The Man Behind Argentina's Economic Shift ; Marxist Scholar Emerges as the Face of Policies Unsettling World Markets

By Simon Romero; Jonathan Gilbert | International New York Times, January 28, 2014 | Go to article overview

The Man Behind Argentina's Economic Shift ; Marxist Scholar Emerges as the Face of Policies Unsettling World Markets


Simon Romero; Jonathan Gilbert, International New York Times


Axel Kicillof, a scholar with rockabilly-style sideburns and an aversion to business suits, is emerging as the face of policy shifts that are sending tremors through financial markets around the developing world.

As Argentina absorbs the shock from a sharp plunge in its currency, President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner's mercurial young economy minister, Axel Kicillof, a scholar with rockabilly-style sideburns and an aversion to business suits, is emerging as the face of policy shifts that are sending tremors through financial markets around the developing world.

Mr. Kicillof, 42, is wielding greater influence over an array of areas, including Argentina's oil industry and the government's attempts to slow capital flight and improve relations with international creditors, as Mrs. Kirchner remains largely absent from the public eye after undergoing surgery in October to drain a blood clot near her brain.

The rise of Mr. Kicillof, whose writings use Marxist concepts to interpret the work of the British economist John Maynard Keynes, points to efforts by the authorities to assert greater state control over Argentina's economy at a time when growth is slowing significantly and inflation is soaring.

"He's the strongest economy minister Argentina has had in a decade," said Ezequiel Burgos, the author of "The Believer," a book about Mr. Kicillof. "He's confrontational, outwardly self-confident and sometimes perceived as being arrogant, which of course makes him stand out at a time like this."

Before advising Mrs. Kirchner on economic matters, Mr. Kicillof taught economics at the University of Buenos Aires. He rose to prominence as a deputy minister in 2012 when he directed the nationalization of YPF, the Argentine oil company then controlled by Repsol, the Spanish energy giant.

He has repeatedly justified the seizure of YPF, which Repsol had acquired in 1999, in pointed critiques of Argentina's economic policies in the 1990s of fixing the currency to the dollar and selling state assets. In November, while reviewing Argentina's offer to compensate Repsol for its stake in YPF, he contended that the authorities had previously laid the foundations "for the pillaging of our companies."

Since Mrs. Kirchner named him economy minister in November, Mr. Kicillof has been thrust into the spotlight.

Paparazzi trail him around his middle-class neighborhood, Parque Chas, and a celebrity magazine has described his relatively modest lifestyle -- reflected in the car he drives, a compact 2008 Renault, and his decision to forgo bodyguards on a vacation with his wife, a literature professor, and their two small children.

One columnist for the magazine Noticias went as far as to examine the psychology of Mr. Kicillof's sideburns, questioning whether they fit within a rock 'n' roll tradition of chafing at authority or within the fashions of 19th century Argentine political leaders who sought to display virility and power.

Mr. Kicillof has shown a flair for clashing with critics. In an interview published on Sunday by the pro-government newspaper Pagina 12, he warned against what he called "disinformation" campaigns on social media networks that could destabilize Argentina's financial system. …

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