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Argentine leader shakes up cabinet after vote defeat
Tue Jul 7, 2009 10:52pm EDT
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By Kevin Gray
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentine President Cristina Fernandez reshuffled her cabinet on Tuesday, but the shake-up suggests few policy changes as she attempts to shore up her government after a crushing defeat in a mid-term vote.
The reshuffle came as opposition leaders stepped up calls for changes in her top aides after she lost her majority in Congress in the June 28 congressional election, which was seen as a referendum on her turbulent presidency.
"It's musical chairs," said Federico Thomsen, an Argentine political and economic analyst. "It does signal Fernandez felt something had to change, but none of the appointees is new."
Fernandez named Anibal Fernandez, currently the justice minister and not related to her, as cabinet chief. He is a confidant of the Argentine leader's husband, former President Nestor Kirchner, who is widely seen as co-running the government.
Amado Boudou, the head of the country's state pension agency, was appointed economy minister and takes office as Latin America's No. 3 economy cools after a six-year boom.
Fernandez's popularity ratings have plummeted as she struggles with a slowing economy, high inflation and a long-running battle with farmers over export taxes.
Although official figures show the economy is still growing slowly, the data is widely seen as overly rosy. Private estimates forecast an economic contraction this year, with unemployment rising as car, steel and construction output slump.
Boudou replaces Carlos Fernandez, who analysts said had a minor role in shaping economic policy that is largely determined by the Kirchners.
Boudou presided over the state pensions agency after Fernandez nationalized Argentina's private pension funds last year, but he is seen as someone who answers to the presidential pair rather than an influential figure in his own right.
Fernandez retained one of her most controversial cabinet members, Domestic Commerce Secretary Guillermo Moreno, who is accused of manipulating the country's economic data and being the chief enforcer of the government's unorthodox anti-inflation policies.
The Kirchners have increased the state's role in the economy and imposed price controls and export caps in recent years to slow inflation, angering some business leaders.
Economists, consumer groups and even some state statisticians accuse the government of under-reporting inflation and exaggerating economic growth for political gain.
Government critics have repeatedly called for Moreno to step down to restore credibility to the national statistics agency, INDEC.
"A renovation of the cabinet that included removing some of the most criticized figures was expected," said Rosendo Fraga, a political analyst. "This implies the Kirchners have decided to stay the course," he said. Continued...
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