Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Argentina: Nestor Kirchner; the Quiet Peronist Who Leads the Way

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Argentina: Nestor Kirchner; the Quiet Peronist Who Leads the Way

Article excerpt

Evita is still Argentina's most notorious export. Sixty years since her husband, Juan Peron, took power, the former first lady wows the fans in the West End of London. Back home in Buenos Aires the story isn't so different. This time, however, it is Nestor Kirchner waving from the balcony of the pink presidential palace at the foot of Plaza de Mayo. Kirchner is flanked by his wife, Cristina Fernandez, a stylish senator and tireless mouthpiece for her husband's government. For good reason, he is confident of being elected to another four-year term in 2007. It has not gone unnoticed that Cristina speaks like Eva Peron.

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Kirchner came to power in 2003 with just 22 per cent of the vote. A left-leaning Peronist of Swiss and Croatian descent, he inherited a country at the nadir of its fortunes. Before the First World War, Argentina was as rich as France and Germany. By the end of the 20th century myopic populism and violent military leadership had squandered the country's resources. Then, in 2001, a default on foreign debt repayments unleashed an economic catastrophe. Five presidents bowed out in quick succession: 20 per cent unemployment, a suddenly impoverished middle class and more than $170bn worth of debt formed the backdrop to Kirchner's election.

Kirchner won by turning his back on the United States. Argentina cancelled the "automatic alignment" policy with Washington that it had assumed in the 1990s to encourage foreign trade. The president stood up to the International Monetary Fund, enacting a visionary restructuring of the huge debt. …

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