Nestor Kirchner, President of Argentina between 2003 and 2007, and husband to the current President, Cristina Kirchner, died from a heart attack on Wednesday October 27, while visiting the southern city of El Calafate. Temporarily, at least, this may prove to be a telling blow against progressive socialism in Latin America.
The Kirchners were an almost perfect example of the power couple, merging their assets in an impressive form of team production. They met in law school in the 1970s, bonding in opposition to the brutal military dictatorship that then ruled Argentina. Nestor was viewed as ungainly and poorly coordinated physically, but intellectually able. Cristina was viewed by her peers simply as the most beautiful student in the law school. And she remains stunningly beautiful as President of Argentina. Both had become consummately effective progressive socialist politicians, she more aggressively so than he. Basically, he was the brain, and she was, and presumably will remain, the mouth.
In a remarkable redux of early postwar Argentina – indeed in a resuscitation of the Peronist Party – Nestor became the epitome of Juan and Cristina of Eva, Peron. The question now hanging over Argentina is how will Evita rule without her Juan? Will Argentina now forget its new Evita? Will it soon cry for her impending departure? How effective is the mouth when robbed of its brain?
Like Juan with Evita, Nestor with Cristina built their political base among the poor of Argentina. He was a harsh critic of the International Monetary Fund, and forced international investors to take haircuts in a ruthless 2005 restructuring of much of Argentina’s default bonds for 30 cents on the dollar. As he concentrated power in the executive branch and expanded the role of the state, so his administration became plagued with corruption scandals, energy shortages and high inflation – the hallmarks of progressive socialism.
However, in a brilliant move in 2007, Nestor handed off the presidential campaign to Cristina. Her beauty enthralled the Latins, and she was voted enthusiastically into office. The nation looked for more consensual politics, but failed to check out her earlier political record. The politics of Argentina became ever more divisive, as Cristina lurched leftwards, driving the moderates from her administration, and ratcheting up the level of state intervention.
Argentina once again is enmeshed in the suffocating patronage system of Juan and Evita Peron. Investors are now fleeing Argentina as the country rigs its current inflation rate, reporting at 11 percent a rate widely believed to be 22 percent per annum, and rising. Argentina’s key ally is no longer the United States, even the United States of President Obama, but rather Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela.
Nestor was widely expected to take back the baton for next year’s upcoming presidential campaign, alternating power with Cristina. With Nestor now silenced, how will Cristina fare? The Argentian stock market surged on news of her husband’s death in the expectation that a more market-friendly administration waits in the wings. At this moment, however, Argentina appears to be adrift, full of voice and resonant with beauty; but adrift of reason.