Due to the pandemic, the new power lies in who holds the keys to vaccines in the world. In Latin America, one of the keys is held by the Argentine businessman Hugo Sigman, akin to cultural and left-wing causes, which will accompany President Alberto Fernández in his plan to establish a Latin American political axis between Mexico and Argentina.
“The people of Buenos Aires still I wouldn’t recognize Hugo Sigman on the street”Said an Argentine journalist who spoke on condition of anonymity about the pharmaceutical entrepreneur who has developed the active agent of the vaccine AstraZeneca, the road developed in conjunction with the University of Oxford and which will be distributed throughout Latin America thanks to a continental agreement.
However, the profile of Sigman, which is part of President Alberto Fernández’s entourage on his trip to Mexico, has grown in recent months. To the degree, says the Argentine journalist, that a biography recently appeared on the businessman’s official page that explains who he is, how he made his fortune and what is his political position.
In a note from the end of August 2020, the newspaper The country He portrayed Sigman, director of the group Insud, as the man who will vaccinate Latin America.
Sigman, a psychiatrist, biotech mogul, blockbuster producer and director of Le Monde diplomatique in the Southern Cone, he meets again in the ‘bovine operation’, with Carlos Slim”Enric González wrote for the influential Spanish newspaper.
A few days before, the newspaper The nation from Argentina had also posted a profile. It characterized Sigman as the businessman who has always flirted with the left wing of politics and will now be responsible for crafting the new vaccine.
For those dates, Forbes It placed him as the sixth richest businessman in Argentina, with a fortune of 2 billion dollars. Insud Group is a conglomerate pharmaceutical companies – among them Elea, the main competitor of Genomma Lab in Argentina, as a shareholder—, agricultural, publishing and film production.
The agreement you made to Sigman to rise to fame as « the vaccinator of Latin America » consists of its industries, with the appropriate facilities and experience, manufacturing the vaccines that would be distributed on the continent.
Insud will prepare the active principle of the vaccine, it is sold to AstraZeneca, which will deliver the product to the Mexican company Limont to be packaged and returned to AstraZeneca for commercialization on the mainland. The first doses are supposed to be ready in March.
But the public discovered that behind the pharmaceutical businessman, an industry whose captains generally have a low profile, there is the story of a left-wing intellectual who ended up commanding a powerful industrial group, with great power of influence over the Peronist and left-wing governments. in Argentina. Sigman is one of the most important business allies of the Alberto Fernández government.
Hugo Sigman’s business career
Sigman’s fortune actually comes from his wife Silvia Gold. She is the daughter of Roberto Gold, owner of Syntal laboratories. Gold was part of a very strange Argentine phenomenon: big businessmen of Jewish origin running companies that financed the communist party (construction, pharmaceutical companies, banks, advertising companies and soft drink distributors, such as Coca Cola). With the 1976 coup, Roberto Gold went into exile in Spain and started a pharmacochemistry.
And that’s where Silvia, who was a pharmacobiologist, and her bohemian husband Hugo, a psychiatrist who hardly saw any business virtue.
“That initial disappointment with which I arrived in Spain after having to leave my country made it easier for me to change my mind. The intelligence of my father-in-law was decisive, he took me by the hand slowly, without my realizing it. I think he was thinking of his daughter, of his grandchildren, and he would say to himself: this, as a psychiatrist, what future does he have? « Said Sigman for his biography published in Those who leave their mark: 20 business success stories
Gold He proposed to his son-in-law and his daughter to set up a marketing company for the European market for the active substances that he produced. This is how it was created in 1977 Chemo.
« We differentiated ourselves from the rest because traditional brokers were traders without scientific training, » wrote Sigman, « I was excited about the idea of getting ahead of strictly business practices and trying to see years in advance what products might be needed in the market. »
In 1984 the couple ventured into drug production by acquiring a small factory in Italy. Sigman it expanded to international markets: the United States and Western Europe, on the one hand; and on the other, it knew how to enter more deregulated markets such as Cuba, Russia and the former Soviet bloc.
They landed again in Argentina in the 1990s, during the Menem era, associating with local companies. In 1994 they were able to turn their factories into the main producers of the foot-and-mouth disease vaccine, which would take care of the rich Argentine cattle.
According to Alejandro Galiano and Hernán Vanoli, authors of The owners of the future (Planeta, 2017) a book of business profiles, for 2015 Chemo it had bought industries in Mexico, Turkey, Brazil, the United States, Morocco, and established consortia in Central America, Europe, China and India.
« Today Chemo has 5,000 professionals in more than 12 high performance and research centers that provide a network of its own manufacturing with commercial contact points in more than 95 countries, » wrote Galiano and Vanoli.
In 2007 Hugo Sigman He retired from the Chemo operation and left the responsibility to his eldest son. Then he ventured into biotechnology developing, on the one hand, a vaccine to treat lung cancer, and on the other, securing a temporary monopoly on the manufacture of a vaccine against the AH1N1 flu.
The other twists of Hugo Sigman
In Argentina, large livestock production is the domain of the local aristocracy. Sigman, however, successfully ventured into cattle and sheep production, as well as agriculture and wood production.
According to Galiano and Vinoli, only in Patagonia, Sigman has 200 thousand hectares dedicated to these businesses. In addition, he likes to show off the sustainable nature of his stays in the countryside and the good design of the products that are made there.
The Sigmans have created Solantu, a brand of wood and crocodile skin products that wants to compete with the large international luxury companies such as Hermès and Botegga Veneta. The South American alligator, by the way, is an endangered species that the Sigmans breed to preserve the species. A daughter of the former Spanish president Felipe Gonzalez is in charge of Solantu’s marketing.
Sigman also gains prestige for the acquisition of the publishing house Intellectual capital which has 600 titles in its catalog and the edition of Le Monde diplomatique for the Southern Cone.
But more importantly, its role in Argentine culture has been marked by Kramer & Sigman, the film producer, who has made films with Ricardo Darín, for example. In 2018 they released a documentary about José Mujica, the former president of Uruguay, directed by Emir Kusturica.
Covid-19, Sigman’s opportunity
The pandemic has given Sigman an opportunity to present himself as the savior, but his role has not been without scandals and has been the gateway to illuminate his place in local politics.
The profile posted on The nation he talks about his leagues with the center-left but also about his nods to « Macri’s presidential dream. » According to the Argentine newspaper, two of his pharmaceutical firms donated one million pesos to the former president’s campaign.
A journalist from the same newspaper recently accused Hugo Sigman having influenced his great friend, the then secretary of health Ginés González García, so that the Argentine government does not close an agreement with the North American pharmaceutical company Pfizer.
Argentina is lagging behind in its vaccination plan because it opted for the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, which has been slow to arrive in the South American country, and for the AstraZeneca vaccine, whose first doses are planned for next month. Inexplicably, Argentina did not close with Pfizer. Chile, on the other hand, did and is one of the most advanced Latin American countries in vaccination.
On the eve of Fernández’s trip to Mexico, a political crisis was unleashed because it was made public that there was a vaccination scheme in Argentina, known as the case of « VIP vaccines », linked to some extent to the inoculation of two legislators who would travel to Mexico, where the pandemic reigns.
The Minister of Health had to resign. Alberto Fernández’s covid-19 diplomacy arrives hurt. It remains to be seen if Fernández manages on this occasion to establish a Latin American pole of leftist governments led by Mexico and Argentina, an axis in which the Sigman plays, without a doubt, an important role.