It’s 11:30am in the morning. Cecilia Todesca Bocco walks out of the Cabinet chief’s office, goes down the staircase, crosses the Patio de las Palmeras and enters Vilma Ibarra’s office. She enters and begins to go over the final revisions of a presidential decree outlining privatesector wage increases. It’s a path that has been trodden many times since December 10.
Todesca, Alberto Fernández’s vice-cabinet chief, and Ibarra, the president’s legal and technical Secretary, only met after the general elections on October 27. But both acknowledge that they have now become “inseparable.” Today, they take care of the numbers, and the signature, of Argentina’s new leader.
“We have to stabilise the economy, lay the foundations, so it stops crumbling,” Todesca repeats tirelessly about her role in the national government. “You’ll have to excuse me, but I have to see the president’s first arrival at the Casa Rosada,” the official said on her first day of office, interrupting a meeting in her office as she heard the helicopter draw near. It was one of the few times that, until now, she has used her office in front of the Martín Fierro Salon. With her notebook and laptop in hand, she tours the different offices and spends long hours in Cabinet Chief Santiago Cafiero’s office, shaping the economic policies that the president has announced during the first month of his government.
Todesca took office with an overarching premise: identify the sectors that have lost the most and reallocate resources to them. “How are we going to spend the little that we have? Giving to those that were hit hardest,” says the economist, who was part of the Grupo Callao think-tank, a space that brought together the president’s most trusted people. She emphasises the point – despite the changes made to the pension system by the new government, she says that the most disadvantaged pensioners of the past few years will not lose purchasing-power again.
“We can’t made big shake-ups, we’re going to gradually loosen as we regain revenue,” Todesca answers when asked about which funds will go to what ministries. She recognises that demand will not disappear, but says priorities must be set. For that reason, she maintains daily communications with different ministries and the head of the economy portfolio, Martín Guzmán.
When she joined Grupo Callao in February 2018, the economist says she was surprised by the central role that Fernández had given to young people who today, in large part, now make up his Cabinet. Along with many of the officials who have accompanied the former Cabinet chief on his path to the presidency over the past few years, Todesca found out about his presidential candidacy only through the video published by Cristina Fernández de Kirchner on May 18 last year. That Saturday morning her mobile phone was out of reach, because her only concern was making sure a cake that had been ordered for an event would arrive on time. On that day, Fernández asked her to be a part of his economic team.
As deputy cabinet chief, she recognises that 2020 “will not be a great year” for Argentina, but she insists that the objective is to halt the slide, stabilise the economy and implement measures such as the ones the government has been announcing.
Todesca and Ibarra tend to work late at the Casa Rosada. The legal and technical secretary doesn’t just take lunch at Balcarce 50, she has dinner there, too. It wasn’t easy for her team to find a delivery service in Microcentro after 10pm.
On one of the first days, Ibarra left her office at 2am. Cafiero, Todesca and Ibarra surprised security that first Saturday, arriving first thing in the morning to finish rounding out the Social Solidarity and Productive Reactivation Law that would make its way into Congress just a few days later. Ibarra also turned the lights on of her office the next day – she arrived that Sunday with two bottles of Coca-Cola under her arms, knowing that there would be no catering staff that day.
On top of revising decrees and resolutions signed by Fernández, Ibarra’s first days were dedicated to studying the new ministerial structure, especially to avoid the duplication of roles and tasks. But, on top of her obsession for the technical details of each regulation she pens, the former lawmaker also provides Fernández with her political viewpoint. During a debate regarding the emergency legislation, Ibarra was one of the officials who took over Sergio Massa’s office in Congress and took the political fight to the opposition.
Last Friday, Ibarra stayed late once again at the Casa Rosada, putting the finishing touches to the decree that was published a day later in the Boletín Oficial. Three weeks after taking office, she still hasn’t decorated her ground-floor office. She did find time, however, to visit the library and take out several volumes on comparative constitutional law, which she sit on her desk.
Fernández didn’t need to tell them that they wouldn’t be taking any time off this summer. “Who wants holidays now? We want to be here,” Ibarra and Todesca say in unison. “And there is a lot to do.”