Argentina’s powerful Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has slammed President Alberto Fernández in an open letter, heightening the political crisis that has roiled the government since it lost an election Sunday.
Fernández de Kirchner, who governed Argentina from 2007 to 2015, published a letter Thursday blaming Fernández for a “political catastrophe” she says was caused by his economic strategy. Their coalition’s loss in the September 12 midterm primary vote was largely due to the government’s mistaken policy of fiscal austerity, she said, adding pressure on Fernández to ramp up spending. She also called for an overhaul of the Cabinet.
In meetings with the president ahead of the vote, Fernández de Kirchner said she repeatedly warned against spending cuts “that were negatively impacting economic activity and society, and which would undoubtedly have electoral consequences.”
Fernández de Kirchner chose Fernández to lead their Frente de Todos coalition ticket for the 2019 presidential vote. Just two months from the final midterm vote on November 14, the letter blows open the political divide between the two factions: Fernández de Kirchner and the radical Peronist officials close to her; and Fernández’s more moderate Cabinet allies.
The internal feud comes after the ruling coalition was soundly defeated in most of Argentina’s regions Sunday, including Buenos Aires Province, a key battleground.
With no access to international credit markets, the government cannot easily heed Fernández de Kirchner’s calls to ramp up spending without the Central Bank printing money and worsening one of the world’s highest inflation rates.
After the letter went online, the president cancelled upcoming trips planned to Mexico and New York for the United Nations General Assembly, according to one of his spokesmen, who declined to comment on the letter itself. The president plans to announce new economic measures soon, the official added.
The dispute will make it harder for Argentina to reach a deal with the International Monetary Fund to reschedule payments on US$45 billion of debt, said Daniel Kerner, a managing director for Latin America at the Eurasia Group.
“[Fernández de] Kirchner wants control of the government and Fernández doesn’t want to give in at this point,” Kerner said in response to written questions. “A deal with the IMF is really hard right now.”
Argentina owes the IMF US$1.9 billion on Sept. 22, the first principal repayment of a record bailout from 2018. Fernández de Kirchner’s call for more government spending could also complicate the talks.
Argentina is emerging from three straight years of recession and remains afflicted by 50% annual inflation and double-digit unemployment.
In the letter, Fernández de Kirchner accused government officials of being oblivious to Sunday’s results and said their refusal to resign is impeding the big change in direction that is needed.
The vice president added that she suggested to Fernández on Tuesday that he pick new officials for key roles, such as the governor of the province of Tucuman, Juan Manzur, for the role of Cabinet chief.
Manzur met Fernández on Thursday afternoon at the Olivos presidential residence in the outskirts of Buenos Aires City, but no changes have been announced so far. Tapping Manzur for the job would mean firing Cabinet Chief Santiago Cafiero, one of Fernandez’s most loyal lieutenants.
The president resisted making cabinet changes, setting the stage for several ministers and officials aligned with Kirchner to offer letters of resignation Wednesday and escalating the political crisis. On Thursday, he tweeted that he would “guarantee the unity” of the coalition.
Fernández de Kirchner finished her letter reminding Fernández that she personally picked him for the top job.
“I just ask the president to honour that decision,” she said.