The political crisis in which Argentina is plunged remains open: President Alberto Fernández appointed Silvina Batakis as Minister of Economy this Sunday night, a figure without political weight and whom no one expected in office.
“Batakis is a renowned economist who fulfilled that role in the province of Buenos Aires between 2011 and 2015,” Gabriela Cerruti, spokesperson for the Argentine presidency, wrote on Twitter.
Everything indicates that the election of a new head of the third largest economy in Latin America was not easy: Fernández took 28 hours to designate a successor to Martín Guzmán, who resigned unexpectedly on Saturday. During that time, the names of a series of impending ministers, some with prior experience in office, circulated through the media analyzing the government’s crisis. No one mentioned Batakis as a candidate.
On Sunday, the head of state held several hours of conversations with Sergio Massa, president of the Chamber of Deputies, and later that night with Cristina Kirchner, the vice president who openly criticizes in public the course of his government.
Throughout Sunday, the Argentine media pointed out, in the midst of a wave of contradictory rumors, that Massa would be the new chief of staff (a kind of prime minister), as the head of a strong restructuring of the government. It was not like that, although the president could announce new names this Monday.
At the moment it is a false closure of the crisis. The local media speculate on the possibility of an exchange holiday, and perhaps a bank holiday, being decreed to prevent economic variables from getting out of control this Monday and uncertainty forcing a devaluation of the peso.
“Today’s situation throughout the day was that Fernández did not want to call Cristina Kirchner,” reported the TN news channel. The relationship between the president and the vice president is deeply deteriorated.
“What this uncertainty is going to do is paralyze the economy, that’s called a recession,” said economist Claudio Zuchovicki.
“It’s terrible news, I don’t think she has the technical conditions or is suitable for the job,” said libertarian leader Javier Milei, an economist, when asked about Batakis’ appointment. “Clarín”, the most widely read newspaper in the country, pointed out that Batakis as minister is an imposition of the vice president on the president.
The new minister, 54 years old, was until now Secretary of State for the provinces in the Ministry of the Interior. Beyond the fact that her economic creed is heterodox and critical of what Guzmán has done up to now, the possible weakness of her position lies in the lack of political agreement between the various factions into which Peronism is divided.
Guzmán’s resignation on Saturday came under unusual circumstances.
“I will continue working for a more just, free and sovereign country,” he said when presenting a very long letter on his social media accounts explaining his resignation. The minister left office while the vice president harshly criticized him in a speech 48 years after the death of Juan Perón.
Guzmán, an academic from Columbia University, specialized in the restructuring of sovereign debts, had a not exactly virtuous step through the Ministry of Economy. It managed to renegotiate the debt with private creditors and close a generous agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but devaluation pressures on the peso are increasing, largely due to uncontrolled inflation, which is heading for 80 percent annually. .
Kirchner, who in the early stages of the government had supported the minister, has recently become a fierce critic of his economic policy. The pressure of the vice president on the minister was, in turn, a pressure on Fernández, whom the two-time president she chose in 2019 to lead the formula in the presidential elections, but whom she today despises in public.
Guzmán, 39, spent much of his time as minister diagnosing the ills of the Argentine economy, as if he were still an academic and not the one ultimately responsible for solving those problems. In turn, the internal struggle within the government, with a wing that answers to the vice president and ignores the president made the job of the minister especially difficult, who had no authority even to fire an undersecretary or an area director.
In his resignation letter, Guzmán asks for a “political agreement” that supports his successor, an agreement that is only possible if Fernández and Kirchner stop acting separately and agree on a course, something that does not seem to be the case until moment.
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