Alberto Fernández landed in Misiones at 9.48am on Tango 04, his presidential plane escorted by four others belonging to the Air Force that guard. They remained flying overhead as four regional presidents met on Tuesday on the Mercosur summit.
At the Meliá Hotel in the Iguazú National Park, part of the presidential delegation had arrived the day before. In the run-up to the 62nd meeting of Mercosur heads of state, there was a relaxed atmosphere. On the terrace on the first floor of the hotel, Economy Minister Sergio Massa, chatted animatedly with Santiago Peña, Paraguay’s president-elect, and the nation’s current president Mario Abdo Benítez. Less than a metre away, Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero chatted with Uruguayan head of state Luis Lacalle Pou, and with Brazil President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's top advisor, Celso Amorin. As they spoke, before a soundtrack of Misiones waterfalls, the temperature settled at around 20 degrees Celsius.
In his subsequent speech, Fernández paid special tribute to Abdo Benítez and, above all, of his Brazilian counterpart Lula, who from today takes on the presidency of the bloc.
"I cannot fail to emphasise that I feel a special joy, a kind of privilege of destiny, as I hand over the pro-tempore presidency of Mercosur to the beloved President of the Federative Republic of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva,” said Fernández. “I do not wish to conceal either the enormous affection or the deep admiration I feel for him. He has been a victim of persecution and injustice, but the people of Brazil have been able to repair such damage by giving him the leadership of that sister nation. Dear friend, I wish you all the best. You deserve it.”
In recent weeks, the governments of Argentina and Brazil have been making progress in talks over the creation of a common currency for financing, which Lula highlighted in his speech. In addition, the head of state has been calling for an agreement between Argentina and the International Monetary Fund, one that should not suffocate the country.
With his presidential ambition now formalised, it was inevitable that there would be glances towards Massa. Fernández took the decision to seat him to his left when the heads of state met. Also at the top table were Cafiero, International Economic Relations Secretary Cecilia Todesca Bocco and Undersecretary for Latin American Affairs Gustavo Martínez Pandiani.
The Frente Renovador leader stayed a day longer than planned. During the chats they had on Monday, Alberto Fernández insisted that he stay on for the presidential meeting, on the understanding that he would receive strong backing from the other leaders there.
After the closing of the lists for the PASO primaries, Fernández has assured that he will do everything to ensure that Massa becomes president. If he succeeds, it will be a sort of vindication of his administration.
The economy minister arrived in Misiones with the swagger of a presidential candidate. Greetings were plentiful and Massa shared several photos with high-profile figures. He also got invites – Lula invited Massa to Brazil and the two leaders talked about an agreement that would see Brazil’s Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social (BNDES) development bank provide financing for firms involved in the construction of the Néstor Kirchner gas pipeline.
Massa’s entourage assured that all the talks were within the framework of management. "Peña and the minister discussed the Yacyretá project, the waterway and the Corpus Christi hydroelectric project. Likewise, the elected president of the neighbouring country invited Massa to hold a working session in the city of Asunción next week," his team reported.
Informal talks with Lacalle Pou in the middle of the Misiones jungle did not spark the tensions that the Uruguayan president later showed in his official presentation at the summit, during which he criticised Mercosur’s inactivity and insisted that if no progress is made on agreements as a bloc, he will move to do so "unilaterally. He too, however, invited Massa to his country for a visit.
As soon as the presentation of the heads of state was over, Massa left for Buenos Aires.