Five Years of Presidency, What Should be Remembered of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner?

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was elected to presidential office in 2007 with the assumption she would be a mere puppet to her husband, Néstor, the previous president. Since then, after being unexpectedly widowed, she has proven those criticisms to be grossly off the mark. Cristina has proven herself to be a strong and determined leader of Argentina, comparable to the iconic female political figures of Eva Perón and Hillary Clinton, recognizable women who have shaped the political process of a continent. In 2012, Forbes magazine named Kirchner 16th on its list of the world’s 100 most powerful women. [1] She has shown that her decisive changes to Argentine politics have rippled throughout Latin America. This is perhaps most evident in the nationalization of the formerly private Spanish oil company YPF, done in the hope of revitalizing the Argentine economic sector. While foreign critics have dismissed this reform as a desperate move, Argentina’s economy appears to be growing with the country greatly supporting the measure. [2]

Source: The Americas Postes

Early Politics

Cristina became politically active in the 1970s by joining the Peronist Youth movement of the Justicialist Party. During this period, Cristina married Néstor Kirchner, both of whom graduated with law degrees from the National University of La Plata. However, Cristina was forced to step away from politics due to the persecution of political activists under the military junta from 1976-1983. As a result, the Kirchner couple opened a prosperous law practice in the province of Santa Cruz to continue engaging with community affairs. In 1989, Cristina once again entered into politics when she was elected to Santa Cruz’s provincial legislature, winning a second term in 1993. After serving at the provincial level, Cristina represented Santa Cruz in the Argentine Senate. Cristina was the first of the Kirchner couple to move to politics at the national level. After time in the Senate, she won election to the Chamber of Deputies, Argentina’s lower house, after which she returned to the Senate in 2001.

Cristina was a strong supporter of her husband’s bid for the presidency in 2003, which he won after a run-off election against incumbent Carlos Menem. She used her position as senator to promote her husband’s administration and help pass his measures in legislation. During this period, Cristina’s “combative speech style polarized Argentine politics and drew comparisons to Eva Perón,” according to the New World Encyclopedia. [3] In October 2005, Cristina once again won election to the Senate to represent the province of Buenos Aires in a heated race against Hilda Gonzaléz de Duhalde. While many believe that Cristina rode to power on the coattails of her husband, they fail to recognize that she was the first to enter the national arena.

One of the toughest obstacles Cristina has had to overcome in her political career is the prevalence of machismo. For many, machismo, “a strong or exaggerated sense of masculinity,” is seen as an integral part of Argentine national identity. [4] Although machismo pervades Argentine culture, the participation of women in politics has been promoted through the Ley de Cupo (quota law), which mandates that a certain percentage of candidates for political posts must be women. [5] While this law makes it easier and more acceptable for women to enter politics, there is still an assumption that there is a man pulling the strings. This was especially true during Cristina’s first campaign for the presidency. Many voters assumed that Néstor would be acting as the overseer of if she won, and thus supported Cristina’s campaign. However, Cristina cultivated a political identity unique from her late husband while still providing continuity in the executive branch.

Throughout her presidency, Cristina has overcome gender discrimination within the political community. Critics often bemoan her as outspoken and vain because of her strong rhetoric and perceived obsession with her appearance. Instead of downplaying her gender, as other female politicians have strategized, Cristina has used it to her advantage.

Source: Los Angeles Times

Presidency

Cristina’s first campaign for presidency was based largely on the promise to expand the economic and social reforms that her husband started. This provision of continuity helped her win the election with a 22 percent margin. With her history of legislative experience and interest in foreign affairs, many believed the new leader would improve diplomatic relations with other nations, such as the United States and Europe, an area in which her husband’s critics portrayed him as weak. [6] Throughout her first term, la presidenta continued the work of her husband by reestablishing and taking control of Argentina’s economic and political foundations.

Rising inflation and mounting protests against changes in agricultural policies led to a fall in Cristina’s approval ratings during the first term of her presidency. As she approached re-election, public disenchantment with the economic policy, combined with accusations of an establishment of a dynastic regime, proved to be a significant challenge in her reelection campaign. Néstor’s sudden death, at first quieted these concerns, but continued to actively campaign, during which Néstor was a constant presence in Cristina’s public speeches.

Amidst these difficulties, Cristina continued with her campaign and won a second term with 54 percent of the vote.

Policy

As her second presidential term unfolded, Cristina continued many of her husband’s policies. She continued to focus on adding to agricultural exports, as well as increasing import regulations and encouraging local manufacturing. Through the increase of exports and strict regulation of imports, Argentina experienced significant economic growth under the Kirchner presidency. Between 2002 and 2007, the industrial sector experienced an overall increase in production of 52 percent, a positive sign for the administration. [7] This increase in industrial production allowed the country to expand its exports, which led to a fall in unemployment levels. Moreover, in this six-year period, unemployment also decreased by 5.9 percent. Most significantly, between 2000 and 2005, Argentina’s GDP grew at a rate of 9.2 percent. [8] During her first term, Cristina adopted a more conciliatory position towards investment by reopening negotiations with the Paris Club, an informal group of financial officials, to pay off defaulted debt. At the same time, she invited the IMF back into Argentina, signifying a promising change to foreign investors. However, the recent nationalization of YPF, while popular with the Argentine people, has discouraged foreign investment. Still, the overall strong economic turnaround has buoyed Cristina’s presidency. Two years after she took office, unemployment shrank from 10.6 percent in 2005 to 7.9 percent. [9] Although this figure was significantly lower than its 2001 peak of 25 percent, by the time Cristina ran for re-election, unemployment decreased once again to 7.3 percent, the lowest rate in the past two decades.

Source: AP

However, the increase in capital has primarily remained with large enterprises at the top of the economic pyramid. [10] While other left-leaning countries in the region, such as Bolivia, have utilized their economic growth to redistribute wealth, Argentina’s gains remain severely stratified. At the end of Néstor’s first year in office, for example, 51 percent of the population lived below the poverty line and the level of extreme poverty continued to increase. [11] It was not until 2009 that serious efforts were made to improve this imbalance through the Asignación Universal por Hijo (AUH), a conditional cash transfer program. This program provides school-aged children and their families with financial incentives to encourage school attendance. Moreover, this program promotes regular vaccination by providing monthly payments of up to $180 USD per child to unemployed and low-income workers. The AUH program is administered by the National Security Administration (ANSES), which has reported a significant drop in poverty and indigence due to the program [12]. In a report by the Universidad de la Plata, the AUH is called the “most transcendent social policy decision in a long time.” [13] However, many schools lack the necessary tools to accommodate an influx of such children. The schools in these poor areas are outdated and dilapidated, and classrooms are unfit to handle student expectations. This lack of funding to the schools perpetuates the stratification between the social classes and is an area in which the Argentinian administration will need to continue making reforms.

The Argentine leader also has made strides in changing the social norms of her society. In July 2010, Argentina became the first country in the region to approve gay marriage. Prior to the passage of the bill, Cristina fought against the Roman Catholic Church, stating that failure to pass the law would be a “terrible distortion of democracy” and that the time had come for the Church to realize that the social mores of Argentina were changing. [14] Cristina has continued to push Argentina in a progressive direction. In July 2012, a ceremony took place to mark the beginning of a groundbreaking new law allowing citizens to have their names and sexes legally changed without undergoing transgender surgery. [16] Cristina has led Argentina in taking steps towards the level of equality that many countries in the region continue to debate.

Conclusion

Despite initial misgivings, Cristina has successfully navigated the obstacles of her presidency. She has improved upon social reform and emerged as a decisive leader in regards to the economic security of her country. Through these decisions she has established herself as a formidable and independent politician. Like most world leaders, Cristina continues to face hardships and obstacles as the downturn of the world economy continues; however, her decisions thus far have shown her to possess enough political courage to break taboos of Argentinian society and become a recognizable leader in Latin America.

Kathleen Bacon,

Research Associate at Council on Hemispheric Affairs.

 

Please accept this article as a free contribution from COHA, but if re-posting, please afford authorial and institutional attribution. Exclusive rights can be negotiated.

 


[1] Last, Caroline Howard, ed. “The 100 Women who Run the World,” Forbes, August 22, 2012. http://www.forbes.com/power-women/

[2]Romero, Simon. “Move on Oil Company Draws praise in Argentina, Where Growth Continues,” New York Times, April 26, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/27/world/americas/ypf-nationalization-draws-praise-in-argentina.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

[3]New World Encyclopedia, s.v. “Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.” August 5, 2008. http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Cristina_Fern%C3%A1ndez_de_Kirchner

[4]Merriam Webster Dictionary, s.v. “Machismo:” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/machismo

[5] Caistor-Arendar,Ana. “Cristina Kirchner’s Moment.” Open Democracy, December 14, 2007. http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/globalisation/cristina_kirchners_moment

[6] Hedges, Jill. Argentina: a Modern History (London: I.B. Tauris, 2011), 286.

[7] Petras, James and Henry Veltmeyer, What’s Left in Latin America (Surrey: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2009), 60.

[8] United Nations, 2010 World Statistics Pocketbook Country Profile, http://unstats.un.org/unsd/pocketbook/PDF/Argentina.pdf

[9]Ibid.

[10] Petras and Veltmeyer, What’s Left in Latin America, 59.

[11] Ibid, 65.

[12] Younker, Kyle, “Asignación Universal por Hijo, One Year Later.” The Argentina Independent, October 12, 2010. http://www.argentinaindependent.com/socialissues/development/asignacion-universal-por-hijo-one-year-later/

[13] Ibid.

[14] Barrionuevo, Alexei, “Argentina approves gay marriage.” New York Times, July 15, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/16/world/americas/16argentina.html?_r=1

[15] Barsotti, Natasha. “Argentina passes progressive gender ID law; will ACT follow?” Xtra! Canada’s Gay and Lesbian News. July 11,2012. http://www.xtra.ca/blog/national/post/2012/07/11/Argentina-passes-progressive-gender-ID-law-will-ACT-follow-suit.aspx

 

9 thoughts on “Five Years of Presidency, What Should be Remembered of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner?

  • September 13, 2012 at 11:54 am
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    Good Afternoon Kathleen,

    As I read your article, it seems as through you are in need of some primary sources. Abroad Cristina's reputation is very much as you described in this article. However, the reality in Argentina is very different.

    Argentina is a very dangerous place for the working class, and those that aren't part of Cristina's preferential class. It is very difficult to walk through the streets with a sense of security largely because the dependents of the State are given the freedom to do as they please without consequences. They often procreate rapidly, which is a consequence of a non-working human being receiving a sum of money that they didn't earn. Early books on economics confirm this is nothing new.

    The males of that segment of the population are particularly violent and have an affinity for alcohol and drugs, particularly the derivative of cocaine, paco. The providential police come from the same socioeconomic background and often don't respond to emergency calls, and in some cases partake in the offenses that range from assault to rape to murder.

    As workers, they often have a poor work ethic, and often steal from their employers. The government exerts pressure on employers to keep such workers. If their employment is terminated, they can complain to any number of agencies who will seize a large portion of the employers money with government support.

    When I volunteered for a non-profit organization that protects young children, some of them were used as mules for drugs, and many were at risk of being sold into prostitution by their own parents at ages as young as 9 or 10. Four of them were sisters whose mother was shot in the head by a group of drug dealers. Cristina's government doesn't give a dime for organizations that protect these children, and if they do it's often meager sums that hardly cover the cost of food.

    The welfare is a method of buying votes. Children don't vote, thus their safety isn't held into consideration. The younger groups between 16-24 often are poorly educated and support Cristina because they are allowed to do as they please without any sense of responsibility, which many young people would like to do if permissible.

    I mentioned the crime which is a topic neglected by the press domestically and internationally. As far as the economic effects of her presidency, there are many sources available to you.

    If you disagree or doubt anything I am telling you, I would like to extend an invitation for you to visit for three months and assist in any non-profit for the poor of your choice. I am not discriminating against the impoverished in general, because I've seen parents that have too much pride to collect government subsidy and would rather work 12-16 hours a day selling fruit or clothing. Some of them get beaten by the police for not having a "permit".

    Your article is fine with the materials you had at hand, but you need some first hand sources. Interviews, local newspapers from different points of view pro and anti government alike. First hand experience is indispensable, however.

    Best of luck,
    Sean

    Reply
  • September 13, 2012 at 8:57 pm
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    I'm shocked. Did Cristina pay for this promotional article?

    As a U.S. American who lived in Argentina from 2003 to 2012 and married to an Argentinian, I do not recognize this whitewashed picture of a hypocritical megalomaniac who harshly punishes her critics and handsomely rewards her supporters using state means. For a start, I suggest that you need to interview the owners of the national newspaper Clarin (which she tried to shut down or hamper in varies ways), to the owners of the Techint Group (a steel and engineering conglomerate whose Board of Directors she invaded), to the farmers who were provoked into the first national strikes, and others who been appalled and hurt by her capricious tenure.

    Reply
    • April 21, 2014 at 4:19 pm
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      A very interesting read. Gale – I was wondering if i could ask you a few questions. I am writing my thesis on Kristina and it would be so helpful to ask you some questions not necessarily to be featured but just to hear another opinion. Thank you so much in advance. Phoebe Calcutt

      Reply
  • September 14, 2012 at 8:26 am
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    How can anyone write on Cristina and contemporary Argentina without mentioning the rise of La Cámpora?

    Reply
  • January 27, 2013 at 3:40 pm
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    Thank you for the great article Kathleen Bacon! Absolotuly agree.

    Sean and Gale, so, what’s your political party? Left-wing? Macrism? Pro? Clarinism?
    I’m also shocked by your continual battle to misinformation and smear campaign in the English community.

    If you don’t want to recognizing the social and economic growth of Argentina, you have an easy way to stop suffering for our hapiness, leave the country!

    Cheers!

    Reply
    • September 30, 2015 at 4:00 pm
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      So are you saying there is no insecurity Martincho? That Sean’s points about domestic violence, drug dealers and criminals using and abusing children, and corrupt politicians buying votes in the poor areas by giving away free household appliances are an example of “misinformation”? How about instead of questioning their politics you address the real issues intelligently if you can.
      Where is the social growth Martincho? Are you referring to the fact that poor people are having more children in order to get the AUH? That’s a good way of improving a country’s society. Too bad most of them end up as drug addicts, thieves, or prostitutes.
      How many years has Scioli been Governor of BSAS? Why are the streets in the province still in the same condition they were in back in 1998? Where was the infrastructure to manage the floods and resultant loss of houses and lives in La Plata?
      I know that Cristina’s followers will never see or admit to the darker side of Argentina’s society and culture, people are blind everywhere, but isn’t it strange that people who oppose her openly tend to end up silenced, discredited or dead? And all cases investigating corruption or illicit wealth just “disappear”?

      Fantastic demcracy there Martincho……

      (ES LO QUE HAY)

      Reply
  • April 25, 2013 at 1:27 am
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    When her mom responded that they must need some rain, I didn’t have Nona the heart to say they’re actually dead; that this view will be very different in the years to come.

    Reply

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