On Monday, environmental activists presented an open letter in the Casa Rosada requesting the resignation of incoming presidential advisor Antonio Aracre over the environmental record of his former company, Syngenta. Aracre has not yet started his mandate, which will begin on February 1.
The document has over 15,000 signatures, including high-profile environmentalists such as Soledad Barruti, Enrique Viale, Maristella Svampa and Guillermo Folguera. The letter criticizes President Alberto Fernández’s selection of Aracre, Syngenta’s former CEO, for the position.
“Syngenta is the world’s largest manufacturer of GMOs and pesticides,” said the letter. “Syngenta was key in the consolidation of transgenic soy in Latin America.”
They expressed concern about Aracre’s influence over government decisions regarding Syngenta, pesticide regulation, and what they see as a negative influence over the potential handling of a new Seeds Act in Congress. “They’re extremely sensitive areas in the present and future of our country,” they wrote.
Activists believe Aracre’s background is incompatible with the Ethics in the Exercise of Public Office Act, which would mark his participation in Casa Rosada as a potential act of corruption. Therefore, they aimed their claim towards the Anti-corruption Office, too.
“Today, Syngenta’s profits in Argentina come mainly from the sale of three biocides: atrazine, paraquat and glyphosate. Atrazine: an endocrine disrupting herbicide, banned in 37 countries and for the last 20 years in the European Union. Paraquat: highly toxic and persistent, banned in 72 countries, the EU, the UK, China and Switzerland, among others,” they added.
Their letter compared Fernández’s decision to former President Mauricio Macri’s appointment of former Shell Oil CEO Juan José Aranguren as Energy Minister. Aranguren stayed in office from 2015 to 2018.
A Chinese government-owned company, Syngenta, was founded in 2000 when Novartis and AstraZeneca (“Zeneca” at that time) merged. After working there for 36 years, Aracre decided to retire from the private sector and “dream about new challenges,” as he tweeted last October.
“I’m interested in bringing together the private world and the world of investments with the public sector, to capitalize and leverage every opportunity we have,” said Aracre in a press conference after meeting with the president last week.
He emphasized the importance of a “tax reform” and the creation of a bureau that includes “the government, the opposition, the world of work and trade unions.” The 56-year-old also highlighted “the need for a distributive shock and the idea of a fixed-sum [salary rise].”
Aracre is tasked with coordinating the Presidency’s Council of Advisors, “a team of professionals and scholars that work to generate political content by supplying a view on society and the state of the administration,” according to an official communiqué.
The council includes Adriana Puiggrós (education), Dora Barrancos (gender politics), and the philosopher and historian Ricardo Forster. Anthropologist Alejandro Grimson was a member until December. Cecilia Nicolini, secretary of Climate Change since February 2022, has also taken part in the council.
Alberto Fernández tweeted about the incorporation of Aracre and wrote: “I tasked him with working on broadening the networks between the state, the social sector, and private investment, expanding Argentina’s opportunities”.
According to activists, Aracre’s appointment reflects revolving-door politics, as high-level personnel move between public and private sectors in a way that facilitates alliances between the government and corporations.