A growing spat between Argentina's outgoing president and president elect over inauguration day logistics took a strange turn Friday, with the silversmith responsible for crafting a ceremonial baton saying an assistant was threatened by possible police action, and fears the whole transfer ceremony could turn into a shouting contest between supporters from the two groupings.
Mauricio Macri wants to receive the presidential baton and sash from outgoing President Cristina Fernandez in government house, Casa Rosada, during the December 10 inauguration following the oath ceremony before Congress. However, Fernandez administration officials insist the whole transfer will happen in Congress.
The outgoing administration argues that the constitution states transfer must be done before Congress, and in effect this has been the case since 2003 when Nestor and Cristina Kirchner took office. However before that time, it was a double ceremony, in Congress and in Casa Rosada, and the constitutional argument has its two interpretations.
Nevertheless the foreign ministry reported it had sent out the invitations to special guests and foreign diplomats, for the ceremony in congress. Apparently the incoming president's team has also sent out its invitations but including the Casa Rosada.
Nobody is admitting it, but the non Kirchnerite political forces fear that the Cristina Fernandez' groups of militants that are part of her mise-en-scene whenever she makes speeches from the Executive and from Congress, could turn the ceremony into a noisy display of flags, banners, drums and chanting, but on December 10 negatively, booing the incoming head of state.
So it was only natural that there was a run on the symbols of power, the sash and particularly the presidential baton, which Macri wants handed to him at the Casa Rosada. And silversmith Juan Carlos Pallarols confirmed to the media he has been under pressure on the issue. The respected craftsman has made every presidential baton since the country's return to democracy in 1983.
Pallarols said Macri officials this week asked him not to turn the baton over to the current administration. But the other side also applied pressure: Pallarols said an assistant received a threatening call from a Fernandez official, saying police would intervene if the baton wasn't finished and turned over soon.
“It was an unpleasant situation,'' said Pallarols, who added that another official later called him to apologize.
But an outgoing president can't necessarily keep its forces strictly under control and for some who felt displaced it was an opportunity for revenge. The government archives have released pictures showing Juan Peron, the most revered political figure of Argentina in the last seventy years, (three times president) receiving the sash and baton...yes at Casa Rosada.
Likewise on Twitter, a clip from a popular cartoon produced by a state television channel was making the rounds. In one episode, “Zamba,'' the protagonist, is visiting the Casa Rosada and a guide tells him it's “where the presidential sash and baton are handed over.''
In reality the Argentine constitution establishes that the incoming president's swearing-in ceremony take place in Congress, but does not specify where batons or sashes should be handed over. And in effect while Cristina Fernandez received the baton and sash in Congress, other new presidents have received them at the Casa Rosada.
“The president is within her rights,'' said Cabinet chief Anibal Fernandez. “The articles will be in Congress. If Macri doesn't want to receive them there, then he shouldn't receive them, maybe Zamba will hand them to him.
But the Macri team has said the sash and baton ceremony will take place in Casa Rosada, with or without outgoing Cristina Fernandez. Someone, with no name revealed so far, will hand them to the incoming president, because what is plain clear is that Macri will become Argentina's next president at 10 in the morning, December 10, and he will be making the decisions”.
What is evident also is that outgoing Cristina Fernandez (who could be thinking in a comeback in four years time), does not want history to register her, 'protector of the poor and the needy and the national flag', delivering symbols of power to her successor, a market friendly conservative president, the opposite of the principles she and her husband toiled for during twelve years.
The image would confirm she was unable to muster her political force to victory, while a majority of her generals quietly blame her for the defeat, and prepare to regroup troops most probably under a new leadership.