“Why did you say we’re wrong with vaccinations?” Why do they make politics with that, if they are scarce all over the world and here they are coming? Alberto Fernández got angry.
“And why didn’t you call me before announcing the measures?” You chose to let me find out from the newspapers. How can I not get mad? Horacio Rodríguez Larreta answered.
The President and the head of the Buenos Aires government spent one hour and fifty minutes, hand in hand, without witnesses at the Olivos Residence. Unlike the previous meetings, prior to the breakdown of the relationship, his advisers stayed in an adjoining room and did not enter at any time. The guest was offered coffee as soon as he arrived. He said that he was taking care of himself, that he only wanted water, and advanced with a folder under his arm that contained data on the evolution of Covid-19, available beds, protocols in schools and a section with the contagion curve by age group and another with the mobility indexes in your district.
Alberto ushered him into the meeting room of the presidential office as soon as they told him he was there. Horacio used to go there when Mauricio Macri ruled. There are some cosmetic changes. Feng shui works of art no longer decorate the environment, now there are four paintings by Víctor Grippo, an Argentine artist known internationally for his contributions to conceptual art, and another by Xul Solar, La lucha, which is valued at five million pesos. The window was open to let in air. The two kept their masks on for the photo, which was taken as soon as they sat down. Then for the talk, they took it off. They both had coronavirus.
The dialogue was respectful, but mutual reproaches were interspersed throughout the meeting. Alberto complained about the demonstrations in the streets surrounding La Quinta. He told him that behind the mobilizations is the hard wing of the PRO. In his environment they always give him a first and last name: Patricia Bullrich. “They scramble me at the door of the house where I live, they throw eggs and spit on the policemen”, Held.
The mayor assured him that he is against the escraches and avoided talking about Bullrich. He concentrated on what he had come to raise. He proposed to Fernández that, at the very least, he revise his position about closing classrooms in elementary schools. He did it with the data he took out of his folder. He revealed that, since the beginning of the year, many porteños changed their way of transporting, that the use of public transport fell because today more people go to schools on foot or by bicycle. And he confided that they have measured that the greatest problem occurs in adolescents between 15 and 16 years old who, instead of going home when they leave school, stay crowded in the street or meet in cafes. Then he proposed to open the primary and the first two years of high school and block the presences in the rest of the years.
“I will not change. I have other numbers”, returned the head of state. And he took a toll on his compartment before the last measures. According to Fernández, his administration and that of the province of Buenos Aires had given in a week ago when they discussed the closing hours of bars and restaurants. The City wanted them to close at midnight, the Casa Rosada at 22. They agreed at 23, although -according to Fernández’s vision- then Larreta said in the media that the premises closed at 23 but that people could stay there a hour more.
“You came to agree on measures and then you changed them. Why did you come?”, he reproached him. There was more: he told him that he was underestimating the rise in daily infections of Covid-19 and told him about cases in which Buenos Aires patients were transferred to Buenos Aires clinics. Larreta stood up. He had heard the same thing from Axel Kicillof’s mouth and it had wrested an afternoon of anger from a good part of his troop. Again he appealed to the figures: he told Alberto that 30% of the intensive care beds in the City are occupied by Buenos Aires patients and that 45% of the tests that are carried out daily in Buenos Aires belong to those who live in Buenos Aires. other side of General Paz. He didn’t say it but he thought about it: that’s because Kicillof’s tests are rare or, in some locations, non-existent.
When he was returning from Olivos in a truck with Diego Santilli and the two connected from their phones to a chat on Zoom with ministers and advisers, Larreta briefly told what had happened. They were all outraged by the allusion to the Buenos Aires serving each other in the Province. “Who can believe that?”said one of them. Then they began to elaborate the answer. Several of the members of the Buenos Aires Cabinet followed the talk with one ear and the live lecture that Alberto Fernández was giving with the other. The President accused the head of government of telling “lies”. In Larreta’s environment, they respond that the lies always come from La Rosada or from Kicillof’s office.
Alberto had confessed that several of his ministers did not agree with the new impositions. In fact, the reproaches that Rodríguez Larreta made to Fernández were very similar to the warnings the President had received two days before from his own ministers. Among them, that of Santiago Cafiero, his chief of staff, who usually has little conflict with the decisions of his boss.
Wednesday was a really hectic and tense day in Olivos and the Casa Rosada. Three ministers were offside. Nicolás Trotta, from Education, was the most hurt. He had said a few hours before that face-to-face classes would be a priority and that there was no need to wait for a closing; Carla Vizzotti, from Health, ruled that the classrooms were not a source of contagion, and Mario Meoni, from Transport, assured that the movement in trains and buses were not a reason for more restrictions.
The usual uproar that occurs in Cabinet chat when high-impact news emerges this time was not felt. He was conspicuously muted. “Nobody wants to say a word anymore “, justified a minister. Losardo effect. If she left, everyone can go. That spirit reigns.
While the ministers wondered how to make discursive pranks on radio and TV without being too noticeable, Alberto privately said that he was willing to pay all the necessary costs. “If there is revenue, it will be all mine”, they heard him.
The displays of solidarity towards the unauthorized officials came in private. Trotta was distressed. When Cafiero called him on the phone to give him the news (the same method that Alberto used to fire Ginés González García), the minister thought about quitting. As the hours passed, he thought better of it and stayed. Dozens of messages accumulated on his cell phone. Among them, that of Soledad Acuña. His peer in the City wrote to him to force a dialogue and try to avoid the DNU. Acuña saw after a while that the message was marked with two light blue lines. “He nailed me the seen”, would say.
It was not until 48 hours later that Trotta spoke to Fernández on the phone. THE DNU was already published in the Official Gazette. It was not a happy dialogue. They could not explain why, just a few hours after he defended in two radio interviews the maintenance of open schools, the presidential message had been recorded. Days before, Alberto had been very extreme about the growth of infections. Trotta never thought it would affect the flow of classes.
Alberto recorded the speech without hearing too many suggestions. He used a tough tone with stretches that will be talked about for a long time. For example: that the doctors relaxed. At the end they asked him if he wanted to record it again or participate in the edition. His answer was negative..
Cristina was always aware of the decisions, of course. She and Axel Kicillof had lobbied hard for the DNU to contain tough restrictions. They had not been satisfied with the previous scheme. It is not entirely clear if it was the governor who convinced Cristina of the need to protect the Conurbano or if it happened the other way around.
Cristina and Máximo are beginning to fight now so that the aid to the affected sectors is quick and generous. There is no silver, but this is not the time to look at the deficit. So they say. Inflation, meanwhile, continues its pace: 4.8 in March, 13% in three months. The question is no longer if Martín Guzmán’s goal of 29% will be met, but if the figure will reach the chilling levels of the last two years of the Cambiemos administration. The cocktail party is dramatic: a rise in infections, a 42% poverty rate, a partial shutdown of the economy, rising inflation and a rarefied social climate, with threats of rebellion in the streets. A bomb that was made little by little, and that always seems about to explode.
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