Susana Malcorra’s departure from the Foreign Ministry and her replacement by career diplomat Jorge Marcelo Faurie illustrates the continuity of a long-standing trend, the greater control of Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña on the machinery of the government.
The move recalls, in some ways, Alfonso Prat-Gay’s removal at the beginning of the year, the division of the then-Ministry of Treasury and Finance and Nicolás Dujovne’s subsequent rise. Also, there are echoes of the dismissal of Isela Costantini at Aerolíneas Argentinas and Carlos Melconian’s replacement by Javier González Fraga at the Banco Nación.
Contrary to these antecedents, there is a good justification in Malcorra’s case: the health of her husband, who lives in Madrid, where she will reside from now on. However, the political content of the situation is equivalent: a greater alignment of the Cabinet under the undisputed authority of Peña and his aides, Mario Quintana and Gustavo Lopetegui, with no place for personalities that put at risk the mantra of working as a “team.” The team, we see once again, has a captain who cannot be confronted.
Malcorra was dismissed with praise (like Prat-Gay, Costantini and Melconian, it is worth remembering, whose professional qualities the government never disputed) and, it is known, will retain her status as minister and the role of presidential advisor from a distance. But her disagreements with Peña and the president himself have been profound, long-standing and have given rise, precisely, to some claims against the remarkably personal style of the official.
The Malvinas Islands was one of her most delicate clashes and a repeated problem with Macri. On the one hand, it was the object of external and internal criticism in Let’s Change (Cambiemos) — from the Radicals and Elisa Carrió — for having signed a memorandum to normalise the relationship with the United Kingdom, in which the country made the only concessions. Along with this, she had to amend a mistake by the president himself, when he said, recklessly interpreting a dialogue in a corridor, that Prime Minister Theresa May had agreed to discuss the sovereignty over the islands.
On the other hand, the then-foreign minister swayed unnecessarily in favour of a Hillary Clinton victory in the US elections last November, even up until a couple of days before the vote when she stopped herself when on the verge of describing Donald Trump as xenophobic. Again, she told the truth, but it is known that truth is a virtue more fit for the political analyst than for a diplomat.
Her campaign to become UN Secretary General was another false step, which on many occasions led to the uncomfortable question of whether her moves as foreign minister were guided by the national interest or by her ambitions.
Another source of disagrement with Macri was her stance on the Chavista regime in Venezuela. Malcorra always acted as a moderator of the president’s positions, to the point of neutralising his harsher definitions about, for example, executing the Mercosur’s “democratic clause” against the government in Caracas.
Set against this background, Malcorra’s departure has been on the table several times. The only thing that surprised everyone last Monday was the moment in which it took place, a moment that Marcos Peña took advantage of to advance further toward the formation of a cabinet not necessarily better but more homogenous and docile to his orders.
The Radicals, who had already lost an ally in Prat-Gay (although replaced by the also friendly Dujovne), now lose another minister who, if not organically one of their own, at least belonged to their orbit. The attempt that the former minister of Treasury and Finance made to land in the Foreign Ministry, did not take into account that Peña was not just going to rehabilitate one ego (which, in fact, he had already managed to eject) to replace another.
The position of the UCR in the governmental machinery is increasingly testimonial and innocuous, a weakness that could get even feebler when other senior and middle-ranking officials are confirmed as candidates for the next legislative elections.
The rise of 65-year-old Jorge Faurie is evidence of how resounding the takeover of the Foreign Ministry by the Cabinet chief is. In fact, the former ambassador in France is a man of Fulvio Pompeo, currently the secretary of Strategic Affairs under Marcos Peña.
Faurie has two factors that highlights the change in the political balance that has just occurred.
He is, on the one hand, a career diplomat, more valued in the Foreign Ministry for being a hardworker, for his disposition toward team-building and for his severity with those who show no wish to follow his pace. He is not an ideologist but an executor. Someone to the measure of Peña. On the other hand, he is a man linked to Peronism and his rise implies a major shift in a body dominated for decades by a Radical bureaucracy.
Despite the praise dedicated to Malcorra, the rise of Faurie implies total contempt for the “succession line” that she had left behind: Deputy Foreign Minister Pedro Villagra and her Cabinet Chief, Marcos Stancanelli.
The Peronist condition of the new minister is also recognised by a genetic mark: his versatility to change loyalties. Faurie was head of protocol in the government of Carlos Menem and confidant of the then vice-chancellor, Andrés Cisneros. He later worked for Carlos Ruckauf, who installed him as “number two” during his time in the ministry, already in 2002, during the government of Eduardo Duhalde. However, that experience ended in a traumatic way, when Ruckauf threw him out amid accusations about an undeclared society with Ramón Hernández, the former private secretary of Menem, and for having oversteppedthe mark by renewing the latter’s diplomatic passport.
However, these setbacks did not complicate him too much in the courts. “Frozen” in the times of the UCR-Frepaso alliance led by Fernando de la Rúa, he spent most of the Kirchnerite-era as ambassador to Portugal. After the triumph of Mauricio Macri in November 2015 Faurie found himself in charge of the Coordination and International Cooperation area of the Foreign Ministry, from where he diligently helped a transition that Cristina Fernández de Kirchner only tried to block. And above all, he found Pompeo close to the new president.
The relationship between the two is peculiar. Pompeo promotes Faurie today; Faurie promoted Pompeo in the past. During the Ruckauf-era, Faurie appointed Pompeo as undersecretary of institutional affairs at the Ministry of International Relations. An old and solid society.
Pompeo always found in Malcorra a strong ceiling to his ambitions, a reality that led him to preserve himself in the shadow of Marcos Peña, avoiding conflict. In that way he tried to preserve a capacity to encourage promotions, transfers and vetoes in the diplomatic service.
The change of command generates expectations in sectors of the house that were in hibernation, unable to exert influence under Malcorra, Peronist or non-framed cadres who always distrust the Radical imprint of the ministry’s bureaucracy.
Will Faurie redeem them? It does not seem so clear. In any case, he himself will have the word on this when his management begins to take shape. Or, rather, the increasingly powerful Marcos Peña will.