Argentine President Cristina Fernandez burst back on the scene on Monday after a five-week absence following surgery to treat a head injury, naming as economy minister the government’s point man in its seizure of the country’s biggest oil company last year.
The promotion of leftist economist Axel Kicillof, who had been deputy economy minister, was announced by a government spokesman in a televised address minutes after Fernandez appeared on TV for the first time since early last month.
Kicillof, a charismatic and polarizing figure, steered the administration’s expropriation of a controlling stake in energy company YPF from its former parent company, Spain’s Repsol.
The takeover enraged Argentina’s trading partners from the EU, but was welcomed by many Argentines as a defense of national strategic interests.
Known for his fiery speeches in defense of Fernandez’s interventionist policies, Kicillof spent most of his career in academia, giving classes and writing about the theories of economists such as John Maynard Keynes and Karl Marx.
He replaces Hernan Lorenzino, who was named ambassador to the EU.
Also on Monday, Argentina designated Carlos Fabrega as the country’s new central bank governor, replacing Mercedes Marco del Pont, and Carlos Casamiquela as agriculture minister, replacing Norberto Yauhar.
Chaco Governor Jorge Capitanich will replace Juan Manuel Abal Medina as Cabinet chief. The newly named officials are scheduled to be sworn in today.
As she enters the final two years of her second term, Fernandez faces possible new protests from farmers who say her policies hurt their profits. High inflation, estimated by private analysts at 25 percent, rising crime, an overvalued currency and dwindling foreign reserves are also concerns.
Fernandez’s supporters suffered heavy losses in congressional elections on Oct. 27 that ended her chances of securing a change to the constitution that would have enabled her to run for a third term in 2015.
“The appointment of Kicillof is not going to be welcomed by the markets,” said Ignacio Labaqui, local analyst for New York-based consultancy Medley Global Advisors.
“It confirms that government policy will not be altered by the results of the midterm election,” he said. “It increases the likelihood of a dual exchange-rate scheme, which Kicillof has been advocating, and we can expect that the central bank will continue to be the main source of financing for the Treasury.”
Despite his youthful appearance — local media sometimes make as much of his sideburns as of his policymaking — Kicillof is an old-school leftist who shuns the tenets of 21st century globalism and believes Argentina must find its own way to industrial prominence.