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A Berni confidant takes over Security

María Cecilia Rodríguez, a 46-year-old political scientist, is the newly-appointed Security minister.
By Luciana Bertoia
Herald Staff

In another reshuffle, María Cecilia Rodríguez is surprisingly appointed to replace Puricelli

In another surprise Cabinet reshuffle, María Cecilia Rodríguez was yesterday appointed as President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s Security Minister to replace Arturo Puricelli, who stepped down from the post he had only recently taken.

Rodríguez’s designation appears to consolidate her second-in-command, Security Secretary Sergio Berni, as the country’s security czar, who has managed to survive repeated ministerial shifts while staying put in his number-two slot.

Although some say that Rodríguez, a 46-year-old political scientist, is not experienced enough to deal with this sensitive area, human rights organizations celebrated her appointment as she could bring a more socially minded approach to policies to fight crime, mainly due to her academic record as well as her experience in office.

Yesterday’s was the second change the Ministry has undergone in six months. In June, Fernández de Kirchner decided to replace Nilda Garré, who became the Argentine ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), with former defence minister Arturo Puricelli. Garré’s replacement was seen by human rights groups as someone with a worrying tendency to confuse the areas of defence and security.

No reasons for his resignation were given yesterday and it was not clear if he decided to leave his post yesterday or on Friday, when he met the President at the Olivos residence. Fernández de Kirchner first met with Puricelli and, in a separate meeting, talked to Berni.

As far as is known, Berni was confirmed in his position and will retain as much power as before. The media presented Cecilia Rodríguez as a person on good terms with her powerful subordinate. They met when both served at the Social Development Ministry headed by Alicia Kirchner, the president’s sister-in-law. Sources confirmed that information.

Some claim Rodríguez was an activist in the Kirchnerite youth organization La Cámpora and others say she was a member of the youth organization Kolina, led by Alicia Kirchner. But that information could not be confirmed.

An unexpected change

Yesterday afternoon, the presidential spokesman, Alfredo Scoccimarro, appeared to announce that Puricelli had resigned and that Fernández de Kirchner had chosen Rodríguez to replace him. Tomorrow at 7pm, Rodríguez will be sworn in as the new Security minister along with Father Juan Carlos Molina, who on Friday was appointed as the head of the Sedronar anti-drug agency.

Rodríguez has a low profile but her work was praised by her former boss, Defence Minister Agustín Rossi, and by the President.

In August, after the explosion in a Rosario building, the president travelled to Santa Fe province. There she met Rodríguez, who was Rossi’s co-ordinator for Emergencies.

“An expert as few are,” Fernández de Kirchner wrote in her Twitter account after their encounter.

“She has all the necessary skills for such a responsibility,” Rossi yesterday said in a press statement. Rossi, who appointed her to the Emergencies area when he arrived at the Defence Ministry, said that during the six months they worked together, she had been able to come up with solutions to all the problems she came across.

Six months ago, Rossi had named her in that area to deal with situations similar to the April floods in the Buenos Aires province capital of La Plata. Military officers then joined social activists who were carrying out aid activities. Rodríguez was named to institutionalize those relationships.

Something more than changing names?

In 2006, then president Néstor Kirchner appointed his former adversary Puricelli as the head of the military industry company Fabricaciones Militares. Then, in 2010, Puricelli replaced Garré at the Defence Ministry, when she was assigned to the Security portfolio.

After the midterm elections held in October, the Kirchnerite administration decided to make changes to show that it had heard the message from the voters when Renewal Front’s Sergio Massa defeated Martín Insaurralde, the ruling Victory Front (FpV) candidate in Buenos Aires province. The government decided to deploy more Border Guards in Greater Buenos Aires, removing them from the northern provinces’ borders. As scandal emerged, the government chose to send members of the Army to the border, which was criticized by progressive sectors because the Domestic Security Law prevents both areas from acting jointly.

“Her appointment is like a breath of fresh air,” sources told the Herald.

As human rights activists explained to the Herald, Rodríguez seems to have a different profile. From 2006 to 2012, she served at the Crisis Attention subdivision of the Social Development Ministry. Then she became a close ally of Sergio Berni, who decided to take her with him to the Security Ministry.

Both in 2010 headed the operation to regularize takeovers at the Indoamericano Park neighbourhoods in Villa Lugano and Villa Soldati, in BA City. In less than 40 hours, officials from the Social Development Ministry took a census of more than 5,800 people who did not have a house and had been violently evicted by the Metropolitan Police.

In 2012, when Berni was named Security Secretary, he took two officials with him: Darío Ruiz (Undersecretary of Security Policy) and Rodríguez to be in charge of Civic Participation. During Garré’s term in office, both were seen as a sign of an approach which sought to prevent crime rather than punish it after being committed.

“We are happy about her nomination. She believes in social inclusion policies,” a security expert told the Herald.

Rodríguez specializes in dealing with emergencies and disaster. She was part of humanitarian missions in El Salvador, Haiti, Kosovo and Panama. She has also been a member of the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Co-ordination unit since 1999.

Changes in the spotlight

Since returning from her medical leave, the president has decided on five changes in her team. The reshuffle was a consequence of the defeat in the October midterms. Juan Manuel Abal Medina was replaced by Jorge Capitanich as the Cabinet Chief. Axel Kicillof took Hernán Lorenzino’s place at the helm of the Economy Ministry helm. The controversial former Domestic Trade Secretary Guillermo Moreno resigned and Augusto Costa replaced him. Carlos Casamiquela became the Agriculture Minister, replacing Norberto Yahuar after his bad results in the elections. Finally, Juan Carlos Fábrega was also appointed as Central Bank governor instead of Mercedes Marcó del Pont.

Criticism from opposition

UNEN lawmaker Alcira Argumedo criticized the government for swapping officials from Defence to the Security Ministry.

“This appointment consolidates Berni as the head of the Security Ministry,” Civic and Social Broad Progressive Front leader Margarita Stolbizer said yesterday, reminding the country that Berni has been accused of arresting people without a warrant.

@LucianaBertoia

The Newly appointed minister

María Cecilia Rodríguez, 46.
She obtained her degree in Political Science in 1990.
She took part in several humanitarian missions in El Salvador, Kosovo, Haiti, and Panama.
She has also been a member of the UN Disaster Assessment and Co-ordination unit since 1999.
From 2006 to 2012, she served at the Crisis Attention subdivision of the Social Development Ministry headed by Alicia Kirchner.
In 2010, she headed the operation to regularize takeovers at the Indoamericano Park neighbourhoods in BA City alongside Sergio Berni .
In June, she was appointed to the Emergencies area when Agustín Rossi arrived at the Defence Ministry.

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