Election of Argentine First Lady to the Presidency Brings Cheers

November 01, 2007

Larry Luxner and Florencia ARbiSer
Jewish Telegraphic Agency

BUENOS AIRES

Lately, it seems that nearly every time someone is elected president of a nation in South America — Nicaragua, Ecuador, Bolivia — local Jews express alarm.

Not so in Argentina, where Sunday’s comfortable victory by Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is being warmly welcomed by the country’s 200,000-strong Jewish community, the largest in Latin America.

As predicted by the polls, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner — 54 years old and the wife of current President Nestor Kirchner — avoided a runoff by winning 45 percent of the vote. In second place was Elisa Carrio, a center-left congresswoman, with 23 percent, followed by former finance minister Roberto Lavagna with 17 percent.
“The truth is that Cristina, as well as the No. 2 candidate, are both very close to the Jewish community,” stated Alejandro Kladniew, director general of the Buenos Aires office of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. “Relations with the Jewish community will be the same or better than now.”

Fernandez de Kirchner, a senator with the long-influential Peronist Party, has developed solid ties with Jews both in Argentina and America, say leaders here.

Aldo Donzis, president of the DAIA, the umbrella political group of Argentine Jewry, said that he expects Fernandez de Kirchner to carry on the traditions the Jewish community has had with her husband.

“This is not going to be a new government in terms of issues related to Jewish community concerns,” Donzis said Monday. “We were and will be supported by Cristina. She is publicly committed to us, she was at Jewish demonstrations and celebrations, and even spoke at Jewish events.”

Fernandez de Kirchner also visited Israel in 2005.

Last May, Fernandez de Kirchner addressed the American Jewish Committee’s annual meeting in Washington and spoke about the Argentine government’s commitment to finding the perpetrators of the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.

The AMIA bombing — the worst terrorist attack in Latin American history — is the focus of an investigation by Interpol. The Argentine government has formally accused Iran of orchestrating the truck bombing, which killed 85 people and injured 300.

In winning Sunday’s vote, Fernandez de Kirchner became the first Argentine woman elected president. Back in the 1970s, when Juan Domingo Peron died, his wife Isabel took office until the government replaced her, though she was never elected.

After Sunday’s vote, critics charged that voter irregularities helped secure Fernandez de Kirchner’s election. Support for Fernandez de Kirchner was especially low in Buenos Aires, the country’s capital and the locus of its Jewish community, where she came in second to Carrio.

Chile also has a woman president, Michelle Bachelet, who was elected last year.

‘A Very Positive Impact’
Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, said that Fernandez de Kirchner’s victory will “have a very positive impact on Argentine-Jewish relations” because of the Kirchner couple’s outspoken stance against Iran, as well as against amnesty for generals and others who committed atrocities during the military dictatorship’s “Dirty War” of the 1970s.

An estimated 30,000 political opponents — most of them university students — were murdered or disappeared under mysterious circumstances during that period. Democracy was restored to Argentina in 1983.