New president Mauricio Macri took office today with a promise to change the way politics is conducted in Argentina. One of his pledges is to de-centralise decision-making, giving a more prominent role to ministers and officials.
But who are the people on the team that Macri promised would be the “best in 50 years” but others have criticised for including too many ex-business leaders? The Indy presents a brief ‘who’s who’ of the new government, including any salient past exploits and any comments or policy guidelines made since their designation.
Cabinet Chief: Marcos Peña
Secretary General of the City of Buenos Aires since 2007, Marcos Peña will be taking the reins as Macri’s Cabinet Chief. A political scientist and longtime member of PRO, Peña, 38, was a manager in the Cambiemos campaign and is now one of Macri’s key spokespeople.
Peña is wary of the economic difficulties Macri’s team will face in their first few months in power, telling La Nación “as you look deeper into things, it brings up certain worries.” However, he has assured that their actions will be “dominated by a climate of hope” and that December will be “full of news and new events which will show us how stalled the country has been for many years.”
He is proud of the cabinet he heads, saying, in an interview with Clarín, that the group represents “diversity and political and technical competence”. Dismissing fears of conflicts of interest amongst the businessmen that make up the cabinet, he said that “the biggest challenge for Argentina is to make the ‘cake’ bigger. The logic of trying to share out and divide what is already there has failed”. He defined the new government’s political direction simply as “Zero Poverty” and asserted that people shouldn’t “expect an austerity package” whilst also underlining the importance of job creation.
Treasury and Finance Minister: Alfonso Prat-Gay
The UCA-educated economist will control the Treasury and Finance Ministry under Macri’s new Economy Cabinet, created in lieu of an economy minister. Before entering politics Prat-Gay, 50, worked for investment bank JP Morgan, and he retains strong ties to the financial sector. In 2002 he became president of Argentina’s Central Bank under the Eduardo Duhalde government, but left in 2004 over political differences with the newly-elected Néstor Kirchner. He also served as legislator for the Coalición Cívica – an ally of PRO in the Cambiemos coalition – representing the City of Buenos Aires between 2009 and 2013. In the private sector, he is partner in a finance company and administers the fortune of the deceased millionaire businesswoman Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat.
Prat-Gay’s economic style has been labelled both “liberal orthodox” and “neo-Keynesian”. The much talked about removal of capital controls, and likely devaluation of the peso, will be Prat-Gay’s first act as finance minister, following promises from Macri to do away with the restrictions on his first day in office. However, just before the changeover, Prat-Gay softened his tone, stating that the restrictions would be removed “as soon as conditions were right.”
He has highlighted the need for proper statistics on the country’s economy, telling the Financial Times: “Truth is a pillar of what we have to offer. The sooner we let the mask drop, the better off we will all be.” Before taking office, Prat-Gay’s choice for finance secretary, Luis Caputo, pledged to Special Master Daniel Pollack that the new government would “promptly” reopen negotiations with the so-called vulture funds over Argentina’s outstanding debt obligations.
Labour Minister: Jorge Triaca
Announced the day after the rest of Macri’s cabinet, the new Labour Minister’s appointment was well received by most large trade unions thanks to the memory of Triaca’s late father, a leader of the plastics trade union and labour minister under Carlos Menem between 1989 and 1992.
The younger Triaca, who has used a wheelchair since a car accident nine years ago, started his political life as a Peronist militant but joined PRO in its earliest stages, becoming a legislator for the party in 2009. An economist from San Andrés University, he has experience in both the private and the public sector.
Triaca has already been in talks with union leaders and spoken of the need to “strengthen” unions so as to generate more predictability in the economy via a “social pact” between state, businesses, and workers. He said that collective wage bargaining would continue, and also pledged to fulfill Macri’s promise to raise the non-taxable income threshold to $30,000. After some uncertainty, the increase will also apply to this year’s Christmas bonus.
Foreign Affairs Minister: Susana Malcorra
As the United Nations Chief of Staff since 2012 and the former Secretary General Adjunct for the UN Department for Support for Field Operations, Susana Malcorra has considerable experience in international affairs. She began her career in the private sector, where she worked for a quarter of a century as an executive at IBM and as the CEO of Telecom Argentina. As the Secretary General Adjunct, she coordinated peacekeeping missions for the UN.
In the run-up to the presidential election, Macri pledged to enact a Mercosur clause to remove Venezuela from the regional bloc based on what he said were alleged abuses of human rights and democracy. After being designated, Malcorra said: “there are many different alternatives to look at, but the main thing is to put the focus back on human rights.” She added, “We want to see the reactions after the results of [Sunday’s legislative] elections and see how [government] transition, if there is one, could be realised in a democratic fashion.” After the Venezuelan opposition won a resounding victory, Malcorra backtracked on Macri’s promise and said there was “no reason” to expel the country from Mercosur. Malcorra also opened the possibility to ongoing relations with Iran, despite Macri’s other pledge to repeal the Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2013.
The new foreign affairs minister has also said her priority is creating opportunities for Argentina, making the most of the “spring board offered by Mercosur, Unasur, the US, China, Rusia, Africa and the Middle East,” she told TN. She also expressed a wish to present a “mature” image of Argentina internationally, and said she would seek more constructive dialogue with the UK over the Falklands/Malvinas matter.
Production Minister: Francisco Cabrera
An established figure within PRO, Cabrera has been part of Macri’s city government since 2007, most recently occupying the role of Economic Development Minister. With a degree in Electrical Engineering from Mendoza University, Cabrera went on to work within large finance groups like Roberts and HSBC, as well as media companies, including newspapers Los Andes and La Voz del Interior. From 2002- 2007 he served as an executive director at La Nación. The new production minister helped to create the ‘Technology district’ in Parque Patricios, a hub for technology, software, information, and communication businesses. He is the president of PRO think-tank Fundación Pensar.
Cabrera says that by the end of December he will put an end to the restrictive processes used to control imports into the country since 2012 (as required by the WTO). However he says this will be replaced by another mechanism to avoid an indiscriminate flood of imports to the country. In the immediate future, Cabrera said that price control programs Ahora 12 and Precios Cuidados “will continue”, adding that “we have to analyse the issue of financing, but it seems positive to us.”
Interior Minister: Rogelio Frigerio
Rogelio Frigerio, an UBA-educated economist who specialised in planning and economic development, has been president of Banco Ciudad since 2013. He is leaving this role to further his political career, having taken on his first PRO role as head of the party’s Commission on Budget, Tax Policy and Financial Administration. His grandfather of the same name was the founder of the Integration and Development Movement, now known as ‘desarrollismo’.
Frigerio signalled that he plans to build on outgoing minister Florencio Randazzo’s work in streamlining documentation services for Argentines, saying: “This part of the administration works very well, so we’re going to continue with this modernisation which has to do with the Argentine people’s right to identity”
Education Minister: Esteban Bullrich
Esteban Bullrich, 46, has been the City of Buenos Aires’ education minister since 2009. Born in Buenos Aires, Bullrich attended the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University where he received an MBA.
As city minister, Bullrich introduced the controversial online enrollment for schools, which left thousands of young children in the city without a spot in public schools. He’s also a top proponent of teacher evaluation, a move resisted by unions. “We want to evaluate teachers because we want high-quality education,” he told the Buenos Aires Herald in September.
Bullrich confirmed the decision of outgoing Education Minister, Alberto Sileoni, to bring the start of the school year forward to 29th February so as to fulfill the 190 school days laid out in a 2011 resolution. This goal has already been reached in the capital where classes end a week later than in the rest of the country. The decision has caused tension with the tourism industry, with businesses saying the new date is “serious” for the summer season.
Bullrich named Juan Cruz Avila, a TV producer, as secretary of university policies, attributing the controversial choice to the fact that Avila is a politically “neutral figure” who can ensure “transparency” in the management of universities, despite his lack of a background in the field. However, after waves of criticism from academic circles, Bullrich reversed the decision and appointed Albor Angel Cantard of the Litoral University.
Transport Minister: Guillermo Dietrich
Guillermo Dietrich, who once ran his family car dealership company, is the current under-Secretary of Transport in the Buenos Aires city government. He was a big proponent of the Metrobus system, one of the most visible achievements of the Macri administration, and was in charge of the creation of the public bike scheme in 2010. Having obtained his degree in economics at UCA, he went on to receive and an MBA at Austral University’s Business School.
Transportation costs won’t increase under the new government, said Dietrich in an interview with La Nación. “We are continuing with the subsidies. The transport fare will not rise for now. It’s not part of our plan.” Dietrich also said the government has a budget to add 2,800km of highways in the next four years.
Energy and Mining Minister: Juan José Aranguren
This will be Aranguren’s first role in public administration. The chemical engineering graduate from UBA was president of Shell Argentina, a company which he had worked for since 1979, until June 2015. He was an outspoken critic of Néstor Kirchner’s fuel pricing policies, winning a long legal battle against the government over the issue. He has questioned the way state-run oil giant YPF is managed and said that energy sovereignty is not an appropriate goal in today’s economic climate. In January 2014, the government accused Shell of attempting to cause a run on the peso, something Aranguren denied.
Keep expecting power cuts for the near future. Aranguren blamed unreliable electricity on “external factors” in an interview with La Nación and said he’d begin a path towards improving electricity services, but that it would take time. Aranguren also said it was a “crime” for Argentina to subsidise energy when 15% of it was imported.
Science and Technology Minister: Lino Barañao
Barañao is the only minister from Cristina Fernández’s government who will stay on after 10th December. Macri has praised the biotechnology expert’s performance in the role he has occupied since 2007 when the position was created. An UBA-educated doctor in chemical sciences, Barañao has avoided party political disputes during his time as minister, but was mired in controversy after rejecting pioneering studies by late scientist Andrés Carrasco (later supported by the WHO) that demonstrated the health risks of glyphosate, a common herbicide used extensively in Argentina.
Barañao says he felt “internally conflicted” over the decision to continue in his role but that he will stay to protect the progress that has already been made in the ministry. “My main commitment is more pragmatic than ideological. If the support for our work isn’t there, we won’t continue.”
Tourism Minister: Gustavo Santos
One of a few Peronist politicians in the new cabinet, Santos has served as head of Governor Jose De La Sota’s Tourism Agency in Córdoba since 2007. A graduate and professor in Arts and Humanities at Cordoba’s National University, he has spent his working life in culture and tourism-related jobs. Santos told media from Córdoba that he plans to replicate his work in the province in the rest of the country.
“In 15 years we created 50,000 rooms in different kinds of lodgings and 28,000 jobs,” he said, adding that this was the result of “very close work between the private and public sectors.” He also expressed a desire to create more tourist hubs in Argentina, encouraging the growth of domestic and international flights to and from cities like Córdoba so as to limit the dominance of Buenos Aires in foreign tourists’ itineraries.
Agriculture Minister: Ricardo Buryaile
A UCR congressman and landowner from Formosa province, Buryaile ran this year as the Cambiemos candidate for governor of Formosa, but lost to PJ candidate Gildo Insfrán, who has held the role for 20 years. Buryaile has a long history of leading farming lobbies and rural societies, including Argentina’s Rural Confederation (CRA) and Formosa’s Confederation of Rural Societies (Chafor), roles which brought him into conflict with the current government over export duties in the 2008 ‘campo crisis’. Back then, he received some criticism from the media when he said that “If Congress approves export taxes [for grains] it should be dissolved.” He was also accused by Mocafor, a farmers’ organisation from Formosa, of keeping Paraguayan workers in his field “in conditions of slavery.”
A commitment to Mauricio Macri’s 13-point set of campaign promises for the agricultural sector is Buryaile’s priority. The measures include the elimination of export taxes and obstacles to exportation, elimination of price ceilings for products, the simplification of the tax system and improved access to markets. Buryaile pledged to remove export taxes for corn, wheat, and meat, and reduce those for soy from 35% to 30%. He has already opened dialogue with farm representatives, seeking a joint conversation rather than meeting only individually with different unions and lobbies, as has been the Kirchnerist policy.
Security Minister: Patricia Bullrich
Macri’s selection of 59-year-old Patricia Bullrich was somewhat of a surprise choice given her limited experience in the realm of security policy. She was formerly the Labour Minister to Fernando de la Rúa, whose term only lasted two years, and is remembered in that era for implementing a harsh 13% cut in state pensions. Before that, she had a brief stint as Secretary of Criminal Policy and Penitentiary Issues under the same government. Bullrich began her career in politics as a Peronist, but later founded her own party, Union por Todos, which eventually merged with PRO. For the last four years she has been a legislator for PRO in Congress.
Since news broke that she would be responsible for the nation’s security, prominent government figures like Felipe Solá, the national deputy for Frente Renovador, have spoken out against Macri’s choice. “She has no idea what happens in the street,” he said.
Health Minister: Jorge Lemus
An accomplished clinical doctor specialising in preventative medicines, Lemus has already served as Health Minister in Macri’s Buenos Aires city government. However, he was forced to resign unexpectedly in 2012 after approving a set of restrictive protocols on abortion for rape victims in city hospitals that did not comply with a Supreme Court ruling earlier that year.
Following the resignation he was made president of the city government’s Health Advisory Council and returned to his professional roles at Hospital Fernández, where he has previously served as director, and to his work at the PRO think tank, Fundación Pensar. Lemus is credited with saving Macri’s life when, at his wedding to Juliana Awada in 2010, the mayor of Buenos Aires swallowed the fake moustache that he was wearing to impersonate his idol Freddy Mercury.
Modernisation Minister: Andrés Ibarra
Ibarra is taking on a new post for the national government, but one that he has held for years in Buenos Aires’ city administration. After attending military high school and obtaining a degree in economics from UCA, in his early twenties he joined the financial group run by Franco Macri, the president-elect’s father. He has remained close to the family, acting as Mauricio Macri’s right hand man in the final years of his Boca Juniors football club presidency. Ibarra also presided over the controversial privatisation of Correo Argentino as its commercial director.
“If people are hired on by the State solely to be issued a salary, then the legislation is not being fulfilled. In this case, they go. He who does not work should not be in the State,” said Ibarra to La Nación. He plans to upgrade the training public servants receive and will make government more transparent. Ibarra also said he’ll incorporate technology into all areas of government to make information more accessible.
Justice and Human Rights Minister: Germán Garavano
After serving as public prosecutor of Buenos Aires city between 2007 and 2014, Garavano became acting head of the National Magistrates Council. He has authored, co-authored and directed over 15 books on specialised areas of law and is academic director of the NGO United for Justice, which seeks to strengthen the democratic system and increase judicial and physical security across the country.
A specialist in judicial reform, the modernisation of the justice system will be high on his list of priorities. Garavano told a meeting of judges, senators and lawyers that he will postpone the implementation of the new Penal Code, currently planned for May, by almost a year. Though he thinks the new code is an essential change, it must wait until several laws can be reformed, including the Law of Public Ministry which regulates the roles of prosecutors. Other big questions include what Garavano will do in terms of the ongoing trials and investigations against military officers and civilians accused of crimes against humanity during the last dictatorship, and whether he will look to implement reforms to the judicial system.
Culture Minister: Pablo Avelluto
A journalist with a degree in Communication Sciences from UBA, Avelluto has also managed large publishing groups including Editorial Estrada and the regional branch of Spanish-language Random House Mondadori. He has served as an advisor in Macri’s city Culture Ministry since 2012 and is currently in charge of public media networks in the capital.
The new culture minister condemned the famous political “divide” in the media, which he admits he used to consume like a “drug” and revealed that his wife is a radical, his children left wing and his mother a Kirchnerist. Avelluto told Radio de la Ciudad that during Macri’s presidency “there will be diversity and plurality – people talking from different points of view” and that the government’s job is not “to impose our vision of the world”. However, Avelluto has also caused controversy with a series of controversial tweets criticising a techers’ strike and the government’s policy towards the last military dictatorship.
Social Development Minister: Carolina Stanley
Another cabinet member taking their city role to a national level, Stanley has overseen Social development in Buenos Aires since 2011. She has been involved with PRO since 2003 and worked with the new mayor of Buenos Aires, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta at the think tank Grupo Sophia. Stanley graduated from UBA with a law degree and will be responsible for Macri’s ‘Zero Poverty’ plan, which has concerned some organisations in Buenos Aires who claim that her office did little to resolve problems such as social housing and urbanising the city’s villas.
Environment Minister: Sergio Bergman
The creation of Argentina’s first national Environment Ministry was celebrated by ecologists. However, the choice of Sergio Bergman (53), a rabbi with next to no experience in environmental issues, was a surprise for many. “I don’t have technical knowledge in the area of the environment,” said Bergman in an interview with Radio el Mundo, making him a stand-out choice in a cabinet filled with technocrats.
The UBA graduate holds a degree in pharmacy and biochemistry and is a former national deputy. He has said that he will base his policy on Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change, with a focus on living standards, dignity, and inclusion as well as protecting the environment. Bergam has promised to foment renewable energy and introduce more control on open-pit mining.
Head of Public Media: Hernán Lombardi
Lombardi has been city Culture Minister since 2007 and has lead a successful career as a businessman in the tourism industry. He studied engineering at UBA and began his his political career as Fernando De la Rúa’s Tourism Secretary in 1999. He has promised to oversee state-run media outlets which are “public, not pro-government”, and take the political programme 678 off air.
President of the Central Bank: Federico Sturzenegger
Though the presidency of the Central Bank doesn’t official change over on the 10th December, Kirchnerist Alejandro Vanoli resigned his post the day before the change of president. His successor, Sturzenegger, is an academic with postgraduate degree from MIT and teaching experience at Harvard and the University of California. He is credited with turning City Bank into the most successful public business in the country. In 2012, the current PRO legislator found himself on trial for his role in the ‘megacanje’, the controversial attempted debt exchange mechanism of 2001. He was cleared of any wrongdoing in 2014.