Gone are the daily press conferences that Jorge Capitanich offered everyday from the Casa Rosada. Now that Aníbal Fernández has been appointed Cabinet Chief (video below), he has already said that he will talk to reporters “around 7 AM, on the sidewalk, and as he’s making his way to the Government House”.
Yesterday President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner shuffled her Cabinet and decided to replace Capitanich, who had been in office since November of 2013. It was an open secret that his days were numbered and that he was being replaced by Presidential Secretary Aníbal Fernández, a staunch Kirchnerite always at the ready to defend Cristina from any harm that may come her way.
So who is Aníbal and why did she appoint him her new Cabinet Chief?
“When I grow up, I want to be President… Like Perón”, Aníbal used to say to his mother.
The son of a mechanic and a janitor who admired former President Juan Domingo Perón, he studied at the Lomas de Zamora University, where he majored in Accounting and Law.
He got involved in politics in 1983 but he got his first big political break as Quilmes’ mayor in 1991.
After that, he held increasingly powerful positions: he was a national Senator in 1995, Government Secretary in 1997, Presidential Secretary in 2002, Interior Minister in 2003 (during the Kirchner administration), Justice Minister in 2007 (his first major role under Cristina), and Cabinet Chief in 2009. After another stint as a Senator, he became Presidential Secretary two months ago. And yesterday he was appointed Cabinet Chief once more.
Fernández is known as a savvy, quick and verbally-skilled politician. Some of his most memorable (and cheeky) phrases include:
- To a Senator, mis-session: “You’ve quoted Machiavelli. I’m going to quote Bon Jovi, who I like more. He has a song called “Have a Nice Day”, and it goes: “I ain’t gonna do what I don’t want to”. Like that line, this party ain’t gonna do what it doesn’t wanna do. Because our government ain’t gonna do what it doesn’t wanna do.”
- To Deputy Elisa Carrió: “Mrs. Carrio doesn’t have her ducks in a row. So, what she says doesn’t really matter to me”.
- About protesters and picketers who set up roadblocks and interrupt traffic: “Picketers see a shovel and they get a fever” (because they don’t want to work, geddit?)
- On the 2008 Farmers conflict: “Machiavelli used to say this 500 years ago: losing your inheritance is harder to forget than your father’s death”.
- On Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri: “He’s lazy. He’s always lived off (his father) Franco”.
Truth be told, it’s not all fun and games with Aníbal Fernández. In fact, though he’s a prominent political figure today, there was once an arrest warrant for him back in 1994. When he was the mayor of Quilmes, he was accused of forging a signature in a decree that privatized the town’s water company. When he failed to testify in court, a judge called for his arrest and, according to legend, he escaped City Hall hiding in the trunk of a car. Eventually he was found not guilty and the story just became another anecdote.
Besides this colorful episode (which he always denied, by the way), he’s is also criticized for having sided with the biggest enemy of Kirchnerism: Menemism.
In this video from 1993, Aníbal can be seen right next to former President Carlos Menem, now ostracized and considered persona non grata in the political world.
That doesn’t worry him, though. He freely admits the connection: “I have a warm relationship with Menem, I always talk to him”.
Despite these drawbacks, Aníbal Fernández is a wise political fox: He has a well-formed judgment on any public matter and can talk about almost any law or public issue without resorting to notes or Google. He may be the politician that best knows Argentine law, or at least the one that can explain it best.
The President’s latest decision to appoint him Cabinet Chief again is a clear chess move: Use the best bishop to protect the queen.
We’ll need to wait eight months to see if he can successfully save the kingdom.