Politics

An in-depth look at Alberto Fernández’s cabinet

12th December 2019

By Luciana Bertoia

An in-depth look at Alberto Fernández’s cabinet

Although most headlines have gone with Economy Minister Martín Guzmán and his economic cabinet, Alberto Fernández made a full presentation of his team last Friday, confirming that many of the factions that supported his candidacy will be represented, including Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s Unidad Ciudadana, the Peronist Party and Sergio Massa’s Frente Renovador.

Inner Circle

But first and foremost, Fernández made sure that members of his inner circle were appointed in some of the most sensitive positions within the administration.

Santiago Cafiero is Fernández’s right-hand man, and was his campaign chief throughout the year. A 40-year-old political scientist, he will now be his Cabinet Chief, also known as Chief of Staff. Cafiero comes from a family with a strong Peronist tradition. He is the son of Juan Pablo Cafiero, former ambassador to the Vatican during Fernández de Kirchner’s presidency and Minister of Social Development of Fernando de la Rúa, as well as being the grandson of Antonio Cafiero, a historic Peronist leader who worked with Perón himself and led the party’s reformist branch in the 1980s.

Cafiero’s second-in-command will be economist Cecilia Todesca, who participated in Fernández’s team meetings with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) after winning the elections and, just like Cafiero, was one of the long-time members of Fernández’s Grupo Callao, a think tank formed by the President before Fernández de Kirchner picked him as her candidate.

Fernández chose Vilma Ibarra, a progressive lawyer who authored the same-sex marriage law in 2010, as his legal and technical secretary. She is the sister of former mayor of the City of Buenos Aires Aníbal Ibarra and in fact dated Alberto Fernández during the early Kirchnerite years.

Julio Vitobello, a lawyer of the Buenos Aires city Peronist party where Fernández made his political career, as well as a close friend of the President, will serve as Secretary of the Presidency.

Fernández also repatriated Gustavo Béliz, who was Néstor Kirchner’s Minister of Justice and Security, and will now head the Secretariat of Strategic Affairs. Béliz left the ministry in 2004 amid a confrontation with the strongman of the Intelligence Secretariat (SI) Horacio Antonio “Jaime” Stiuso. For more than ten years, Béliz lived abroad, working for the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

Foreign Policy

Although the Secretariat of Strategic Affairs was at the center of former president Mauricio Macri’s strategic foreign policy decisions, it is unclear whether it will continue to perform such tasks under the Fernández administration.

The focus, instead, will be on Felipe Solá, who was confirmed at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after following Fernández in all his trips abroad during his campaign. Solá, a former Buenos Aires province governor, is a pragmatic Peronist who has worked under different administrations over the past three decades.

Solá was one of the first Peronists to break with Fernández de Kirchner’s government during the Kirchnerite decade, even running with Mauricio Macri allies in Buenos Aires province in 2009, a move he now says he regrets. The new Foreign Minister was part of Massa’s Frente Renovador during the 2013, 2015 and 2017 election, but was the first within that front to move back with the Kirchnerites soon after, similarly to Alberto Fernández.

Massa is arguably one of the closest contacts that the Frente de Todos has with the United States, a sign that Solá is likely to hold a pragmatic approach with the continental superpower as a Foreign Minister. According to Fernández, Solá will also use his experience as a former Agriculture Secretary under Carlos Menem’s administration to attract foreign investment into the country and open new markets for Argentine products abroad.

Justice

At his inauguration, Fernández said he will carry out a comprehensive reform of the courts. The details of that program have not yet been revealed, but Marcela Losardo will oversee that task. Losardo, a fellow student and partner in a law firm, will be Fernández’s Justice minister. Losardo is on good terms with both the federal courts and the Supreme Court, where she is seen as the friendly face of the new government.

Losardo will be seconded by Juan Martín Mena, a young former Fernández de Kirchner official. Mena was number two in the Federal Intelligence Agency (AFI) after Fernández de Kirchner forced the resignation of then-head Jaime Stiuso. His departure came in the midst of the serious crisis that followed the mysterious death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman days after accusing then-president Fernández de Kirchner and Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman of trying to let Iran off the hook for the 1994 AMIA bombing. Argentina accused Iran of being responsible for the attack in 2006 but the investigation has not moved forward since then as Iran has rejected  the claims.

Carlos Zannini, Fernández de Kirchner’s former legal and technical secretary and one of her closest advisers, has been picked as Fernández’s Solicitor General, coordinating the work of all the state’s prosecutors. Fernández vindicated Zannini by putting him in that position after spending 107 days in jail for the Iran case.

Fernández announced that the controversial AFI will be audited, but so far the name of the auditor has not been revealed.

Security, Defense and Interior

Fernández decided that Sabina Frederic would take over the Ministry of Security. Frederic is an anthropologist, a university professor, who had already been part of the ministries of Defense and Security during the Kirchnerite era. Frederic will replace Patricia Bullrich, a minister with a tough-on-crime narrative and aligned with the security forces. On her first day in office, Frederic’s Twitter account was hacked.

Agustín Rossi returned to the Ministry of Defense, which he had commanded between 2013 and 2015. Like Frederic, Rossi is seen as an ally of Fernández de Kirchner, so the two key areas are likely to keep the spirit they had during her government.

Eduardo “Wado” de Pedro is probably one of the men with closest relationship to the new vice-president. De Pedro is a member of the youth organization La Cámpora and has often kept an eye on the legal cases against Fernández de Kirchner. During the campaign, De Pedro also became close with Fernández, who appointed him as his Interior Minister, a key position to negotiate with provincial governors.

Rights agenda

As de Pedro, Juan Cabandié is a son of “the disappeared”, as his parents were abducted by the dictatorship and were never seen again back in the 70s. A former member of La Cámpora, Cabandié was responsible for the reconciliation of Fernández and Fernández de Kirchner, the first step before she chose him to compete for the Casa Rosada. Cabandié was compensated with the Ministry of Environment.

In line with a growing feminist movement in the country, Fernández created a ministry of Women, Gender and Diversity, which will be led by Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta. She is a board member of the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), an influential human rights organization in the country. As a lawyer, she partook in cases prosecuting crimes against humanity and led the investigation looking into the businesses that big companies made during the last dictatorship. During the government of Mauricio Macri, she was one of the lawyers of indigenous leader Milagro Sala, who has been in custody since January, 2016.

Nicolás Trotta, linked to the Peronist party structure, and who coordinated the Frente de Todos‘ technical teams during the campaign, will be the Minister of Education. Roberto Salvarezza, former lawmaker and a member of the CONICET research bureau, will be in charge of the Ministry of Science and Technology. Filmmaker Tristán Bauer was elected to the Ministry of Culture. Bauer has just released a film about Macri’s term called Tierra Arrasada (Scorched Earth), a documentary against Mauricio Macri’s administration. In 2018, he directed a film about the disappearance of Santiago Maldonado, a young activist, alongside Florencia Kirchner, the vice-president’s daughter.

Former president of the San Lorenzo soccer club Matías Lammens will make his debut in public office, overseeing the Ministry of Tourism and Sports. Lammens lost the mayoral race for the City of Buenos Aires to Horacio Rodríguez Larreta. Architect María Eugenia Bielsa, who lost the Peronist gubernatorial primary to Omar Perotti in Santa Fe, will be the Minister of Housing.

Victoria Donda, a centre-left ally, will take over the anti-discrimination agency INADI, while Malena Galmarini, a member of the Frente Renovador and Massa’s wife, was appointed to head AYSA, the public water company.

Sensitive social areas

With more than 40 percent of the Argentine population living below the poverty line, according to a recent survey carried out by the Argentine Catholic University (UCA), Fernández has said he will focus on fighting hunger as one of his top priorities.  To tackle it, Fernández appointed political scientist Daniel Arroyo, a Sergio Massa ally, as Minister of Social Development.

Ginés González García, meanwhile, will return to the Public Health Ministry, with an agenda focused on the return of measles to medication prices and abortion. González García, a progressive medical doctor, held the same position under Néstor Kirchner, and has been a visible member of Argentina’s pro-choice movement since then.

Luciana Bertoia

Luciana Bertoia is a journalist specialized in judicial, political and human rights issues. She has published in Ámbito Financiero, Página/12, the Buenos Aires Herald and the International Justice Tribune.