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WORLD | 17-11-2022 19:49

President’s health scare overshadows progress at G20 summit

President Alberto Fernández suffered a health scare in Indonesia and was forced to skip a series of sessions and meetings. Yet despite the challenges, Argentina emerged with a satisfactory outcome from the Bali get-together.

Alberto Fernandez greeted the president of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, and posed for the first photo to formally start Argentina's participation in the G20 Leaders Summit. He entered the Apurva Kempinsky Hotel, where several world leaders were already present, and greeted the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen; the Foreign Minister of Mexico, Marcelo Ebrard; Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov; and the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres. He also exchanged words with the head of the IMF, Kristalina Georgieva, but when he chatted with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, he felt his blood pressure drop. 

"I thought you had fallen asleep but you kept on talking," the Spanish leader later told the president about the decompensation he had suffered, for which he had to be taken to hospital in Bali.

Alberto Fernández admits that he has had a long-standing problem of erosive gastritis, which he solves with Uvasal every time he feels the sensation of heartburn coming on, "I felt a drop in pressure," he told the doctor who accompanied him in the delegation that arrived in Indonesia on Monday afternoon local time. 

At the time, he was alone with Walter Kerr, his translator. Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero and Economy Minister Sergio Massa were waiting for him in the session room where the president was due to give his first speech. He did not arrive. When the officials decided to ask what was going on, the episode was explained. Following protocol, Cafiero stepped in to read the Peronist leader’s speech. 

Fernández arrived at the hospital by ambulance. There he underwent an endoscopy and had blood tests. The doctor who travelled with him, Manuel Estigarribia, closely followed his condition. Reviewing the president's medical episode, Massa detailed the intimacy of the exchanges among the entourage. During breakfast, while they were chatting, the economy minister had touched the president's arm and noticed it was cold and sweaty. "Are you all right?" he asked him. The president replied that he was and they left in separate cars for the summit. 

In the end, the head of state had to suspend four activities scheduled for Tuesday: the two sessions in which he was due to speak, a lunch with world leaders and a dinner. Nevertheless, he decided to leave the hospital and go straight to the bilateral meeting with Chinese premier Xi Jinping. There were important announcements to be made and he could not put it off: Argentina had obtained an extension of the currency swap for US$5 billion and China's commitment to disburse, before the end of the year, the debt it owes for the construction of the Néstor Kirchner and Jorge Cepernic dams in Santa Cruz Province. 

At the end of the meeting, which lasted 20 minutes, the president went to the hotel where he is staying. Upon arrival, he spoke to the reporters covering the tour and then returned to his room to rest. "I'm fine, I'm working well," said Fernández. In between, he spoke with his partner Fabiola Yáñez. It was Julio Vitobello, the presidential chief-of-staff, who told the first lady what was happening, minutes before the first medical report was issued.

The most salient political fact of this episode has to do with the fact that, thanks to his turn, the president has resumed dialogue with his vice-president. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner called him when she found out what was happening. They had not spoken since September 2, when the head of state visited her at her flat, a day after the failed assassination attempt. 

On Tuesday evening, the head of state dined in his room while his entourage ate in the El Patio restaurant at the hotel where they stayed. The first to sit at the table were Vitobello, followed by Cafiero, Juan Manuel Olmos, Gabriela Cerruti, Jorge Argüello and Energy Secretary Flavia Royón. Massa joined them later. Fernández did not leave her room, as instructed by the Presidential Medical Unit. 

On Wednesday, the second and last day of the summit, Fernández decided to keep the meetings with Kristalina Georgieva and Pedro Sanchez on the agenda. However, Cafiero and Massa attended a meeting with representatives from Saudi Arabia and another meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. 

Hours later, the team left Bali for a stopover in Madrid, Spain, before returning to Buenos Aires. The president's health, while complicating plans, did not alter the flight schedule – nor did it stop a satisfactory overseas jaunt for Argentina’s foreign service.

Rosario Ayerdi

Rosario Ayerdi

Editora de Política de Diario Perfil. Mail: [email protected]

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