Ladies first and last in this round-up of the non-ministerial officials named by President Alberto Fernández last December, with no males left to address. Last Monday’s announcement of the Vicentin nationalisation changes the original order here in favour of Malena Galmarini, 45, as the only official in this group heading a Kirchnerite nationalisation firm, namely the Agua y Saneamientos Argentinos (AySA) state waterworks annexed by Néstor Kirchner from France’s Suez in 2006.
Not that Galmarini is the most self-made woman in this group, owing much of her prominence to being both the daughter of Carlos Menem’s Sports secretary Fernando Galmarini and the wife of Lower House Speaker Sergio Massa (the only bronze medallist in the history of Argentine presidential elections to top 20 percent, in 2015, better than some runners-up). Despite her political experience being limited to Tigre City Hall (Health and Social Development secretary from 2008 to 2019, remaining active long after her husband ceased to be mayor in 2013), she had loftier ambitions but Massa was squeezed out between presidential and vice-presidential supporters when distributing the spoils of office.
State waterworks in Argentina date back over a century to Obras Sanitarias de la Nación in 1912, even preceding democratic elections (its palatial building near the medical faculty housing water tanks dates back even further to 1885, while the City enjoyed running water as far back as 1869). Privatisation between 1991 and 2006 was unsuccessful, perhaps because eight-digit urban populations are so rare in the experience of European companies – charges doubled amid the minimal inflation of convertibility while investment lagged. It’s hard to get a clear picture of the data since 2006 – more people (with all presidencies fighting for the credit) and lower percentages, perhaps 20 to 25 percent up in Greater Buenos Aires but down below 90 percent from almost complete in the Federal Capital, sewage always barely two-thirds of the levels of running water, etc.
No freedom from corruption, as this week’s news reminds us – on Monday the OA, or Anti-Corruption Office, and the UIF money-laundering watchdog (both now headed by handpicked Kirchnerites) recommended going ahead with the investigation of two AySA projects awarded to Brazil’s scandal-ridden Odebrecht among other partners allegedly by bribing former Federal Planning minister Julio De Vido among others, a probe initiated under the Mauricio Macri presidency.
The best-known of today’s quartet is Victoria Analía Donda Pérez, 42, a deputy since 2007 (in and out of Kirchnerism) and born to still missing parents in the notorious ESMA Navy Mechanics School concentration camp during the military dictatorship, thus making her a human rights activist from birth so to speak – last December she was named to head the INADI National Institute against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism (in its somewhat tautological official title).
Most people would probably guess that INADI was a politically correct innovation at some stage in the dozen years of Kirchner presidencies but they would guess wrong – it was a 1995 creation of the neo-conservative Menem, who named Víctor Ramos (son of the fervid left-wing nationalist Jorge Aberlardo Ramos, whose FIP ticket allied to Peronism polled a million votes in the 1973 elections) as a bone for the left wing of the movement. Since Ramos the most interesting heads, up until Donda, have been the former Supreme Court justice Eugenio Raúl Zaffaroni (2000-2002) and María José Lubertino (2006-2009), who ruled that any suggestion that Cristina Fernández de Kirchner owed her presidency to being the previous president’s wife rather than her own supreme talents was discriminatory against women. Both Donda and Lubertino are pro-choice militants for abortion reform. Falling under the Justice and Human Rights Ministry, INADI’s mission statement should be self-explanatory from its title.
By far the biggest budget in today’s quartet is PAMI (Programa de Atención Médica Integral), responsible for the healthcare and other social services of pensioners. This went to Luana Volnovich, 40, who was born in Rio de Janeiro to Argentine exiles. Without much curriculum vitae before 2015 when she entered Congress, she is high up in La Campóra and has been romantically linked in the local press to Máximo Kirchner (she denied that claims as recently as 2018).
Those who would assume INADI to be the fruit of a progressive government might well imagine the same about PAMI but again they would be guessing wrong – it was the creation of a military junta back in 1971 to accompany the obras sociales union-run health care schemes for active workers arising at the same time, originally for those aged over 70. Volnovich is the 25th head (trustees as often as directors) in less than half a century, thus suggesting a high turnover which in turn reflects frequent corruption scandals, especially in the second half of PAMI’s history. Matilde Menéndez (1992-1994) and Víctor Alderete (1997-1999), both during Menem’s presidency, are two of the more notorious names. In this century the corruption has been more institutional than personal – as early as 2010 PAMI was suspected of serving as a slush fund for La Cámpora, well before Volnovich entered the picture. Current City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta (then aged only 35) was the PAMI trustee in the last stages of the Alliance administration between 2000 and 2001.
PAMI is huge, serving some 4.5 million pensioners and accounting for 70 percent of all public hospital payments since the elderly obviously have more health problems and medicine costs. The total PAMI budget is some US$7.7 billion as against US3 billion in the time of Menéndez with over 15,000 employees.
Last and probably least, Victoria Tolosa Paz, 44, who heads the new Federal Council for Social Policy – an institution with no real history (a National Council for the Coordination of Social Policy was created in the 2002 emergency but never really activated) and no real present either since it was designed as an executive branch shadow of the Socio-Economic Council yet to come into being.
An accountant, Tolosa Paz has never worked outside the Buenos Aires provincial capital of La Plata but is close to Alberto Fernández via her millionaire husband, former Kirchnerite Media secretary Enrique Albistur. On the night of the August 11 PASO primary she was declared the winner among five La Plata Peronist mayoral hopefuls over Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s favourite candidate Florencia Saintout who somehow managed to reverse the result a few days later but then lost to La Plata Mayor Julio Garro.
We have now covered 30 of the 31 officials named on December 6 – no space for new AFIP tax chief Mercedes Marcó del Pont who will form part of a final quartet alongside the Central Bank she once headed and ANSES social security administration, whose heads were confirmed on other dates (November 27 and December 1 respectively) but are more important than most ministries.