Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, candidate for the Presidency of Argentina of the Juntos por el Cambio alliance, during a campaign event, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on August 7, 2023. MARIANA NEDELCU (REUTERS)
Horacio Rodríguez Larreta (Buenos Aires, 57 years old) has heard many times that he lacks charisma to be president. He likes to answer that Argentina does not need a charismatic leader but a solid team. When saying this, he has in mind the one who has led the front of the city of Buenos Aires for eight years and with whom he hopes to reach the Casa Rosada hand in hand with the center-right coalition Together for Change. If he succeeds, he will be the one who has come the furthest in his lineage family policy. His great-grandfather Carlos Rodríguez Larreta was chancellor; a great-uncle, Attorney General of the Nation. His father, from whom he inherited his name and surname, was a development leader who worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs during the government of the radical Arturo Frondizi (1958-1962).
The family tree of the mayor of Buenos Aires is nourished by some of the most powerful and renowned families in Argentina. His other paternal great-grandparents, Antonio Leloir and Adela Unzué, owned land and a luxurious residence in Buenos Aires, the Leloir palace, built at the beginning of the 20th century. From them comes much of the fortune of the clan. Her mother, María Cristina Díaz Alberdi, was also raised in a traditional environment, but when Rodríguez Larreta was seven years old, she separated from her husband and left the family home. It was more than a decade before Argentina had a divorce law, but Díaz Alberdi rebuilt her life together with the theater director Emilio Alfaro.
Horacio Rodríguez Larreta also broke his relationship with the mother of his two daughters, Bárbara Díez. She separated in 2020, after two decades of marriage, and since last year she has been in a relationship with Milagros Maylin, twenty years younger than him. “I fell in love and I am very happy,” Larreta summed up before the cameras when making the relationship public.
Before beginning his political career, he graduated in Economics from the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) and completed a Master’s in Business Administration at Harvard. Later, however, he was won by the vocation he felt since he was a child. “At the age of six he already said that he wanted to be president”, he has declared in interviews.
To keep that dream alive, he must defeat his tough rival in the Juntos por el Cambio internship this Sunday, former Security Minister Patricia Bullrich. In an Argentina tense by the economic situation and insecurity, Rodríguez Larreta swims against the current. Bet on a deep change based on negotiation and broad consensus against Bullrich’s “all or nothing” strategy.
Soccer also divides them: Bullrich is a fan of Independiente and Rodríguez Larreta of his soccer archenemy, Racing, a club of which his father was president. In 1977, during the Argentine dictatorship, the military kidnapped Horacio Rodríguez Larreta’s father, but the visibility he had as leader of the Academy saved his life.
A dove among hawks
Rodríguez Larreta has the polls against him, but he hopes to surprise. Advised by permanent focus groups, he has done everything possible to harden his image and silence the voices of those who label him “too dialogue-oriented.” He chose falcon Gerardo Morales, governor of the province of Jujuy, as second in his team, in the crosshairs of human rights organizations for the police repression of protests against the express reform of the constitution in his district. At home, he supported the actions of the city police against those who blamed them for the death of Facundo Molares: this 47-year-old left-wing militant and former FARC guerrilla died on Thursday, minutes after being detained by riot police during a demonstration at the Obelisk in Buenos Aires.
Changing images is not easy. Many anti-Peronist voters recriminate his support for President Alberto Fernández during the first months of the pandemic, at the beginning of 2020. When the president ordered a mandatory quarantine to prevent the spread of the covid-19 virus, Rodríguez Larreta supported him. In the following months, he participated in the press appearances where the successive extensions of the forced confinement were announced. It was a fleeting mirage of unity. The differences regarding education —the mayor of Buenos Aires wanted the children to go back to school and Fernández was opposed— led them to break the political truce and catapulted Rodríguez Larreta as opposition leader.
A couple of months ago, already in the campaign, the Argentine president dealt a low blow to the candidate: he insinuated that he had been responsible for the suicide of cardiologist René Favaloro, creator of the coronary bypass and an admired figure in Argentina, in the year 2000, when he was controller of the body that manages the health care of pensioners, the PAMI. Rodríguez Larreta called the accusation “rogue”.
From Peronism to the opposition
His political baptism was in Peronism. In 1993, during the presidency of Carlos Menem, he entered the Ministry of Economy. Two years later he became the general manager of social security (Anses) and in 1999 he took over as controller of PAMI.
He switched sides in 2003. Under the leadership of Mauricio Macri, then president of the Boca Juniors soccer club, Rodríguez Larreta was part of the founding nucleus of the party that renewed the anti-Peronist opposition, Propuesta Republicana (PRO). After conquering the Buenos Aires city hall in 2007, Macri launched himself for the presidency of Argentina in 2015 and left his dauphin in his place.
Under his management, the urbanization of some of the shantytowns in the city has been carried out and there are projects —and international credits— to continue this work in the coming years. The showcase of this transformation is the central villa 31, where Rodríguez Larreta decided to transfer the Ministry of Education. Its main streets have been paved, the municipal government has built new buildings, opened playgrounds and soccer fields.
His collaborators define him as a tireless and methodical worker. “For 27 years, I watched him work Monday through Sunday, from 6 in the morning until late at night. Not a day, not a week, not a few years. Always ”, said the former governor of Buenos Aires, María Eugenia Vidal, when she announced her support for Rodríguez Larreta.
His detractors, on the other hand, point to him as the promoter of the new urban code of Buenos Aires, which makes it possible to reduce the dimensions of newly built homes and thus increase the benefits of developers. They accuse their government of breaking records in the privatization of public lands and recall that some of the most controversial concessions during his administration, such as the one on the Río de la Plata coast, have tried to be stopped in court by environmental groups.
“Tik Tok’s peeling”
Rodríguez Larreta kept much of his private life away from the public sphere, but the distance between the two worlds began to blur when he raised his profile. On Tik Tok, one of the favorite social networks for young people, he seeks to attract new audiences with an image of closeness that resists him more than other politicians. There he starred in a video with comedian Fernando Ender to see which of the two was “the bald one from Tik Tok” and has shown himself to be a fan of Taylor Swift and the Argentine team.
Rodríguez Larreta plays the most important game of his political life on Sunday. If he classifies against Bullrich in the primaries, he will be a strong candidate to win the final in the presidential elections in October.
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