The sudden resignation of Argentina’s economy minister plunged the country into all-too-familiar anxiety stemming from its periodic financial crises in recent decades.
The departure of moderate Martin Guzman on Saturday also gave another sign of President Alberto Fernandez’s growing isolation within his ruling coalition as Vice President Cristina Fernandez gains influence. Silvina Patakis, the vice president’s left-wing ally, was named late Sunday as the new economy minister.
“What happened over the weekend was another turning point in Cristina’s gradual progression over the administration,” political advisor Carlos Vara said on Tuesday. “It’s been a process that was going on before but is starting to become more and more evident in the last 60 days as it has continued to impeach the president more and more.”
Whatever the insides of power, it is clear that many Argentines are dissatisfied with the government. Polls for the president have given low approval ratings, and a clear majority of respondents say the country is headed in the wrong direction.
Cristina Fernandez, a former president who still enjoys a strong support base, chose Alberto Fernandez, who had lacked political clout for his nomination, to lead the ticket with her as Vice President shortly before the 2019 elections.
The alliance was an admission that she was unpopular to win alone, while allowing her to rally her supporters for a united campaign by center-left factions in defeating Mauricio Macri, the conservative who had replaced her as president. .
But the fragile coalition soon began to deteriorate, and in the past few months tensions have flared up so full that the vice president, who is not associated with the president, has publicly criticized him in public speeches.
Guzmán was seen as a key ally of the president within the cabinet, and his resignation letter was issued just as the vice president was delivering another speech critical of the administration that made it clear that part of the reason for his resignation was a lack of political support.
“Guzmán has offered resistance to Cristina’s influence on economic policy,” said Lucas Romero, president of Synopsys, a local policy consultancy.
Guzmán’s loss was particularly significant because the president had already seen many other allies leave the government, and his choice of Guzmán’s successor negated the delicate balancing act he had to do in the coalition government.
“No one would have taken the job without Cristina’s approval because that would mean firing him within 10 minutes,” said Marielle Fornoni, director of Management and Fit, a political consultancy.
In her first public comment after Monday’s swearing-in, Patakis thanked the vice president, among others, for trusting her.
While she offered assurances of the continuity of the government’s economic plan, Patakis also said she was willing to discuss the idea of a universal basic income for Argentina’s poorest – an issue that Cristina Fernandez recently championed.
Patakis faces many economic challenges, including trying to tame inflation that averages more than 60% annually and helping four out of 10 poor Argentines.
Her appointment raises questions about the future of the government’s latest deal with the International Monetary Fund to restructure $44 billion in debt. The vice president and her allies criticized Guzmán’s agreement, saying it made too many concessions to the IMF that would hamper economic growth.
On Tuesday, Patakis said she would reach out to IMF authorities and expected the agreement would likely change.
Analysts said the change in the Economy Ministry highlights the growing weakness of President Alberto Fernandez.
“The exit of Guzmán and the arrival of Patakis illustrate the president’s political defeat,” said Rosendo Fraga, a political analyst and historian.
Marcos Buscaglia, partner economist at local consultancy Alberdi Partners, said the selection of Patakis is “a sign that the person running the economy is Cristina.”
However, the change in economic leadership will make life more difficult for the vice president, because it will be difficult for her to play the role of critical commentator, said one analyst.
“So far, the vice president has been trying to avoid getting directly involved in managing the economy,” said political analyst Sergio Berensztine. Whatever happens now, the crisis is for Cristina, too.
Associated Press writer Almudena Calatrava contributed to this report.