Alberto Fernández with the members of the Callao Group with whom he had lunch on Wednesday night
“In 2023 Kirchnerism will turn 20 years as a political force. All political processes wear out after so long. It is necessary to renew methods, contents and faces ”. Words more, words less, that was the message that Alberto Fernández transmitted to the members of the Callao Group, a space that he created in 2017, last Wednesday.
That night the President attended a New Year’s Eve meal organized at the Santa Evita restaurant, located in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Palermo. There the leaders who are part of the founding line of the space were waiting for him, such as Santiago Cafiero, Cecilia Todesca, Matías Kulfas, Miguel Cuberos, Victoria Tolosa Paz, Guillermo Justo Chaves and Federico Martelli, and others who were added as of this week, such as former Security Minister Sabina Frederic and presidential adviser Alejandro Grimson.
Other officials were also present, such as the presidential advisor Cecilia Gómez; Victoria Banegas, who is in charge of the Government’s communication campaigns; the Secretary of Industry, Ariel Schale; the Undersecretary of Productivity and Regional Development for SMEs, Pablo Bercovich; the Secretary of Tax Policy, Roberto Arias; the Head of the Cabinet of Foreign Ministry advisers, Luciana Titto; the intellectual Nicolás Tereshuck; the economist Fernando Peirano; the sociologist Nahuel Sosa; and the anthropologist Alexandre Roig.
A few months after finishing his stage as Florencio Randazzo’s campaign manager, during the 2017 legislative elections, Fernández gave life to the Callao Group with the intention of making it a hotbed of new leaders who are injected into the front line of politics national and are part of a renewal stage.
When he arrived at the Casa Rosada, many of the members of that group accompanied him in the ministerial structure that he forged, after an agreement with Cristina Kirchner. Santiago Cafiero became Chief of Staff and his man of extreme confidence. Not only in daily management, but also in the role of interlocutor with Kirchnerism and La Cámpora. Almost always building bridges through the Minister of the Interior, Eduardo “Wado” De Pedro.
The beginnings of the Callao Group founded by Alberto Fernández in 2017
Matías Kulfas also joined as Minister of Production; Cecilia Todesca in the Vice-Chief of Cabinet; Miguel Cuberos in the Undersecretary of Political Affairs of the Presidency and Guillermo Justo Chaves, Felipe Solá’s brother-in-law, in the Chief of Cabinet of the Chancellery. All these leaders are part of the Albertist kidney. They were sponsored by the President and today they are part of his trusted political circle.
That group, which initially ranged from 10 to 12 participants, doubled last Wednesday. It was expanded. Fernández spoke to all of them about a renewal phase that should begin in 2022. They, in an informal and friendly chat, began to give life to the idea that the President be reelected in 2023.
At the “albertista” meeting, the idea of Alberto being a candidate in two years but within a great STEP, as the President himself anticipated a few weeks ago, was discussed. The idea of Fernández’s reelection began at the hands of his closest ministers, stopped after the post PASO crisis and reappears on the scene in the epilogue of the electoral year.
During the meal, the President made a parallel with the story of Ítalo Luder and Herminio Iglesias in the 1983 elections. He recalled that Peronism supported those two candidates who ended up losing – after burning a drawer with the initials and colors of radicalism in it. closing of the electoral campaign – and that later came the Peronist renewal at the hands of Antonio Cafiero.
Going back in time helped him ask a rhetorical question in front of those present. “Are we going to have to have another defeat to start renewing ourselves?” He asked. The message was clear and consistent. The President wants the group he founded four years ago to have a greater role in national politics and within the Frente de Todos.
Alberto Fernández with Miguel Cuberos, Guillermo Justo Chaves and Santiago Cafiero in the first stage of Grupo Callao
At Wednesday’s meeting, La Cámpora was referred to as “the other companions.” They avoided proper names. Those who were there are very clear that they are on the path of facing where the group led by Máximo Kirchner is standing, but also that they must coexist. Despite the permanent short-circuits within the coalition, no one thinks of breaking the alliance. It is a closed topic. There is no margin to do so or endorsement by Fernández to advance.
The Head of State and the main referents of the group made it clear that it is important to open the political debate within Peronism, that a renewal of political cadres is necessary in the structures of the State or, at least, on the surface of domestic politics . The Callao Group has been marginalized from royal power for two years and now wants to have a greater role. Fernández wants them to have it.
“Within the coalition there was hegemony of some sectors and the idea is that, from now on, everyone can have a greater participation. We have to open up to consolidate what we have, ”said one of the diners who was at the Santa Evita. That sector he names is Kirchnerism, which up to now has asserted its percentage of shares in the Peronist alliance, although not always adding to the whole.
The prominence sought by the Callao Group goes hand in hand with a project that, slowly, is gaining volume and that seeks to create a political structure, which some like to call “albertismo”, that helps maintain the centrality of Alberto Fernández, to the detriment of the one that Cristina Kirchner has always had in this new time of Peronism in power.
Alberto Fernández with Juan Zabaleta, another of the closest ministers he has (Hurlingham Press)
Empower him and give him ideological and leadership support on which to lean for the next two years. “A center Peronism”, say those who were at the table on Wednesday. That’s what it’s all about. A different route from the one Kirchnerism has followed, turning left frequently.
There is no doubt that Fernández promotes the idea of generating his own force. His intimates say that he “lets do” the ministers and leaders who have decided to play by his side. It will no longer block that path to build a political scheme around it, as it did in the first part of the administration to avoid conflicts with Cristina Kirchner. He needs to get out of the isolation and loneliness in which he had been buried.
The Callao Group’s search for exposure is one more link in a process that began on the night of November 14, the day the Government lost the general elections, when the Head of State, in the campaign bunker located in Chacarita, decided summon a massive march – which the CGT had already begun to organize – for the 17th of the same month in order to support its management. He did it before the eyes of Argentina despite the request of Máximo Kirchner not to do it, discuss it and define it with more time.
It was not surprising that La Cámpora responded on the afternoon of that November 17, arriving late for the event and staying away from the main scene. That day Fernández gave a gesture of authority and centrality that a good part of Peronism expected, after seeing him stumble in the agreements with the Vice President. The ultra K group also offered their gesture. But different. Of distancing. Within the coalition, but alongside the idea of giving centrality to the first president.
Alberto Fernández with Gabriel Katopodis, one of his closest ministers
In the march that afternoon in Plaza de Mayo, the idea of building a containment circle for the President had a very concrete beginning. A line within the coalition that rescued Fernández from the loneliness in which he had remained after two years in office, an unhealthy bond with his running mate, the scandal over Fabiola Yáñez’s party in Olivos and the electoral defeat.
That process continued with a handful of ministers who respond to the President by weaving underground alliances with mayors, governors, and legislators. And it had another important chapter with the formation of a political table that meets every Monday for lunch at the Casa Rosada.
The table is headed by Alberto Fernández and is made up of the Chief of Staff, Juan Manzur; the chancellor, Santiago Cafiero; and the ministers of Public Works, Gabriel Katopodis; of Social Development, Juan Zabaleta; and of Social Development and Habitat, Jorge Ferraresi.
In these meetings the key issues of the President’s work week are projected and discussed. Management is talked about and the political thread is given place. The progress of the negotiations with the Fund, the comings and goings with the governors and Kirchnerism, and the construction of the new link with the CGT are analyzed, to highlight some issues from the last meetings. He supports the Head of State in this new path that he decided to follow, asking for fewer explanations and trying to reduce the number of interlocutors.
Alberto Fernández and Gustavo Beliz, one of the President’s intimates who is not loved by Cristina Kirchner (Presidency)
Fernández has three well-defined circles of trust and support. The closest one in the Government is made up of the Secretary of the Presidency, Julio Vitobello; the Secretary for Strategic Affairs, Gustavo Beliz and the Legal and Technical Secretary, Vilma Ibarra. A second ring is made up of the ministers who make up the political table. And a third for the renewed Callao Group.
The order does not matter, but the quantity. They all have a clear objective: to empower the figure of Fernández, give life to a scheme that has him at the center and, through that construction, balance power within the Frente de Todos. In short, it is to counteract the advance of La Cámpora and Kirchnerism on management decisions.
That is the path they seek to follow in the next two years. If they had any doubts, they left when they heard Máximo Kirchner implode a path in agreement with the opposition to try to ensure that the Budget law does not collapse.
What happened the day after in San Vicente, with the support of Alberto Fernández for the camper leader who took office in the Buenos Aires PJ, is another part of the story. A photo, a move not to crack the coalition and tense up the climate again. There are always two parts to the story. Not everything is confrontation. Nor is everything peace and love.
Alberto Fernández: “Those who tell me to close with the IMF do not approve the budget” María Eugenia Vidal: “Máximo Kirchner began to insult the entire opposition by showing that he does not want dialogue”