Nestor Kirchner

By Davison, Phil | The Independent (London, England), October 29, 2010 | Go to article overview
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Nestor Kirchner

Davison, Phil, The Independent (London, England)

Former President of Argentina credited with revitalising the country's economy

Nstor Kirchner was Argentina's President for four years until he surprisingly stepped aside in 2007, without campaigning, for a fellow Peronist who would become the current President, Cristina Fernndez de Kirchner. As her name suggests, she happened to be his wife. Many people thought this was strange - even more so recently, after Kirchner the husband said he would run against his wife a year from now in the nation's next presidential elections.

Needless to say, this raised eyebrows as it suggested a dynastic manoeuvre to "keep it in the family" and to find a way around the country's limit of two consecutive terms per person (but not per family). No one doubted that the husband remained the key policy- maker behind his wife, the President, particularly in economics.

For whatever reason, the Kirchners became widely-known in Argentina as "the Clintons of South America" or, more often, simply as los K ("The Ks"). These were, however, terms used more out of respect, or perhaps soap opera-style admiration, than denigration or derision. Nestor Kirchner was much loved by a large majority of his compatriots, who believe he saved them from the calamitous economic crisis of the first years of this millennium. A minority, mainly the wealthy elite and speculators, said publicly that his death was likely to be potentially positive for the country - or rather, perhaps, for them. Their financial markets agreed with them and soared after his death. Having described the International Monetary Fund as "a dictatorship" and "pathetic to listen to", Kirchner was considered "market-unfriendly" to his capitalist compatriots.

The markets apart, the reaction of Argentinians to Kirchner's apparent heart attack was astonishing, especially considering he was not a serving, but "merely" an ex-president. Argentina had seen nothing of the sort since the deaths of Juan Pern or his wife Evita, whose politics the Ks perpetrated. Surely, only the nation's flawed but no-less-loved footballer Diego Armando Maradona will receive a send-off of such proportions. The Argentinian Football Association cancelled all matches at all levels this weekend, and some of the nation's best-known sports stars, including Barcelona footballer Lionel Messi and 2002 Wimbledon runner-up David Nalbandian, sent emotional messages of condolence.

There were Princess Diana-like scenes at the presidential palace in Buenos Aires yesterday as hundreds of thousands of Argentinians gathered to greet his corpse from his home province of Santa Cruz, where he had died on Wednesday. Among them was one of the nation's most revered grandmothers, Estela de Carlotto, leader of the human- rights group Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. De Carlotto has fought since the 1976-83 dictatorship to trace babies who were taken from alleged "subversives" - mostly students and intellectuals - during the dictatorship and handed over to childless military families. Kirchner and his wife had supported their cause. "He gave his life for his country," De Carlotto said yesterday. "Our country needed this man so much. He was indispensable."

Even Brazil, one of Argentina's historic arch-rivals, in economics, culture and, not least, football, was shocked by Kirchner's death. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva declared three days of national mourning in his own country, to match the same period in Argentina, something almost unheard of among nations anywhere in the world. Whatever happens next, Kirchner's death has plunged his recovering nation into deep uncertainty.

Nestor Carlos Kirchner was born in the southern town of Ro Gallegos on 25 February 1950, to descendants of Swiss and Croatian immigrants, one of whom had been a Swiss postman.

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