Sunday, July 14, 2024

ARGENTINA | 07-09-2023 15:04

The make-up of Victoria Villarruel’s inner circle

Javier Milei’s vice-presidential candidate has close group taken from her teams from the Fundación Oíd Mortales and the Partido Demócrata of Buenos Aires Province. Trajectories and thoughts of a hermetic group on the rise.

The motto of Oíd Mortales, the foundation chaired by Javier Milei’s running-mate Victoria Villarruel, is a quote from US businessman Henry Ford: "Coming together is the beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” The expression, in addition to summarising the organisation’s leitmotif, could well be the slogan that sustains the La Libertad Avanza vice-presidential candidate’s inner circle.

Villarruel works side-by-side with Guillermo Montenegro (namesake of the current mayor of Mar del Plata). He, besides being part of Oíd Mortales, is also part of the structure of the Partido Demócrata of Buenos Aires Province (of which Villarruel is the highest authority), is a candidate for national deputy, is Villarruel’s advisor in the Chamber of Deputies and manages her campaign communication. 

Montenegro has already made a name for himself among journalists for not answering the phone or responding to messages. Within the ranks of La Libertad Avanza, the communication strategy is divided between the "pure libertarians" and the party’s conservative wing, headed by Villarruel. While the Mileístas compete to see who can get the most exposure, most of the vice-presidential candidate’s inner circle is a mystery. 

If her force were to win the elections, Villarruel would take on a lot of power: in addition to being the nationa’s vice-president and presiding over the Senate, she would appoint (according to Javier Milei himself)) the national ministers of security and defence, her areas of influence. Knowing their teams, what they think and what their backgrounds are could give a clue as to what their projects are. 

When one looks at whom forms part of Oíd Mortales and the organisations with which they have some point of contact, it is clear that within the group’s hermetic environment the ideas that Villarruel has installed during the race to the Casa Rosada are oft repeated: "Traditional values," the military, weapons and Catholicism. 


Where Victoria leads the way

Villarruel is no newcomer to public life. In 2006 she founded the Centro de Estudios Legales sobre el Terrorismo y sus Víctimas (CELTYV) organisation, but her militancy begun some years earlier with groups that, coming from different perspectives, worked to assist military personnel convicted of crimes against humanity committed during the 1976-1983 dictatorship.

CELTYV was her platform for becoming known. However, her current points of reference are others: the Fundación Oíd Mortales, of which she is the honorary president (media have described the organisation as the leader's think tank) and the Partido Demócrata of Buenos Aires Province.

The first activities of the Fundación Oíd Mortales (at least on social media networks) began in February and March of this year. On its official website, however, the organisation presents itself as a non-profit organisation registered with the General Inspectorate of Justice as from July 2013 carrying the number 1846212. 

In the IGJ, when you look up that number, you can see that the last submission of the group’s  three-year plan was rejected. The entity replied to the foundation that "it has been in default" on three occasions and that, if it does not catch up, corresponding sanctions will be applied. 

The Oíd Mortales website also indicates that the foundation has a CUIT number 30-71417346-0 which, in reality, is associated with another organisation with which Victoria also has links: the Fundación Tridentina por los Valores Clásicos, which shares authorities with Oíd Mortales and the Partido Demócrata bonaerense. The latter also has paperwork problems. Five days before the PASO, a lawsuit was filed with Federal Court Nº 1 of La Plata (file N° 3001006/1990) accusing Villarruel of "ideological falsehood," "falsification of a public instrument" and "procedural fraud."

In short, she was denounced for alleged forgeries made in order to establish herself as the party's president. Carlos Onteiro (the party's vice-president) and Montenegro were also denounced in the case.


‘Traditional values’

The Oíd Mortales board of directors also includes Montenegro (secretary), Eduardo Llorente (president) and Raúl Amado (treasurer). 

Llorente has a degree in Political Science and is president of the Las Tres Vírgenes SAU firm, dedicated to the agricultural business. Since November 2022, according to records, he has been working for Unión Security Company SRL. Villarruel's entourage recognises him as someone in her closest circle. 

Llorente is also the president of the Fundación Tridentina por los Valores Clásicos, whose treasurer is Doctor Gabriela Álvarez, his wife. The entity presents itself as an organisation that promotes "classical knowledge" and works in different actions linked to education. It also has an area of "strengthening values and virtues," by which they highlight "the family and marriage as constituent institutions" and "the defence of life from the moment of conception." On social media, Llorente is a fierce anti-abortion campaigner.

One person who has known Llorente since his youth described him as "someone who hates PRO and Peronism equally" and is a gun enthusiast. The National Arms Registry has an application  in his name for the possession of a 270 PLG calibre carbine. This is another major theme that comes up when talking about Villarruel's campaign ideas and Llorente is seen as a key instigator of the debate on gun ownership.

Montenegro is the secretary of the Tridentina foundation. He is also the secretary general of the Partido Demócrata of Buenos Aires Province and third on the party’s list of candidates for deputies. A previous adviser to Villarruel in the lower house Chamber of Deputies and a lawyer by profession, he is a partner at the law firm "Montenegro & Pávito Asociados." At Oíd Mortales, Federico Pávito is part of the Justice area in the technical teams. 

Villarruel's list of advisers previously generated a scandal: the inclusion of Marcelo Cinto Courtaux, the son of the Army Intelligence officer during the last dictatorship with the same name. He made headlines in February this year, when he accompanied Villarruel to a meeting of the Impeachment Commission in which human rights activists were present.  

Those who know Montenegro say that he is active in Catholic organisations close to Opus Dei. His professional career also includes a stint in the Buenos Aires City government.

Amado, meanwhile, is linked to academia, in particular religious studies. In addition, since 2007 he has been working at the Interior Ministry’s archive department. 

The executive board of Oíd Mortales also includes María Llorente (Institutional Relations), María Eugenia Tasende(Finance), Enrique Bergalli (Legal Affairs), Ida María Tejeda de Anchezar (Training and Education), Luciano Ferrari (Culture), Juan Martín Donato (Volunteering), Dolores González Calvo (Events) and Alejandro Sosa (Library).

Tasende is an accountant with little trace online. According to the ANSES social security agency, she was a previous beneficiary of the Asignación Universal por Hijo - Plan Progresar (Universal Child Allowance - Progresar Plan) child benefit. Bergalli was appointed as an advisor to Villarruel in the lower house Chamber of Deputies, as was Donato. 

Tejeda de Anchezar has a degree in Educational Sciences and is a member of Inova Caeli, "an association of professionals that aims to cooperate with families in the Christian education of their children." On her social media accounts networks, she dedicates all her posts exclusively to religion and La Libertad Avanza. In her last post on Instagram she thanked Villarruel "for shedding light and spreading the truth."

Oíd Mortales and military

In the technical teams of the Oíd Mortales foundation. there is one man who stands out in particular: Jorge Vives, dedicated to Defence and Security. He is a retired intelligence colonel whose name has been circulated in recent weeks as one of Villarruel's options for key ministries.

Vives was previously director of investigations at Customs in the Mauricio Macri government and his name has been cited in the scandal surrounding fake lawyer Marcelo D'Alessio. In the file there is talk of a meeting in which both were present and another ex-military man is also mentioned: René Schettino. 

Another person from the technical teams of Oíd Mortales who is part of the military universe is Alejandro Agusti, responsible for Science and Technology. In the book La Nación dividida: Argentina después de la violencia de los 70, Agusti is named as the secretary of the organisation Puentes Para la Legalidad, an association made up of relatives of those convicted of crimes against humanity. Those close to him say that he has known Villarruel for years and that they shared activities together at CELTYV.

Puentes Para la Legalidad is a well-known organisation and there are academic studies on its transformation: in its early years the group had a harsher discourse and although it was not necessarily a denier of the crimes committed during the dictatorship, it did relativise them. Its the line gradually changed and over time they focused on humanitarian demands, such as the request for house arrest for genocide offenders over a certain age. 

In the technical teams, the third military member is Santiago Gándara, an engineer in charge of agricultural policy. There is not much information about him available, but he appears as a founding member of the “Argentine Defence Forum,” which presents itself on its website as "a space dedicated to reflection on issues related to national defence". 

The group is completed by Vanina Arráez (Health), Laura Canale (Environment) and Daniel Ábate (Culture and Art). Arráez is a PAMI doctor with little activity on social media. However, she has posted a video on her YouTube account in which she questions former presidents Néstor Kirchner's order to take down the genocide paintings in the Casa Rosada and shares photos of the poor prison conditions of those convicted of crimes against humanity. 

Villarruel is on the rise and those who have known her for decades know that she is a strong woman with ambitions and has put a lot of effort into building a team that supports her demands and ideological positions. What will they do if they win? The track records of this team may give some ideas. 

La Libertad Avanza and Victoria Villarruel were approached for comment for this article.

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Giselle Leclercq

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