Crisis broke out in President Alberto Fernández's government at rapid speed on Wednesday, as a flurry of resignations, urgent meetings and private phone calls laid bare a deep split in the ruling Frente de Todos coalition.
During an extraordinary day of political tension and high drama, at least five ministers from the Kirchnerite wing of the ruling coalition offered their resignations to the president. A number of other government officials, all of whom respond to Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, also followed suit in frantic scenes that played out over TV screens, news websites and social media posts.
At the time of writing, the president has not decided whether to accept the offers, which would, in turn, force a large-scale reshuffle of his Cabinet. Fernández, who to date has resisted calls to reshape his team, intends to do so after the November midterm elections.
The proposed resignations, which were nominally attributed to the heavy defeat suffered by the ruling coalition in last Sunday’s PASO primaries, are seen by some analysts as a move to increase pressure on two key officials who are close to the President. Cabinet Chief Santiago Cafiero and Economy Minister Martín Guzmán, who have previously been criticised by figures from the coalition’s Kirchnerite wing, are alleged to be the targets.
Interior Minister Eduardo ‘Wado’ de Pedro was the first to offer his resignation on Wednesday. Shortly afterwards, he was followed by Martín Soria (Justice & Human Rights), Jorge Ferraresi (Territorial Development and Habitat), Roberto Salvarezza (Science & Innovation), and a number of other officials close to Fernández Kirchner, including PAMI health scheme for the retired agency chief Luana Volnovich and ANSES social security agency head Fernanda Raverta.
Fernández, already on the ropes following a heavy defeat in last Sunday’s PASO primaries, now faces a tough decision over whether to reshuffle his Cabinet against his wishes.
In another twist to the saga, multiple local news outlets reported Wednesday night that Fernández de Kirchner had called Guzmán directly to deny claims she is seeking to oust him from his post.
The crisis was unleashed in the aftermath of last Sunday’s PASO primaries, with the heavy defeat and opposition advance reigniting internal tensions within the ruling coalition. Several Kirchnerite figures, though not sitting public officials, spoke out in the media to call for urgent changes to the Cabinet. Criticism of Guzmán, Cafiero and Productive Development Minister Matías Kulfas was aired.
As reports of unrest began to emerge, sources inside the Casa Rosada reassured journalists that the president had no intention of shuffling his pack. On Tuesday, the president appeared with Cafiero alongside him at a public event, underlining his support for the official.
Early Wednesday afternoon, he did the same with Guzmán. The economy minister joined Fernández at an event at a museum in the capital. As the president unveiled a new bill designed to boost hydrocarbons investment, the minister took the floor and began a defence of his management of the portfolio. The message was clear.
Minutes after the event finished, news of De Pedro’s offer to step down began to filter out to the press. In a letter to the president reproduced by the Télam state news agency, the minister said that tendering his resignation was the best way to “collaborate” with Fernández to the PASO defeat.
"Listening to your words on Sunday night, where you raised the need to interpret the verdict expressed by the Argentine people, I have considered that the best way to collaborate with this task is by putting my resignation at your disposal," it read.
Lower House Speaker Sergio Massa called an emergency meeting of officials from his Frente Renovador party to discuss the crisis, as news of further resignations broke. Environment Minister Juan Cabandié, Culture Minister Tristán Bauer, President of state-run airline Aerolineas Argentinas, Pablo Ceriani; and the head of INADI anti-discrimination watchdog Victoria Donda offered to step down too.
As the developments kept coming, it emerged that Public Works Minister Gabriel Katopodis had offered his resignation to the president last Sunday at the party’s bunker in Chacarita, but the head of state turned down the offer.
Fernández, having returned to the Casa Rosada, was soon huddling with his most trusted and loyal officials: Cafiero, Guzmán, Kulfas, Foreign Minister Felipe Solá, Sabina Frederic (Security), Claudio Moroni (Labour), Juan Zabaleta (Social Development) and Matías Lammens (Tourism & Sports). There was also another surprise invitee: former Cabinet chief Anibal Fernández.
Government sources told the Noticias Argentinas news agency that there is “anger” in the Casa Rosada, but also recognition that the choice ahead is difficult. Giving in to the pressure will leave the president weakened, but the other option – distancing himself from Kirchnerismo and his own vice-president – is also unpalatable.
According to a report in Perfil, Massa was meeting with Máximo Kirchner, the head of the ruling coalition’s caucus in the lower house and the son of the vice-president, on Wednesday evening to discuss the crisis and what comes next. Some reports have claimed that the Frente Renovador leader is a potential replacement for Cafiero, should he leave his position.
Frederic and Moroni were among those to issue messages of support for the president on social media on Wednesday, expressing their “total and unconditional” backing.
Later that evening, after what must presumably have been a very long day, Fernández headed back to the Olivos presidential residence via helicopter, as he does every night, mulling over his next move.