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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 23-01-2022 21:12

Alberto Fernández needs a new Cabinet chief: Juan Manzur has decided to leave

The governor of Tucumán, who took leave from post to serve as Cabinet chief, wants to return to his province, frustrated by his loss of power. President Fernández does not intend to keep him either.

Surely before the end of the summer, barring some political imponderables, Argentina’s government will once again change the role of Cabinet chief, where Juan Manzur has been in charge for just four months.

Officially, the reports have been denied and denial is almost inevitable. But sources very close to the governor of Tucumán Province, who is currently on leave, have admitted in confidence that his departure from office is inexorable.

This is one of the few points of agreement between President Alberto Fernández and his Cabinet chief: neither of whom is satisfied with the Tucumán leader’s role. For different reasons, of course.

The president and his closest advisers consider that, in some way, Manzur tried to "take over" the government's management after the electoral blow of the PASO primaries. In any case, it would be an original sin. Manzur was installed in the Casa Rosada after that defeat and, above all, amid the worst internal crisis experienced by the ruling coalition, triggered by Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's public statements and the resignations of her Cabinet stalwarts.

The displacement of her predecessor, (now Foreign Minister) Santiago Cafiero, had been a growing demand in almost all the sectors of the Frente de Todos enrolled in what could symbolically be called 'albertismo.'

Manzur's arrival was followed by a mise-en-scène of hyperactivity in decision-making, especially on his own part. The official concept was that the government was reacting because it had heard the message from voters at the ballot-box. The opposition called it the 'Plan Platita', thanks to a misunderstanding by former Buenos Aires Province health minister Daniel Gollan.

And so, Manzur began to call Cabinet meetings at 7am or 8am, a prohibitive time for albertismo. The Tucumán leader’s working day was frenetic with meetings, events, trips and hearings. With meticulous publicity.

The maelstrom included taking a trip to New York and Washington in mid-October, in the context of negotiations with the International Monetary Fund and Argentina’s multi-billion-dollar debt, via a non-commercial plane.

The president and his inner circle were not amused by his fast-paced, all-encompassing style. Not only because they considered it artificial, but also because it could imply that there had previously been slowness, delays or inaction.

"That's just the way Juancito is," they explained with derision.

But what was least liked, especially by Fernández, was that Manzur informally let slip his expectations of running for the presidency in the future.

The good times were brief. The Manzur gale lasted as long as a Tucuman breeze at siesta time in summer. Soon, the officials closest to the president began to avoid him, they vacated his Cabinet meetings (which eventually dried up) and his public appearances thinned out.

The president, obviously, led this sort of boycott. This became more evident after the defeat in the midterm legislative elections. Alberto felt empowered despite the result, which he celebrated as if he had won.

That was a turning-point and the disregard for Manzur has since grown. As tensions escalated, there were peaks, such as when the Tucumán leader did not accompany the presidential trip to Rome and Glasgow (just as now he is not expected to go to Moscow and Beijing either).

It has even transpired, through unofficial channels, that members of the governmental cast were and still are frequent visitors to the office of Foreign Minister Cafiero, which has become a virtual and parallel Cabinet office.

Aside from his trip to the US to accompany Economy Minister Martín Guzmán, Manzur has barely been involved in the most pressing issue facing the government: the discussions with the IMF. 

Manzur does not eat glass. He is too uncomfortable with this non-position where he has been for weeks. He has tried to clarify this with the president, who denies any animosity towards him, although the facts reflect the opposite.

The latest of these occurred a few days ago. The head of state launched a public-private renewable energy cluster in San Juan Province last Tuesday (January 18), together with the host governor, Sergio Uñac, and the governors of the other five provinces (Río Negro, Neuquén, Mendoza, Catamarca and La Rioja). Guzmán, Productive Development Minister Matías Kulfas, Interior Minister Eduardo ‘Wado’ De Pedro, and Energy Secretary Darío Martínez all travelled with him. Manzur, who was meant to be the central bridge with the governors, was not invited.

That is why he has decided to return to Tucumán, in an unhurried departure agreed with Alberto F, scheduled for February or March, depending on the timing of the negotiations with the Fund. There is also a personal component to the delay. Manzur also wants to give the head of state time to prepare his replacement.

Interestingly, Manzur’s return as governor might not go smoothly. Lieutenant-Governor Osvaldo Jaldo, replacing him in charge of the provincial executive, is his deadly enemy and the truce they established to allow for his arrival in Buenos Aires could blow up. Perhaps this latent conflict will slow down Manzur’s departure more than the president himself.

Javier Calvo

Javier Calvo


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