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ARGENTINA | 25-02-2023 09:34

Cabinet Chief Agustín Rossi: ‘Alberto Fernández will not put his aspirations first’

Following Juan Manzur’s exit, veteran Santa Fe politician Agustín Rossi has returned to the Cabinet at the helm of the ministerial team. His main challenge is to maintain coalition unity in the midst of the debate over electoral strategy.

In his new office, there are some photos left behind showing Alberto Fernández and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner together, which his predecessor did not take with him. 

Agustín Rossi has just become Argentina’s latest Cabinet chief, the third official to occupy that post during the Fernández administration. He arrives to office with a serious challenge ahead of him: keeping the Cabinet united in the midst of arguments over electoral strategy and candidacies. 

Rossi, 63, responds to Alberto Fernández but he has dialogue with everybody. Before taking office, he visited Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to talk about the administration. She did not ask anything of him in particular, he says, and nor does Rossi have any intention of being a possible link or go-between for the president and vice-president. 

The Santa Fe native admits that an inflation rate of six percent a month vexes him but he says he trusts in the recovery of the road to stability. He understands it as “logical” that the president should aspire to re-election but highlights that he prioritises collective interests.

 

You take over at a time when the discussion is already over who comes next, with the current government appearing to have scant possibilities.

That’s not so. We are a clearly competitive force and this is not a classic election between government and opposition. 

Those now in opposition who fiercely criticise our government were themselves in government only three years and a bit ago, not in the past century. This is not the situation of 2015 when [Mauricio] Macri could legitimately say: ‘We never governed,’ the opposition political leaders now held responsible positions in the Macri Presidency, making this an election between two governments. 

When they were in government, they left an inflation [rate] of over 50 percent. They took a country with an unemployment of six percent and turned it into 12 percent, which we’ve now lowered back to six or seven percent. In their four years of government, three saw an economic recession.

 

If we compare governments, this administration made promises in the last election which it has not kept, above all in the economic area.

Let’s not bury our heads in the sand. What we can say is that if we take the economy, we can see the glass as half-empty or half-full. We’ve lowered unemployment and we’re on course for three years running of economic growth but we have inflation which we must bring down and we’re working all the time looking for that while at the same time real wages are losing purchasing-power. We’re going to keep on working until the end of our term, trying to make the glass completely full. 

 

So is inflation your biggest electoral obstacle?

Inflation of six percent [a month] vexes me. Some issues are seasonal and we’re working hard to get onto a path which will lead us to months with an inflation beginning with the number three. That objective has not been postponed by the bad month we had.

 

Juntos por el Cambio has issued a statement in which they say they are going to have to defuse an economic bomb.

We would like to transmit confidence to Argentines that there is no bomb to defuse or if there is, it’s the debt bomb which they set. Since there is no scenario of a Juntos por el Cambio triumph, as they forecast, and faced with a competitive government, this leads them to scaremongering but the fear is that they win again to deepen the economic uncertainties they caused.

 

Could these opposition statements produce a scenario of crisis in the midst of the campaign?

No, nobody believes Juntos por el Cambio, not even the markets. What they must do is to explain why they left the country with more debt, more inflation, more unemployment and more economic recession than they received. The Argentines do not want a government with those characteristics again and nor do they want an Argentina governed by a Jair Bolsonaro or a Donald Trump. Here we have a right outside Juntos por el Cambio but also working to use democracy from within to reach power without believing in democracy.

 

You arrive in a Cabinet where it seems natural that the Interior Minister [Eduardo ‘Wado’ de Pedro] does not talk to his president, who in turn does not talk to his vice-president.

I talk to all my Cabinet colleagues and value the work of each one of them. I spoke to Cristina before taking office and also have frequent dialogue with her. I’m a leader who has dialogue with all our sectors, permitting me a more accurate knowledge of the composition of our coalition and I’ll make my contribution from there. 

 

Did Cristina Fernández de Kirchner ask you for anything in particular in the way of governance?

No, she always keeps an eye on the administration and I told her that if she saw anything, she should communicate it to me but there was no specific issue. It was a good chat, as chats with Cristina always are.

 

Could you be a link between the president and the vice-president?

No. 

 

Isn’t there a need for the two of them to sit down together?

When it is necessary and when the conditions are right, they will sit down together. Politics are not as one would desire them to be but what they are. We had a very good meeting with all the top political leaders with institutional responsibilities. At that meeting the first thing we vindicated was unity, knowing that unity to be not enough with other things needed.

 

Among the things where there seems to be no agreement are the candidacies. The meeting was swamped by a “CFK 2023” operation.

Candidacies are individual decisions. Cristina must have the possibility freely to decide if she wants to be a candidate or not and to that end the scenario of her ban must be modified. Why is Cristina banned? They answer us: ‘Her sentence has not been upheld’ and ‘If she wants to be a candidate for anything, she can’ but nobody guarantees that if Cristina does decide to be a candidate, the legal procedures to uphold her sentence will not be accelerated, leaving Frente de Todos in mid-campaign without its leading political figure with the most political density and the greatest electoral echo.

 

Does the president want to be a candidate?

Alberto has clearly said that he understands that he has every constitutional and political right to aspire to re-election but he also understands that if along the way there appear men or women better placed than he could be, he would have no problem in placing himself at the disposal of whoever that might end up being. It would be the logical thing for the president to aspire to re-election but he has said that he would never place that individual aspiration above the collective interest. 

 

The Kirchnerites say that a head of state cannot enter the PASO primaries against other leaders while Alberto Fernández says that he has no problem competing with anybody, including his ministers. What is your stance?

I don’t know, I recognise that it is a weird situation but it is also weird how the coalition has been working all this time and, independently of all that, the president has not stopped being a political militant. It would be a singular question but we are also undergoing all the experience of governing with a coalition born of the main political figure, namely Cristina, not placing herself at the top but the bottom of the [presidential] ticket. There are a number of things which are singular so that a priori I would say that it is weird but also that it does not seem to me to create too many inconveniences.

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Rosario Ayerdi

Rosario Ayerdi

Jefa de Política. Mail: [email protected]

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