation that he might replace Manzur, Juan Manuel Olmos, a historic leader of the Justicialist Party (PJ), will continue as deputy Cabinet chief.
Rossi is a civil engineer born in Vera, Santa Fe Province, in 1959. He is married to the lawyer María Raquel Pezzelato, with whom he has two children. A Peronist veteran since the 1980s, he began his political career in Rosario, and has vast experience in both legislative and executive roles. He has always been closely linked to Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and the Kirchnerite wing of the Peronist coalition, though in recent years he has become closer to the President.
He is said to have the “trust” of Alberto Fernández, an important factor at a time that tensions are running high in the ruling coalition.