Silvia Batakis: Alberto Fernández cedes the management of the Argentine economy to Kirchnerism

The president of Argentina, Alberto Fernández, has definitively yielded to the pressures of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. From this Monday, the economic management will be in the hands of Silvia Batakis, a technical and low-profile official who answers to the vice president. Batakis’s name came out after a telephone conversation between Fernández and Kirchner, the first after a month in which they only exchanged grievances at public events. Fernández lost his Economy Minister, Martín Guzmán, on Saturday and replaced him with someone who does not respond to him. The replacement further undermines the political autonomy of the president, increasingly alone in the fratricidal struggle he maintains with his political mentor.

Batakis was Minister of Economy of the province of Buenos Aires between 2011 and 2015, when the Peronist Daniel Scioli governed. She left her position together with the governor, who was defeated as Cristina Kirchner’s candidate in the presidential elections against Mauricio Macri. She now occupied the secretariat of the Province in the Ministry of the Interior, under the umbrella of Minister Eduardo de Pedro, Kirchner’s man in President Fernández’s Cabinet. Batakis has a very good relationship with the governors, including the opponents, as a result of the position she held until this Sunday.

The negotiation to choose Guzmán’s successor took a good part of Saturday and all of Sunday. The question was whether Fernández would choose to replace Guzmán alone or to undertake a profound reform of his Cabinet that would give oxygen to his management and, at the same time, settle accounts with Kirchner. During the afternoon, there was speculation about the entry into the Cabinet of Sergio Massa, president of the Chamber of Deputies and leader of the third leg of the governing coalition. The agreement supposed to put in Economy a man of Massa, with him like head of Ministers. But it didn’t happen.

Fernández’s solution was, finally, only to occupy the position vacated by Guzmán with a figure without his own weight and leave the structural changes for another time. The arrival of Batakis will allow Fernández to reduce, at least for a time, Kirchner’s attacks on his management; Massa will have to wait, after his name circulated throughout Sunday in the local media.

It has been a tightrope walk by President Fernández, forced to seek political survival strategies. The president’s intention is to arrive alive until December 2023, when he ends his term; his dreams of re-election seem definitely buried. The departure of Guzmán left Fernández out in the open and revealed the restrictions that he has to exercise his leadership.

The outgoing minister had asked him during the week for control of the sector in charge of energy policies, today in the hands of Kirchnerism. He told the president that from there they blocked increases in gas and electricity rates and delayed the application of a scheme of rises segmented by purchasing power, as had been agreed with the IMF in January. Kirchnerism refused, and refuses, to increase rates, which have been frozen since the end of Mauricio Macri’s mandate, in 2019, and condemn the Government to allocate billions of dollars to the subsidy of energy companies. Only last year, the aid accounted for 2.3 points of GDP, while the Central Bank is juggling to have enough dollars to cover the demand for foreign currency from importers.

Guzmán argued in his resignation letter that without control of the resources of the administration of the economy there was little he could do to, for example, control inflation, today the main scourge of Argentines, with a projection of 70% for 2022. Meanwhile, Kirchner’s criticism of the minister was increasingly explicit and violent. The reading of the former president is that the restrictions on the deficit and the issuance of currency agreed with the Fund incubate a resounding defeat of Peronism in the general elections in October of next year. Kirchner’s strategy has been to demolish Fernández, the man she herself put in the Casa Rosada, and thus detach herself from the failure of the administration.

It remains to be seen whether the move will end with a presidential candidacy for Cristina Kirchner or some other kind of political experiment. On Saturday, as Guzmán posted his resignation on social media, the crowd that had gathered to commemorate the anniversary of Juan Perón’s death sang “Cristina, Presidente; Christina president. The aforementioned made a gesture with her hand to quell that improvised operational clamor, but the idea is already installed in public opinion. If the polls finally do not go along – today they give Kirchner a little over 25% positive image – there is always the option of entrenching oneself in the province of Buenos Aires, the electoral stronghold of Kirchnerism, and from there resisting an opposition government. The end of the story will depend on how the new Emergency Cabinet devised by Fernández turns out.

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