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Meet the rising star in Argentine politics and the brains of the government’s new take-no-prisoners approach to energy company YPF: a baby-faced Marxist economist with Elvis sideburns who does not appear to own a tie.
Axel Kicillof, the deputy economy minister, not only has more clout than the man who should be his boss. He has swiftly risen to the pinnacle of power within the ultra-select clique of officials who have the ear of Cristina Fernández, the president.
“He is the economic brains – the first economist she has listened to since Néstor Kirchner died,” said Laura Di Marco, author of a book on the radical La Cámpora group founded by the president’s son, Máximo, and to which Mr Kicillof belongs. She was referring to Ms Fernández’s husband and predecessor, who ran the economy from behind the scenes after leaving power until his sudden death in 2010.
Mr Kicillof, described by a former close colleague as “on the left of the left”, has long been a militant but did – for a time – publicly question the government’s policy regarding Indec, the state statistics agency whose data it is widely believed to have been manipulating since 2007 to conceal rampant inflation.
However, he had changed his position and been rehabilitated in the president’s eyes, replacing Amado Boudou, the vice-president, as her confidant, Ms Di Marco said. It was the ambitious Mr Kicillof who pushed the hard line on YPF’s expropriation, winning out over more moderate voices in the government such as Julio De Vido, the planning minister, she and industry sources say.
A former economics professor who is an expert on John Maynard Keynes, Mr Kicillof’s background is largely “theoretical”, said Sergio Berensztein, director of Poliarquía, a respected polling group.
But his rise in politics has been meteoric considering he only joined La Cámpora after Kirchner’s death. He was briefly finance director at Aerolíneas Argentinas, the flag carrier nationalised by Ms Fernández in 2008, and a director representing the state in Siderar, a steel company, after the government nationalised the private pension funds in 2008 and the state inherited their stock in a string of companies.
Ms Fernández put Mr De Vido and Mr Kicillof in charge of YPF by decree and the deputy minister displayed his ideological passion and skills as orator in a vehement presentation of the expropriation bill to a Senate committee on Tuesday.
Mr Kicillof’s rhetoric may sound straight out of the 1970s but it is music to Ms Fernández’s ears. The president would have liked him as a son, Ms Di Marco said.
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