President Cristina Fernandez returned to work Monday after six weeks of rest from skull surgery, and quickly remade her Cabinet with appointments suggesting she may tighten her grip on the economy and take an even harder line in Argentine debt negotiations.
Axel Kiciloff, a fiery, unorthodox economist who pushed for Argentina's uncompensated seizure of Grupo Repsol's controlling, $10 billion stake in the state YPF oil company, is taking over as economy minister.
He replaces Hernan Lorenzino, who was working in Washington to settle Argentina's unpaid arbitration settlements while Fernandez was convalescing. Lorenzino will run a new debt restructuring unit answering to Kiciloff while waiting for congressional approval of his nomination as ambassador to the European Union.
Carlos Fabrega, a banking industry lobbyist and president of Banco Nacion, is being nominated to replace Mercedes Marco del Pont as president of the Central Bank, an appointment that also requires congressional approval.
Chaco Gov. Jorge Capitanich, a close ally of Fernandez, will succeed Juan Manuel Abal Medina as Cabinet chief, and Carlos Casamiquela, who runs Argentina's agricultural technology institute, is taking over as agriculture minister, the president's spokesman announced Monday night.
The changes were announced after a day of meetings at the presidential residence, where Fernandez spent six weeks in seclusion and virtual silence while recuperating from surgery Oct. 8 to remove blood from burst vessels inside her skull that was pressuring her brain.
She made no mention of the Cabinet changes in a cheery, seven-minute video released on her Facebook page, which she said was recorded Monday by her daughter Florencia. In it, Fernandez is wearing a white blouse — the first time she's worn anything other than black in public while mourning the death of her husband, former President Nestor Kirchner, three years ago.
"Hi, after so many days, we are once again in contact," the Argentine leader said, thanking the "millions" of people who had sent their good wishes, from "the most humble servant to the most important world leader. Doctors urged Fernandez to take it easy, avoid stress and stay off planes or helicopters, which means she'll apparently stay in the presidential residence for now.
"It wasn't easy to go to a routine heart exam and suddenly hear that you have to have head surgery," Fernandez said in the video. "It was a difficult moment. But fine, here we are, once again back at work and putting our shoulder to the wheel."
She then interrupted her thank-yous, walked off camera and returned with a fluffy white puppy she said was given to her by the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's brother. She said it's a Mucuchi, the national dog of Venezuela, one of which was killed while accompanying South American independence hero Simon Bolivar into battle in 1821.
"Good then, let's go to work," she concluded after the dog nibbled at her hair. "Let's go, Simon!"
Fernandez video: https://www.facebook.com/CFKArgentina