José “Pepe” Pampuro passed away today at 71 years in the Italian Hospital, after dragging a cancer that had it with ups and downs in the last decade. Doctor by profession, graduated from the UBA, and oncologist, he soon left active practice to dedicate himself to politics under the wing of Eduardo Duhalde.
The essential information on his career says that he was Secretary General of the Presidency (2002-2003), Minister of Defense (2003-2005) and provisional President of the Senate (2005-2011), among the highest positions. But in dizzying times that followed the outbreak of convertibility and the great crisis of 2001-2002, Pampuro was much more than formal: a key operator, witness and protagonist of power in decisive moments, like the push it gave into duhaldism in favor of the option of “electing” as Duhalde’s successor the then unknown governor of Santa Cruz, Néstor Kirchner, to face Carlos Menem, the “great enemy” of the Buenos Aires chief in the ranks of Peronism. With a deep battle between devaluators and dollarizers, faced remedies to leave the crisis behind.
Porteño by birth, on December 28, 1949; raised in Lanús where his father was also a renowned doctor; and educated in an English school in Lomas de Zamora, Pampuro was a doctor for the Duhalde family and his friend. After having been Secretary of Health in Lanús in the 1980s, Duhalde made him Minister of Health in the province (he was also a national deputy) and then put him in charge of the House of the Province, a position without pressure, appropriate for weave in the twists and turns of politics, which was Pampuro’s great passion.
Pampuro was secretary general of the Duhalde Presidency in 2002, who at a time when the country seemed on the brink of dissolution due to the “terminal” crisis, commissioned him to be the direct link between La Rosada and the top leaders of the Armed Forces. At the same time, he desperately searched Peronism for his successor: it could not be Carlos Reutemann who he did not want (Pampuro visited him in his field in Santa Fe, where he received them in field pants and with his enigmas to decline the presidential offer); neither did Governor José Manuel de la Sota, who came to launch but did not win in the polls.
With the Buenos Aires PJ reached the top and with its natural leader (Duhalde) self-excluded from the presidential race and building the image of the savior of the country from the flames and of personal resignation, Pampuro was the Duhaldist who did the most to convince of the option for Kirchner He was a young Patagonian governor, ambitious and of great drive, who had founded his own internal current and contributed from the Calafate group (not Menemists) to the Duhalde campaign that ended in defeat against Fernando de la Rúa and the Alliance, in 1999.
With Kirchner already elected in 2003, Pampuro knew that he had a secured ministry but did not expect Defense. He found out like everyone else, when the president today Alberto Fernandez -that he was going to be chief of staff- announced on the eve of May 25 of the assumption, the new Cabinet from El Calafate.
Kirchner who needed to legitimize himself (he obtained 22% and was second, he was going to devastate but Menem got off the ballot) built power from an initial decision: to anoint the military with enemies, to generate a new and surprising epic for their government – the vindication of the generation “decimated” by the dictatorship and repression – and to pave the way for the return of the repression trials illegal. What in the end would be a sustained policy over time.
Pampuro was a key piece in this time of enormous tension and a day before assuming, he confirmed Clarion that the purge of the military leadership would be done more extensive that will be remembered, dropping 52 generals, admirals and brigadiers. The new “enemies” of Kirchnerism, as would later come others in their style of political construction.
Pampuro was an affable, moderate, lovable guy. That he spoke very frank and simple, especially in private, as he liked, away from the lanterns. And he said a lot with his pauses and with lively and expressive eyes. “A composer, with a good relationship from the last councilor of Lanús to deputies or opponents”, was defined by someone who treated him closely.
With that style Pampuro was shock absorber of the impact on the military ranks of the new policies, tempered some situations, but was at the same time a disciplined executor of the “decisions of the President.”
This is how the purge of commands with which Kirchner took the plate of authority before society, and two other central decisions happened: the download of the paintings by Videla and Bignone from the Gallery of Honor of the Colegio Militar de la Nación (March 24, 2004) and the progressive transfer of the property of the ESMA, a former detention and torture center for the disappeared, to turn it into a space of memory, a decision of profound impact and revulsion in the Navy.
Race politician, Pampuro loved to be in the middle of these trances but at the same time suffered them. With dramatic style, he could go so far as to exaggerate before Kirchner’s mandates to be fulfilled, as he looked from the 12th floor of his office in the Libertador Building:
-I’m going to jump out the window!
– But no minister! Light a pipe, we are in operations we are going to operate! -, He was reassured by the deputy chief of the Army, Mario Chretién, on whom Pampuro relied heavily. The chief was a very rare general of Peronist origin, Roberto Bendini, that he operated with greater autonomy because Kirchner had chosen him after meeting him from the Brigade based in Santa Cruz; and he had some disagreements with the minister.
There were frictions with the United States with the suspension of military exercises and a new imprint on the relationship; but Pampuro visited the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon Donald rumsfeld (a hawk that had pushed the invasion of Iraq) and Rumsfeld came to Buenos Aires on a regional tour. Pampuro spoke to him in English (He lived in London for a season in addition to his school training) and was amazed by the Pentagon’s hawk’s knowledge of life and his admiration for Saint Martin. At the request of the American they went together to the mausoleum in the Cathedral.
At the regional level, it was a deepening and with correlation in Defense of good relations with neighbors, rebuilding trust, in particular with Chile. Pampuro had frequent encounters with his Chilean counterpart Michelle Bachelet (who would later be president, twice), to this and to the other side of the mountain range, and then with his successor Jaime Ravinet. The deployment of troops in Haiti also came -an important move in agreement with Brazil to resolve regional issues, in the region- that Pampuro visited twice, one spending Christmas Eve 2004 with the troops in Gonaives.
Cristina and the cycle in the Senate
Then came the Kirchner-Duhalde “divorce” and like others of Duhalde root (paradigmatic case, Aníbal Fernández), Pampuro continued with “Néstor”, with whom I felt a sincere and mutual stream of affectionBesides power, of course.
As he had captured the “Menemista” Daniel Scioli in 2003 for vice (played alongside Duhalde), Kirchner sought out the Duhaldeists to harm his mentor, the man who had “saved the country from the fire” and now Senator Cristina Kirchner defenestrated in public, calling him “The Godfather.”
For the key election of 2005, Kirchner began to “play the queen” and summoned Pampuro:
-You have to protect Cristina, I want you to accompany her for senator-, made the mission epic.
Thus, Pampuro was second senator in the “mother of all battles” against the Duhaldean ballot, which was headed by no less than Hilda Chiche Duhalde. The power of Peronism was at stake and in the country. Kirchner won, with Cristina, and another game began in the country, with all the power for the K. Pampuro went to the Senate, and appointed provisional president.
With Cristina correction, but cold. “Already on the campaign trail, she would go to the events, ‘hello Pepe’ and that was it,” said a collaborator from those years.
The dispute over resolution 125 would come with the field since March 2008, with CFK a few months before as President. Pampuro tried like so many, to convince the vice president, then radical K, Julio Cobos, who already warned that he would reject the law in an unprecedented tiebreaker that was looming in the Senate. Pampuro proposed to Kirchner that early morning of July 2008 leave the compound, to lose without reaching the tiebreaker that will face the Government with its vice president. Kirchner told him no, that Cobos vote.
Upon Kirchner’s death in October 2010, Cristina was left with the reins of power and other faithful entered her church. “When a glass is broken,” reflected Pampuro, “no matter how much the pieces stick together and lift, it is not the same again.” In 2011, the president who was going for her second term, raised by widowhood and the recent tragedy, did not summon Pampuro nor did she ever speak to him, what was experienced as a huge portrait by the former minister. It was Scioli, governor, who led him as vice president of Banco Provincia behind his friend and head of the entity, Gustavo Marangoni.
Pampuro already began to drag health problems. They found an advanced tumor and removed a kidney. The years that followed would be low-key. In 2015 he was critical of Christianity, of how the campaign was carried out: “It seems that they want to make him lose Scioli”, he said, and deplored “permanent aggression.” With the government of Alberto Fernández, he had been appointed as one of the directors of Banco Nación.
On December 28, when a friend called him on his birthday, he told him that he was fine. His illness worsened during January.
His wife Susana, his three daughters, and several grandchildren fired him. And many messages from politics, where he spent more than 30 years.