How Nestor Kirchner's Passing Alters Argentine Politics

Article excerpt

Former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner - whose wife, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, is the current president - died of an apparent heart attack today.

The sudden passing of former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner today from an apparent heart attack has stunned a nation now mourning a man who will be remembered for adeptly steering Argentina out of its economic meltdown of 2001-2002.

Mr. Kirchner, who ruled the country from 2003 to 2007, is widely credited for bringing a sense of normalcy back to chaotic streets across Argentina, after savings were wiped out and poverty rates soared.

Until today, Kirchner - whose wife, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, currently serves as president - remained one of the most important figures on the political scene.

The power couple, who hail from the famous left-leaning Peronist party and whose political leadership has been divisive, is widely believed to have shared a co-presidency of sorts, with Mr. Kirchner taking on the political role while his wife dealt with policy. His death quiets a prominent and powerful voice within her administration while clearing the way for a wild card in the upcoming 2011 presidential election.

"He was not only the former president but also the strongest political support behind the Cristina presidency now," says Pablo Ava, an independent political consultant in Buenos Aires. "He was president of the Peronist party, and also he was the main candidate considered by the Peronist party for next year's election. This has a big impact in current Argentine politics."

Kirchner's legacy

While he has his fair share of critics, most agree that the Kirchner legacy is clear. While he alone did not shepherd the country out of economic distress - his predecessor set the course, and high prices of soybeans also helped - he mostly gets the credit for impressive economic growth that saved the country from collapse.

Human rights workers also praise his commitment to their causes, including trials for former dictator-era figures who had previously enjoyed amnesty.

But the Kirchner power couple has also been seen recently as overly divisive, generating conflict whether with farm unions or the media or opposition figures. …