Sunday, July 21, 2024

ARGENTINA | 13-12-2023 17:58

Walter Kerr: the presidential interpreter who has kept secrets for 25 years

He's a lawyer, certified translator and speaks nine languages fluently. Walter Kerr, an official at Argentina's Foreign Ministry, has a prestigious career which started back in the 1990s. His skills at interpretation have earned him praise from international figures.

A tall, tidy, discrete man whispered in Javier Milei’s ear as he greeted foreign delegations during the presidential inauguration. His name is Walter Carlos Kerr, the presidential interpreter who for 25 years has accompanied Argentine head of states in places which nearly no-one can access.

Kerr’s CV has numerous outstanding items on it. Not only does he speak nine languages (and he’s in the process of learning Arabic), he offers absolute discretion. During his years of experience, he has translated the words of noted political leaders and world history figures like Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama, Oliver Stone and even Madonna.

For more than two decades, Kerr has been the interpreter of Argentine presidents, symbolising one of the state policies which transcends divisions and governments. He has been part of the retinue of Carlos Menem, Fernando De La Rúa, Néstor Kirchner, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Mauricio Macri, Alberto Fernández and now Javier Milei.

Kerr’s skills and talent, which he had dreamed of applying to the Foreign Service to become a diplomat, eventually took him in a different direction. In the 1990s he took the exams to become an interpreter at the Foreign Ministry, a post he secured with Carlos Menem in 1998, during the president’s visit to Queen Elizabeth II in the United Kingdom, no less.

Since 2018, he has been the director of Translations at the Foreign Ministry, a senior position in the portfolio. “The officer in question has sufficient aptitude and merit to perform such functions,” reads the decree which crowned his career alongside presidents, a privileged spot not even front-line advisors enjoyed in many cases.

"A key principle of that post is absolute confidentiality. In fact, this is something that defines the function of a translator and an interpreter in any sector. What I’d say is that in the case of an interpreter working for his country, for his government, for his State, as would be the case with a diplomat or other officials, there is already a heightened degree of confidentiality,” Kerr explained in a previous interview.

In addition to ensuring the fluency of the Argentine president’s conversations with international political leaders and figures, Kerr also coordinates documentation activities in the Foreign Ministry and the Presidency. So much so that he was present at emblematic cases involving the Argentine State, such as the paper mill row over the Uruguay River, the seizure of the Fragata ARA Libertad frigate, the AMIA bombing case and various G20 meetings. The last one was in Bali, Indonesia, when he had to ask the organisers to fetch a doctor for Alberto Fernández during his bilateral meeting with Spaniard Pedro Sánchez after the then-president collapsed.

One of the people to have sung his praises is Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. The former president once told people about the positive comments she had received about Kerr’s work, whether it be from foreign delegations or Madonna.

“I can assure you that being with representatives from Germany, France, England, and not just institutional officials which one might think want to stay on the president’s or the translator’s good side, they have praised Walter’s translations. I even know he’s had offers to go abroad. And I remember one of his best translations, when Madonna visited me. Even Madonna was struck by my translator, my interpreter,” the former president said.

After so many travelling, Kerr says he chooses his home, Buenos Aires, for a holiday. He is also a self-proclaimed lover of tea with cold milk and “scone taster,” as he told in an interview with USAL (Universidad del Salvador) translators, as well holding a keen interest in astrophysics.

As for his skill for languages, on some occasions he has said that he grew up in an English-speaking household, as dictated by his Scottish-Paraguayan father, and who at 18 was already fluent in French.

Guess it runs in the family.


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