Human Capital Ministry crisis continues as second-in-command resigns

Chief advisor Fernando Szereszevsky said his departure was already planned and not related to the recent scandals

Argentine Education Secretary Carlos Torrendell and Minister of Human Capital Sandra Pettovello attend a ceremony, to pay homage to the victims of the 1992 Israeli embassy bombing, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, March 18, 2024. REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian

Sandra Pettovello’s right-hand man in the Human Capital Ministry resigned on Friday night, taking the toll of high-profile resignations and layoffs in the organism to 42, the highest of any state office during the Milei era.

Chief advisor Fernando Szereszevsky, who acted as a de facto chief of staff, quit amid two high-profile scandals in the ministry. He explained that his resignation, however, was unrelated to recent developments and due to the fact that he is set to tour the country with Argentine rock band Los Ratones Paranoicos (The Paranoid Mice), of which he is the manager.

“My idea was always to leave in May, but I didn’t want to leave the minister at a difficult time,” Szereszevsky told the Herald. “But family issues and travel commitments I had taken led me to resign.”

A ministry spokesperson confirmed Szereszevsky’s version, saying that prior commitments meant “he had to go.” The new official will be announced once the ministry decides on Szereszevsky’s replacement, the source added.

The Human Capital Ministry was created by President Javier Milei and is in charge of overseeing public education, culture, and welfare programs, among other areas that had their own ministries before the libertarian economist took office. Milei appointed Pettovello, a former TV producer and a good friend of the president who had no experience in public administration prior to this post, to lead the ministry.

The ministry had been under fire in the last few weeks because of two high-profile scandals — a protracted refusal by Pettovello to hand over 5,000 tonnes of food to soup kitchens and a embezzlement accusation involving the Organization of Ibero-American States (OEI, by its Spanish acronym). The judiciary ruled against the ministry in the former charge and is investigating the latter.

Szereszevsky considered that the first case was over following a presentation made to the court on Thursday night. The food will be distributed by the Army and the CONIN Foundation, an NGO founded by Abel Albino, a pediatrician who famously claimed in 2018 that condoms do not offer protection against HIV because “the virus can go through porcelain.” The food will be distributed to “vulnerable schools” instead of soup kitchens, Human Capital members said.

The other scandal involves the hiring of apparent consultants through an OEI program. According to the ministry’s account, these contracts were only used as a cover for government officials to get extra money. Szereszevsky said these allegations would not harm Pettovello, as she herself filed the legal complaint. A civil association, however, filed a different complaint, accusing the minister of being involved.

Pettovello fried Pablo de la Torre, the ministry’s former Childhood, Adolescence, and Family Secretary, before the OEI case was known. However, the ministry was losing people long before the scandals blew up.

A former member of Pettovello’s ministry told the Herald that the minister used to congratulate herself on the constant firings and resignations. “It’s been a week since I fired anybody,” Pettovello allegedly said in a meeting. “That’s not good.”


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