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ECONOMY | 02-11-2019 11:09

Argentina’s next economic team: Who’s on Fernández’s radar for top posts

Faced with a crippling economic crisis, Frente de Todos president-elect is eyeing up options for his cabinet.

President-elect Alberto Fernández has five weeks to put the pieces of his Cabinet puzzle together before starting a government that will have no shortage of economic problems.

Argentina’s next leader takes office December 10 amid a deep economic crisis: Unemployment is above 10 percent, inflation hovers above 50 percent and one in every three Argentines lives below the poverty line. One of his first challenges will be to sit down with the International Monetary Fund to renegotiate the country’s US$56-billion credit line, which is on hold until he outlines his policies.

He is also expected to renegotiate terms for US$50 billion in long-term debt owed to creditors in Argentina and abroad. All of that with very little cash at hand: The Central Bank’s net foreign reserves are around US$10 billion, according to analyst estimates.

Yet Fernández isn’t in a hurry. He has no plans to announce his Cabinet until late November to avoid putting pressure on the team before they get into office, according to a person with direct knowledge of his thinking.

A spokesman for the president-elect didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Even if names aren’t officially announced, it’s widely expected that Fernández will pick his ministers among those who advised him during the campaign trail. All of them served in governments of the late Néstor Kirchner and his wife, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Here are some of Fernández’s closest advisers:

MATÍAS KULFAS

Considered as Fernández’s closest economic adviser and, possibly, his future economy minister, Kulfas has been with the campaign from the beginning, and also a core member of the president-elect’s think tank, Grupo Callao. It was Kulfas who led a press campaign to clarify Fernández’s words when, as a candidate in July, he said he wouldn’t pay interest on the Central Bank’s short-term debt. A 47-year-old economist with a doctorate in social sciences, Kulfas is seen by many analysts as rather unorthodox. He said in September that financing Argentina’s deficit with Central Bank funds – printing money – is an option. He served as general manager at the Central Bank from 2012 to 2013, when the government implemented strict capital and currency controls. Kulfas has spent his life in Buenos Aires, shifting between public sector posts and academia.

CECILIA TODESCA

Todesca is another leftleaning economist from Fernández’s think tank who’s been meeting with IMF officials and Macri’s economic team in recent months. With a masters degree from Columbia University, she worked at Standard & Poor’s sovereign risk department before joining the IMF as a senior adviser on Argentina. She then returned to Buenos Aires and held different roles at the Central Bank, including chief-of-staff for almost four years. She was also a professor and had an administrative role at a leftist research centre. Todesca’s political group has been criticised by her own father, Jorge Todesca, the head of the INDEC national statistics bureau, which was widely seen as publishing inaccurate economic data during the Fernández de Kirchner government. While the agency’s credibility was restored under President Mauricio Macri, Jorge Todesca published a letter in August in which he worried about INDEC’s independence if Fernández became president.

GUILLERMO NIELSEN

Nielsen, 68, is the most centrist of the top economists in Fernández’s camp. He renegotiated Argentina’s debt with the IMF and private creditors as finance secretary, a job he held from 2002 to 2005. He was also Argentina’s ambassador to Germany from 2008 to 2010. With a doctorate in economics from Boston University, Nielsen has spent most of his career in Buenos Aires. Along with Todesca, he has also met with current IMF officials and Macri’s economic team. He’s already butted heads with top leaders in Fernández’s broad coalition. In July, Nielsen called Buenos Aires Province Governorelect Axel Kicillof “a Marxist disguised as a Keynesian.”

MARTIN REDRADO

Redrado isn’t part of Fernández’s campaign, but he’s rumoured to be in the running for a top position. So far, he says he’s only maintaining dialogue with Fernández because they’ve known each other for 30 years. Somewhat of a celebrity economist in Argentina, Redrado, 58, was the nation’s Central Bank chief for six years – an incredibly long period for an institution that has had 61 presidents in 84 years, with an average tenure of 1.3 years. Harvard-educated, Redrado started his career at Salomon Brothers. More recently, he’s been an economic adviser to the World Bank.

by BY PATRICK GILLESPIE

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