Presidential Spokesperson Gabriela Cerruti was summoned for a task which seems cyclopean: to be the voice of a government with many differences made public. From that standpoint, she describes her links with the different members of the ruling Frente de Todos coalition and the decision-making process.
Cerruti, 55, defines herself as a personal friend of President Alberto Fernández, whom she identifies as her political chief. The author, journalist and former City and national lawmaker says that she accepted her current post just as she was thinking of dropping her political career.
What are the political, practical and functional differences between the job you have now and that of your predecessor [as presidential spokesperson] Juan Pablo Biondi?
I speak for the government as a whole, for the ruling coalition. Alberto Fernández summoned me to tell me that he had an idea – that he did not want a spokesperson, as Juan Pablo Biondi had been, to transmit what he was saying, thinking, doing or not doing.
He wanted a government spokesperson like in other countries. He referred to the cases of Spain and also the United States, somebody to express the official voice of the ruling coalition. After the internal debates and the decision-making, when something must be denied or explained or placed in context, somebody who was capable of expressing the voice of the government as a whole.
This is an enormous challenge, constructing a post which did not exist in Argentina. When the voice of the government is a woman, it’s a double challenge.
Biondi spoke in the name of Alberto Fernández and you of the government. How do you synthesise the divergences?
By working hard. We all work to achieve it. I have found acceptance for working toward this which helps to place everything in order.
I talk to all the ministers, a great deal with the president, with all the referential leaders of the different political forces making up the coalition. I do that above all ahead of the Thursday press conferences. I ask everybody about the issues in their areas which seem to them most important, as well as some issues which might have some press interest as it seems to me. I’m informed as to the spirit of the coalition as a whole.
The point is to conciliate different positions. You must have been aware that Cristina Fernández de Kirchner requested Biondi’s exit. Did that weigh in your decision?
I come from a political background. I’m a friend of Alberto Fernández, who was my political chief when I was a legislator in the City of Buenos Aires. I entered into active politics when the Néstor Kirchner hurricane appeared and enamoured those of us who were political militants but not holding any government posts.
I admire and respect the ex-president and current vice-president, to whom I am very close, and with Máximo Kirchner and Sergio Massa, whom I learned to respect in his task as a deputy. Legislative tasks teach you a lot of things. Despite the many things said by politicians and journalists, there comes a time when you sit down and vote for laws. The government caucus contains all the wings of the coalition. At a determined moment, you vote for what has been decided. To sustain it, you formulate a discourse which represents the different wings of the coalition.
I was hyperactive legislatively. When you speak, you pass a law, arriving there after a lot of internal discussion. It must represent the whole. Sometimes that synthesis comes out better and sometimes worse. Sergio Massa told me: “If one day I get annoyed, another day Cristina and another Alberto, that’s because you’re doing your job well.”
Do you have contact with Cristina Fernández de Kirchner?
I have much more of a relationship with Máximo Kirchner. But when there is some issue to consult with her, I obviously do so.
I have a cordial daily relationship. I constructed it as a deputy. He’s the head of an extraordinary caucus. He manages to unite the different voices and give rein to the arguments. That’s what we have to institutionalise within the coalition – that nobody is scared of arguing.
He told the president: let’s place the arguments on the table. Spain has a coalition government and nobody doubts, even with different quests, that they must deepen how to carry forward the agenda.
Is Máximo the same thing as Cristina?
Nobody is the same as anybody. There are political spaces even within the coalition. But has anybody seen deputies professing loyalty to Alberto not voting for a law because Máximo Kirchner had proposed it or Máximo not voting for the proposal because it came from elsewhere?
At some point you make that diagonal move. Everybody yields a little and we arrive at an agreement.
Alberto Fernández proposed you for the post but not the Cabinet Chief.
I depend directly on Alberto Fernández. That’s why he wanted me to have ministerial rank. My political chief in the government is Alberto Fernández.
How is your relationship with Cabinet Chief Juan Manzur?
Daily. In the same sense that I talk to the ministers, I also talk with the Cabinet chief about his tasks, what he’s doing, his positions on different issues. He’s the person in charge of the Secretaríat of Communications where I have a permanent relationship with Juan Ross and Valeria Zapesochny. Besides transmitting the voice of the government, we must make it reach the media.
So you have the experience of being on both sides of the counter...
There are more communicating vessels than you would think between the press and politics.
Is interpreting things via the silence or absence of Cristina an exaggeration of journalists?
They do exaggerate. They reproduce the way in which they think politics should be managed. That’s sometimes a bit old-fashioned and I say that with all respect. In these times of social networks, there is a lot less intermediation between what happens and who is listening, between politics and the people, and vice versa. Sometimes the journalists are looking for things to be how they want them to be.
Cristina expresses herself how she wants, when she wants and loud and clear. Nobody has any doubts when she wants to express herself, she says it. When she wants to act, she acts.
A basic principle says that not communicating is also communicating.
Reading not communicating or silence as being against and not in favour is arbitrary. The vice-president and the president have a daily relationship.
Is silence leaving room for Alberto Fernández and supporting him?
When Cristina Kirchner does not like something, she says so clearly.
“No news, good news”?
She converses daily with the government.
When she speaks, it’s generally because she wishes to transmit dissent. When she doesn’t speak, is that support?
Your interpretation is a possibility. She also expresses her support publicly. If Cristina were to speak every day, the press would say that she is governing and not Alberto Fernández. Since Cristina Kirchner doesn’t speak, they say that she is disgusted.
We feel that the president does govern, that he has an excellent relationship with the members of the coalition and that the vice-president is central. Not only because she is the vice-president and heads the Senate but because she is a historic political leader beyond discussion in this country with a very strong relationship with much of the population.
How do you analyse the fact that every time the president meets up with businessmen and the CEOs of overseas companies to announce and explain his vision, they always ask: ‘Does the vice-president agree with what you’re saying?’
They do so because they read a lot of newspapers. An issue is constructed and converted into conventional wisdom for businessmen. If there is everyday insistence on a problem, the issue is installed. It’s very difficult for a government to come out every day saying that this problem does not exist.
After the elections in which he managed to reverse the results of the PASO primaries in Chaco, Governor Jorge Capitanich said that the media would have to be regulated because people start thinking what journalists propose. Do you agree?
In that matter I have always had a different opinion from many of my political colleagues.
Elections are not won or lost due to the media. I believe more in the theory of reception, speaking in terms of communication theories, which is that people listen to and decode the media within the context in which they are heard and decoded. That has more to do with one’s own common sense and education. That’s how the media we consume are chosen. But it does seem to me that the media system is very strong for collective conservation.
Is there an emancipated audience, aware of every moment?
There is a dispute about the permanent collective conventional wisdom of different groups and hegemonic sectors, whether economic or cultural. That’s not just in the media. The collective conversation is as much marked by the media as by the major platforms.
One of the problems we have today is that we do not know where to locate sovereignty because much of the collective conversation is managed by centres of power beyond the different countries. That opens up an enormous challenge. Juan Perón said in his day: “With all the media in my favour in 1955, I lost and when I came back in 1973, I had none in my favour.” And that’s the way it is.
Cristina Fernández de Kirchner governed with most of the media against her to the very last, even in 2011, when she won with a historic percentage of votes. You can win or lose elections with the media on your side.