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ARGENTINA | 26-08-2023 00:27

Rumours and confirmations: Javier Milei assesses potential cabinet options

Propelled by his PASO primary victory, the libertarian lawmaker’s team is hurriedly assessing its options. The presidential hopeful has already said who will be heading Ministries of Foreign and ‘Human Capital,’ the latter pooling sensitive areas under the leadership of a woman with an unknown background. Who might join a Javier Milei cabinet if he is elected as president: confirmed names and rumours.

Javier Milei had hardly come to terms with his stunning 30 percent tally in the PASO primaries on August 13 when the question arose: Who will be working with him? 

With the possibility of Milei assuming the presidency at the end of the year in the air, names and rumours quickly began circulating about the persons who might join a La Libertad Avanza cabinet. Faced with the uncertainty triggered by a new and ultra-personalist party, knowing the track records of the potential candidates also gives some clues as to his potential government.

Milei, 52, constantly repeats that his aim is state reform and one of his first measures will be to eliminate numerous ministries. According to the economist, a total of eight would survive in his government: Defence, Justice, Security, Economy, Foreign Relations, Infrastructure, Interior and Human Capital (which would absorb the Education, Health, Social Development and Labour portfolios).

Until now Milei has confirmed just three names: Diana Mondino for Foreign Relations, Sandra Pettovello for Human Capital and Guillermo Francos for Interior. Both women are currently parliamentary candidates and would resign their seats to join the Cabinet, a familiar practice in the so-called "old politics."

Milei has also delegated to his running-mate Victoria Villarruel the decision as to who head the Security and Defence Ministries. The names arising are Guillermo Montenegro, a figure close to the vice-presidential candidate, and, more recently, retired intelligence colonel Jorge Vives.

"All media speculation and the general elections still lie ahead," responded a La Libertad Avanza spokesperson.

The list of names for the Economy Ministry is growing. Milei assures that he has already defined his choice but does not go beyond "somebody as orthodox as me." Several options have circulated in the media but for now the most insistent name is Emilio Ocampo, a man described as the libertarian leader’s "favourite economist."

In the week immediately following the PASO primaries, Carlos Rodríguez, Roque Fernández and Darío Epstein were also mentioned. Even if all are close to Milei and came out talking of economic plans in the days after the elections, it is difficult to assess their real possibilities and chances or if this responds to an attempt at self-installation.

La Libertad Avanza has made the first shortlist for the Economy Ministry: "Rodríguez, Roque and Epstein will be ad honorem presidential economic advisers if we win," said party sources. The others? No reply.

 

Sandra Pettovello: Unknown leader for non-existent ministry 

In its electoral platform, La Libertad Avanza reflects long and hard on what it understands as "human capital."

"It is a mix of the skills, experience and knowhow of each person, indispensable for the economy of a country. Investing in it increases productivity and drives technological progress, as well as the multiple benefits obtained in other areas such as the social or scientific. The people are the most valuable and important thing in any organisation," reads the text, before going on to confirm the aim of merging the Social Development, Health and Education Ministries.

This new-look Human Capital Ministry would administer sensitive institutions such as hospitals and schools, as well as funds which are at the heart of the libertarian debate such as social assistance. 

For this post Milei has chosen an unknown woman without any managerial experience (at least none which can be traced): Sandra Pettovello, who today is in third place on the party’s list of Congress candidates for this City.

According to her personal website, Pettovello studied journalism at the University of Belgrano and Family Science at Universidad Austral (a two-year course which, according to university information, tackles family questions from an interdisciplinary viewpoint and from a "holistic and socio-ecological perspective"). Furthermore, the candidate enumerates a long and varied list of courses ranging from "neuro-psycho-education" through fundraising for organisations to reiki (an alternative medicine energy transmission healing technique).

Pettovello, Milei’s potential "super-minister," is highly active on social networks but extremely averse to granting interviews.

"She does not want to go out anywhere, it’s very difficult," an individual close to her told Perfil

Should La Libertad Avanza win, Pettovello will have to overcome that difficulty in order to be able to give some reply as to what she is thinking of doing with "human capital."

 

Diana Mondino: Congress candidate to portfolio head

Diana Mondino, confirmed by Milei as his choice for the Foreign Ministry, is much better-known. An extremely prolific and popular social media user, above all on Twitter or X, she also has a long academic and extramural career. 

When Mondino announced she was joining La Libertad Avanza last May, those who followed her were not surprised. Permanently controversial, like her political leader, her online posts often go viral for their controversial criticisms of the government, progressive ideology and feminism and her cheerleading for a more flexible economy.

Mondino graduated in economics from the University of Córdoba, the city of her birth. She lived in Barcelona, where she attended the IESE Business School, and did courses at Yale University in the United States. In 1991 she founded a risk rating agency and has since sat on the board of directors of companies like Pampa Energía, Banco Supervielle, Loma Negra and Bodegas Bianchi. She currently directs the masters degree in Finance at CEMA University.

Anybody familiar with Mondino will know her tone. Just to give one example, when consulted last May as to her opinion of Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero’s attempts to speak English at a foreign summit, she responded: "I wash and speak English.”

Although now a La Libertad Avanza candidate for Congress, her post heading the Foreign Ministry is assured should Milei win. She already has her work cut out with Milei: after the libertarian said that his government would break off relations with China because "I do not negotiate nor cut deals with Communists," she had the inevitable task of toning down his words and walking back his remarks.

"He shoots his mouth off," said the economist, trying to clarify what they have in mind. "What we are not going to accept is to sign agreements which are not transparent, sinister and secretive, as [Sergio] Massa did on his last trip [to Beijing]."

 

Guillermo Francos: Well-known figure for Interior

Guillermo Francos is Argentina’s representative at the Inter-American Development (BID in its Spanish acronym) – or at least he was until a few days ago. He has now resigned the post, to which he was appointed by President Alberto Fernández, in order to join Milei’s team.

Atypically for the libertarian leader’s team team, this law graduate of the Universidad del Salvador has an extremely long track record in Argentine politics and would be the chosen figure to link up with the provinces via the Interior Ministry.

A City councillor for the conservative Federal Party in the 1990s, Francos co-founded with Domingo Cavallo the party Acción por la República, for which he was a national deputy. The turn of the century found him in the private sector with Eduardo Eurnekian’s Corporación América, although he returned to the public sphere in 2007 when then Buenos Aires Province governor Daniel Scioli summoned him to head the Bapro provincial bank.

In 2011 he left that post to found and head Provincia Microempresas for small companies until 2015 when Mauricio Macri won the presidency, hence returning to  Eurnekian. In 2017 he founded Wilobank, Argentina’s first digital bank.

Francos made Milei’s acquaintance  in 2014 when both formed part of Fundación Acordar, a think-tank for Scioli. In conversation with Perfil, somebody who worked with Francos at Bapro said that they already knew that he would be joining La Liberta Avanza ahead of its official confirmation.

"I knew that he was leaving that mission [at BID] to return to Buenos Aires and dedicate himself to the Milei campaign," they assured, praising Guillermo Francos as "an exceptional person, beloved even by those at the opposite end of his political thinking.”

“He was always liberal and has never hidden it but fundamentally he is a humanist who profoundly respects the differences,” the person added.

The Sunday afternoon after the PASO primary, La Libertad Avanza spokespersons confirmed Francos' arrival. He declared his conviction "to work in the team led by Javier Milei to construct a liberal Argentina as conceived by [Juan Bautista] Alberdi – modern, developed, fairer and more decent."

 

The confidants of Victoria Villarruel

Victoria Villarruel entered La Libertad Avanza with the aim of seducing the most conservative votes denying the crimes of the 1976-1983 military dictatorship. The deputy, who heads the Asociación de Víctimas del Terrorismo group, is Milei’s vice-presidential running-mate. Underlying her importance to him, he has placed her in charge of deciding who heads the Security and Defence Ministries should they win the elections.

Soon after the primaries, the name of Guillermo Montenegro was installed. A La Libertad Avanza candidate for the Buenos Aires provincial legislature, he heads the Montenegro & Asociados law firm and is secretary-general of the conservative Partido Demócrata headed by Villarruel, as well as forming part of the Fundación Oíd Mortales.

Five days before the PASO primaries, Villarruel, Montenegro and their Quilmes representative Carlos ‘Charly’ Onteiro were denounced by former members of the Partido Demócrata for falsifying signatures to take over the party helm. The charges were presented to the Juzgado Federal N°1 electoral courtroom in La Plata under the judge Alejo Ramos Padilla.

La Libertad Avanza sources neither confirm nor rule out the possibility of Montenegro entering the Cabinet. "He’s the person Victoria Villarruel trusts most," they repeat.

Another name to emerge was that of retired Intelligence colonel Jorge Vives, who also forms part of the Fundación Oíd Mortales. There was no response from La Libertad Avanza as to that possibility. Vives worked in Customs during the Mauricio Macri presidency and his name crops up in press articles following the case of the pseudo-lawyer Marcelo D’Alessio, with whom the military ex-officer both communicated and met.

 

Long list for Economy Ministry

La Libertad Avanza is hermetic as to the identity of the economy minister Milei might have in mind. Party sources, however, do not deny the rumours. 

The latest name to be insistently installed was Emilio Ocampo, who announced his incorporation into the new party via the social networks, tweeting: "Javier Milei called and asked me to advise him in issues related to dollarisation. I replied affirmatively. I’m joining the team."

Ocampo graduated in economics from the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) and has a masters from the University of Chicago. Although mentioned as a possible minister, Milei (in an interview with Bloomberg news agency) also said that he could be the last governor of the Central Bank before closing it down, further taking charge of the negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Together with Nicolás Cachanosky, Ocampo is the co-author of the book Dolarización, una solución para la Argentina. He is a professor of Finance and History at CEMA and an associate researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in the United States.

Agustín Monteverde was another name that circulated as an option in the week following the PASO primaries although with far less intensity. When consulted, La Libertad Avanza left the door open.

"Nothing can be ruled out," they responded.

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