After five weeks recovering from surgery to remove a blood clot on her brain, Argentinean President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner returned to her duties on Monday, announcing a major Cabinet reshuffle and later videotaping a message thanking citizens for their well-wishes and prayers for her health.
Fernández de Kirchner reinforced her economic team, naming her top finance advisor Axel Kicillof — the man behind last year’s seizure of YPF from Repsol — as the new economy minister.
Kicillof replaces Hernán Lorenzino, who last April admitted in public that he would like to step down when responding to a Greek journalist’s question about inflation.
The president also appointed Chaco governor Jorge Capitanich as her new Cabinet chief as well as Juan Carlos Fábrega, a childhood friend of Fernández de Kirchner’s late husband, former President Néstor Kirchner, who has many years of experience in private banking, as the new head of Argentina’s central bank.
With these strategic moves, Fernández de Kirchner has once again reaffirmed her ideological convictions at a time when the political winds seem to be blowing against her. After suffering a major defeat in legislative elections in 2008, the president introduced a new media law aimed at breaking up major communications monopolies that put her directly in the firing line with the powerful conglomerate Grupo Clarín. Now, despite the new setback of the October 27 legislative race in which her faction lost in half of the 24 regions and districts up for grabs, Fernández de Kirchner has reaffirmed that her policies will not change.
The 42-year-old Kicillof was instrumental in last year’s controversial takeover of Repsol’s 51-percent holding in the Argentinean oil conglomerate YPF – a battle that is still being played out in international forums. "He looked like he had just come from a student assembly meeting. He had very dogmatic opinions about the private sector," recalls one person who was present at the meeting held to discuss the YPF issue in 2012. "But he was the only one who really believed in what he was saying."
Kicillof was an economics professor at the University of Buenos Aires before he joined the Fernández de Kirchner government. He published a paper that argued against the data coming out of the National Institute of Statistics and Census (Indec) that countered information provided by the Néstor Kirchner government.
The president also replaced Mercedes Marcó del Pont, the central bank president who was often at odds with Kicillof. Just last week, Marcó del Pont told reporters that she was concerned about the rate of inflation, which officially stands at 10 percent but other private sources believe it could be as much as 25 percent.
Soon after the new Cabinet appointments were made, Fernández de Kirchner appeared in a seven-minute video that was posted on the president’s official website and carried by media outlets throughout the world. Looking youthful and relaxed and sitting on a large white couch in the video, Fernández de Kirchner gives thanks to all the people who sent her get-well messages and prayed for her recovery.
“They were very tense moments,” she said. “Imagine, you go in for a routine checkup and they tell you you have something in your head,” the president recalled, referring to the blood clot that had formed near her brain.
The video was taped by her daughter, Florencia, whom she acknowledges on the air. The president showed off a stuffed penguin that was sent to her by a young supporter and in the end she presented her latest gift, a large white puppy that she scolds after he nips at her long hair as she addresses the camera.
“Simón,” a Venezuelan Mucuchíes breed, was a gift from Adán Chávez, the brother of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Fernández de Kirchner explained that President Chávez had promised her a Mucuchíes before he died but was never able to give her the dog.
The Mucuchíes, Fernández de Kirchner explained, was the same breed of dog that accompanied 19th-century independence hero Simón Bolivar in the decisive battle of Carabobo that ousted the Spanish from Venezuela.