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Néstor Kirchner

President Néstor Kirchner in March of 2007

Incumbent
Assumed office 
December 3, 2009

Incumbent
Assumed office 
December 10, 2007
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner
Preceded by Cristina Fernández de Kirchner

In office
May 25, 2003 – December 10, 2007
Vice President Daniel Scioli
Preceded by Eduardo Duhalde
Succeeded by Cristina Fernández de Kirchner

In office
December 10, 1991 – May 25, 2003
Vice Governor Sergio Acevedo (1991–1999)
Héctor Icazuriaga (1999–2003)
Preceded by Ricardo del Val
Succeeded by Héctor Icazuriaga

Mayor of Río Gallegos
In office
1987–1991

Born February 25, 1950 (1950-02-25) (age 60)
Río Gallegos, Argentina
Nationality Argentine
Political party Front for Victory,
(Justicialist Party)
Spouse(s) Cristina Fernández de Kirchner
Children Máximo Kirchner
Florencia Kirchner
Alma mater National University of La Plata
Profession Lawyer
Religion Roman Catholicism
Signature

Néstor Carlos Kirchner (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈnestoɾ ˈkaɾlos ˈkiɾʃneɾ] born February 25, 1950) was the President of Argentina from May 25, 2003 until December 10, 2007. A Justicialist, Kirchner was previously Governor of the Province of Santa Cruz.[1] Currently, Kirchner is a National Deputy, elected for Buenos Aires Province in 2009.

Kirchner was little-known internationally and even domestically before his election, which he won by default with only 22.24 percent of the vote in the first round when former President Carlos Menem (24.45%) withdrew from the race.

Soon after taking office in May 2003, Kirchner surprised the world by standing down powerful military and police officials. Stressing the need to increase accountability and transparency in government, Kirchner overturned amnesty laws for military officers accused of torture and assassinations during the 1976–1983 "dirty war" under military rule.[2]

On October 28, 2007 his wife Cristina Fernández was elected to replace him as President of Argentina. He is currently the First Gentleman of Argentina.

Contents

Early years

Kirchner was born in Río Gallegos, in the Patagonian province of Santa Cruz. His father, a post office official, was of Swiss descent; his mother, María Juana Ostoic Dragnic, a Chilean of Croatian descent from Punta Arenas. He received his primary and secondary education at local public schools, and his high-school diploma from the Argentine school Colegio Nacional República de Guatemala.

Kirchner affirms that early on he participated in the Movimiento Justicialista, first as a member of the Young Peronists, whose left-wing radicalism was strongly opposed to the military dictatorships. In the mid-1970s, Kirchner studied law at National University of La Plata, receiving his law degree in 1976. He returned to Río Gallegos with his wife, Cristina Fernández,[3] also a lawyer and member of the Justicialist Party (Partido Justicialista, PJ), to practice law.

After the downfall of the military dictatorship and restoration of democracy in 1983, Kirchner became a public officer in the provincial government. The following year, he was briefly president of the Río Gallegos social welfare fund, but was forced out by the governor because of a dispute over financial policy. The affair made him a local celebrity and laid the foundation for his career.[4]

By 1986, Kirchner had developed sufficient political capital to be put forward as the PJ's candidate for mayor of Río Gallegos. He won the 1987 elections for this post by the very slim margin of about 100 votes. Fellow PJ member Ricardo del Val became governor, keeping Santa Cruz firmly within the hands of the PJ.

Kirchner's performance as mayor from 1987 to 1991 was satisfactory enough to the electorate and to the party to enable him to run for governor in 1991, where he won with 61% of the votes. By this time his wife was also a member of the provincial congress.

Governor of Santa Cruz

When Kirchner assumed the governorship, the province of Santa Cruz (pop. 197,000) contributed one percent to Argentina's gross national product, primarily through the production of raw materials (mostly oil), and was being battered by the ongoing economic crisis, with high unemployment and a budget deficit equal to US$ 1.2 billion. He arranged for substantial investments to stimulate productivity, the labor market, and consumption. By eliminating unproductive expenditures and cutting back on tax exemptions for the key petroleum industry, Kirchner restored the financial balance of the province. Through his expansionist and social policies, Kirchner was credited with bringing a substantial measure of prosperity to Santa Cruz. Subsequent studies showed that the province had a better distribution of wealth and lower levels of poverty than most other provinces, second only to Buenos Aires.

Kirchner emerged as a self-called center Peronist, critical both of President Menem's far-reaching neoliberal model and of the syndicalist bureaucracy of the PJ. He attached great importance not only to careful management of the budgetary deficits but also economic growth based on domestic production, rather than financial speculation. He was also considered a progressive in human rights issues, voicing his opposition to Menem's decision in 1990 to grant a presidential pardon to the leaders of the last junta.

In 1994 and 1998, Kirchner introduced amendments to the provincial constitution,[5] to enable him to run for re-election indefinitely. As a member of the 1994 Constitutional Assembly organized by Menem and former president Raúl Alfonsín, Kirchner participated in the drafting of a new national constitution which allowed the president to be re-elected for a second four-year term.

In 1995, with his constitutional changes in place, Kirchner was easily re-elected to a second term as governor, with 66.5% of the votes. But by now, Kirchner was distancing himself from the charismatic and controversial Menem, who was also the nominal head of the PJ; this was made particularly apparent with the launch of Corriente Peronista, an initiative supported by Kirchner to create an alternative space within the Justicialist Party, outside of Menem's influence.[6]

In 1998, Menem's attempt to stand for re-election a second time, by means of an ad hoc interpretation of a constitutional clause, met with strong resistance among Peronist rank-and-file, who were finding themselves under increasing pressure due to the highly controversial policies of the Menem administration and its involvement in corruption scandals. Kirchner joined the camp of Menem's chief opponent within the PJ, the governor of Buenos Aires Province, Eduardo Duhalde.

President Eduardo Duhalde's endorsement helped propel the little-known Governor Kirchner to the Presidency in 2003, though they later became rivals.

Menem did not run, and the PJ nominated Duhalde, who was in turn defeated during the October 1999 elections by Buenos Aires Mayor Fernando de la Rúa, the Alliance candidate, and the party lost its majority in Congress. Although the Alianza also made headway in Santa Cruz, Kirchner managed to be re-elected to a third term as governor in May 1999 with 45.7% of the vote. De la Rúa's victory was in part a rejection of Menem's perceived flamboyance and corruption during his last term. De la Rúa instituted austerity measures and reforms to improve the economy; taxes were increased to reduce the deficit, the government bureaucracy was trimmed, and legal restrictions on union negotiations were eased.

These moves did not prevent a deepening of the Argentine economic crisis, however, and a crisis of confidence ensued by November 2001, as domestic depositors began a run on the banks, resulting in the highly unpopular corralito, a limit, and subsequently a full ban, on withdrawals. These developments led to the December 2001 riots, and to President de la Rúa's resignation on December 21.

A series of interim presidents and renewed demonstrations ended with the appointment of Eduardo Duhalde as interim president in January 2002. Duhalde abolished the fixed exchange rate regime that had been in place since 1991, and the Argentine peso quickly devalued by more than two thirds of its value, diminishing middle-class savings and sinking the heavily import-dependent Argentine economy even deeper, but giving a significant profit boost to Argentinian exports. Amid strong public rejection of the entire political class, characterized by the pithy slogan que se vayan todos ("away with them all"), Duhalde brought elections forward by six months.

2003 presidential election

Kirchner's electoral promises included "returning to a republic of equals". After the first round of the election, Kirchner visited the president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who received him enthusiastically. He also declared he was proud of his radical left-wing political past.[7]

Although Menem, who was president from 1989 to 1999, won the first round of the election on April 27, 2003, he only got 24% of the valid votes — just 2% ahead of Kirchner. This was an empty victory, as Menem was viewed very negatively by much of the Argentine population and had virtually no chance of winning the runoff election. After days of speculation, during which polls forecast a massive victory for Kirchner with about a 30%–40% difference, Menem finally decided to stand down. This automatically made Kirchner president of Argentina, even though having secured only 22% of the votes in the election, the lowest percentage gained by the eventual winner of Argentine presidential election. He was sworn in on May 25, 2003 to a four-year term of office.[8][9]

President of Argentina

Néstor Kirchner with former President Raúl Alfonsín, in 2004.

Kirchner came into office on the tail of a deep economic crisis. A country which had once equalled Europe in levels of prosperity and considered itself a bulwark of European culture in Latin America found itself deeply impoverished, with a depleted middle class and malnutrition appearing in the lower strata of society. The country was burdened with $178 billion in debt, the government strapped for cash. While associated to the clientelist and nearly feudal style of government of many provincial governors and the corruption of the PJ, Kirchner was comparatively unknown to the national public, and he showed himself as a newcomer who had arrived at the Casa Rosada without the usual whiff of scandal about him, trying not to make a point of the fact that he himself had seven times been on the same electoral ballot with Menem.

Shortly after coming into office, Kirchner made changes to the Argentine Supreme Court. He accused certain justices of extortion and pressured them to resign, while also fostering the impeachment of two others. In place of a majority of politically right-wing and religiously conservative justices, he appointed new ones who were ideologically closer to him, including two women (one of them an avowed atheist). Kirchner also retired dozens of generals, admirals, and brigadiers from the armed forces, a few of them with reputations tainted by the atrocities of the Dirty War.[10][11]

Néstor Kirchner and the Economy Minister during most of his term, Roberto Lavagna.

Kirchner kept the Duhalde administration's Minister of the Economy, Roberto Lavagna. Lavagna also declared that his first priority now was social problems. Argentina's default was the largest in financial history, and ironically it gave Kirchner and Lavagna significant bargaining power with the IMF, which loathes having bad debts in its books. During his first year of office, Kirchner achieved a difficult agreement to reschedule $84 billion in debts with international organizations, for three years. In the first half of 2005, the government launched a bond exchange to restructure approximately $81 billion of national public debt (an additional $20 billion in past defaulted interest was not recognized). Over 76% of the debt was tendered and restructured for a recovery value of approximately one third of its nominal value.[4]

Under Kirchner, Argentine foreign policy shifted from the "automatic alignment" with the United States during the 1990s, to one stressing stronger ties (economic and political) within Mercosur and with other Latin American countries, and rejecting the Free Trade Area of the Americas.[4][12]

Kirchner saw the 2005 parliamentary elections as a means to confirm his political power, since Carlos Menem's defection in the second round of the 2003 presidential elections did not allow Kirchner to receive the large number of votes that surveys predicted. Kirchner explicitly stated that the 2005 elections would be like a mid-term plebiscite for his administration, and he actively participated in the campaign in most provinces. Due to internal disagreements, the Justicialist Party was not presented as such on the polls but split into several factions. Kirchner's Frente para la Victoria (FPV, Front for Victory) was overwhelmingly the winner (the candidates of the FPV got more than 40% of the national vote), following which many supporters of other factions (mostly those led by former presidents Eduardo Duhalde and Carlos Menem) migrated to the FPV.

Néstor and Cristina Kirchner at an election-eve campaign rally, 2007.

On 15 December 2005, following Brazil's initiative, Kirchner announced the cancellation of Argentina's debt to the IMF in full and offered a single payment, in a historical decision that generated controversy at the time (see Argentine debt restructuring). Some commentators, such as Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, suggest that the Argentine experiment has thus far proven successful.[13] Others, such as Michael Mussa, formerly on the staff of the International Monetary Fund and now with the Peterson Institute, question the longer-term sustainability of Pres. Kirchner's approach.[14]

In a meeting with executives of multinational corporations at Wall Street—after which he was the first Argentine president to ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange—Kirchner defended his "heterodox economic policy, within the canon of classic economics" and criticized the IMF for its lack of collaboration with the Argentine recovery.[15]

On July 2, 2007, President Kirchner announced he would not seek re-election in the October elections, despite having the support of 60% of those surveyed in polls. Instead, Kirchner will focus on the creation of a new political party.[16] In December 2007, he participated as witness in a failed mission—organized by Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez—to liberate three hostages held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The three were among 700 hostages reportedly still in guerrilla hands.[17]

Kirchner secured the Presidency of the Justicialist Party (to which his FPV belongs), in April 2008.[18] Following the FPV's loss of 4 Senators and over 20 Congressmen in the June 28, 2009 mid-term elections, however, he was replaced by Buenos Aires Province Governor Daniel Scioli.[19]

Cabinet

Office Holder Term
Vice President Daniel Scioli 5/2003 – 12/2007
Chief of the Cabinet of Ministers Alberto Fernández 5/2003 – 12/2007
Ministry of Foreign Affairs Rafael Bielsa 5/2003 – 12/2005
Jorge Taiana 12/2005 – 12/2007
Ministry of Economics Roberto Lavagna 5/2003 – 12/2005
Felisa Miceli 12/2005 – 7/2007
Miguel Peirano 7/2007 – 12/2007
Ministry of Defense José Pampuro 5/2003 – 12/2005
Nilda Garré 12/2005 – 12/2007
Ministry of the Interior Aníbal Fernández 5/2003 – 12/2007
Ministry of Justice and Human Rights Gustavo Béliz 5/2003 – 7/2004
Horacio Rosatti 7/2004 – 6/2005
Alberto Iribarne 6/2005 – 12/2007
Ministry of Federal Planning and Public Services Julio de Vido 5/2003 – 12/2007
Ministry of Education, Science and Technology Daniel Filmus 5/2003 – 12/2007
Ministry of Work and Social Security Carlos Tomada 5/2003 – 12/2007
Ministry of Social Policy Alicia Kirchner de Mercado 5/2003 – 12/2005
Juan Carlos Nadalich 12/2005 – 8/2006
Alicia Kirchner de Mercado 8/2006 – 12/2007
Ministry of Health and Environment Ginés González García 5/2003 – 12/2007

Post-presidency

Kirchner remained a highly influential politician during the term of his successor and wife. On June 2009 legislative elections he ran a controversial candidacy for National Deputy for the Buenos Aires Province district. He was elected along with other 11 Front for Victory candidates, as their ticket arrived close second to the Union PRO peronist-conservative coalition in that district.[20][21]

On February 7 2010, he developed problems with the common carotid artery and needed surgery.[22]

Personal style and ideology

Kirchner and Presidents Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, in a 2006 summit in Brasilia.
Kirchner and Venezuela President Hugo Chávez discuss the Gran Gasoducto del Suran energy and trade integration project for South America. They met on November 21, 2005 in Venezuela.

Kirchner is a critic of IMF structural adjustment programs. His criticisms were supported in part by former World Bank economist Joseph Stiglitz, who opposes the IMF's measures as recessionary and urged Argentina to take an independent path. According to some commentators, Kirchner can be seen as part of a spectrum of new Latin American leaders, including Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil and Tabaré Vázquez in Uruguay, who see the Washington consensus as an unsuccessful model for economic development in the region.[23]

Kirchner's increasing alignment with Chávez became evident when during a visit to Venezuela on July 2006 he attended a military parade alongside Bolivian president Evo Morales. On that occasion Mr Chávez called for a defensive military pact between the armies of the region with a common doctrine and organization. Kirchner stated in a speech to the Venezuela national assembly that Venezuela represented a true democracy fighting for the dignity of its people.[24]

While a critic of neoliberalism, Kichner does not describe himself as an opponent of markets and the private sector. [1]

Kirchner has emphasized holding businesses accountable to Argentina's democratic institutions, laws prompting environmental standards, and contractual obligations. He has pledged to not open his administration to the influence of interests that "benefited from inadmissible privileges in the last decade" under Menem. These groups, according to Kirchner, were privileged by an economic model that favored "financial speculation and political subordination" of politicians to well-connected elites. [2] For instance, in 2006, citing the alleged failure of Aguas Argentinas, a company partly owned by the French utility group Suez, to meet its contractual obligation to improve the quality of water, Kirchner terminated the company's contract with Argentina to provide drinking water to Buenos Aires.[25]

His preference for a more active role of the state in the economy was underscored with the founding, in 2004, of ENARSA a new state owned energy company. At the June 2007 summit of the Mercosur, he scolded energy companies for their lack of investment in the sector and for not supporting his strategic vision for the region. He said he was losing patience with energy companies as South America's second-largest economy faces power rationing and shortages during the Southern Hemisphere winter. Price controls on energy rates instituted in 2002 are attributed to have limited investment in Argentina's energy infrastructure, risking more than four years of economic growth greater than 8 percent.[26][27]

Kirchner's collaborators and others who support and stand politically close to him are known informally as pingüinos ("penguins"), alluding to his birthplace in the cold southern region of Argentina.[28][29] Some media and sectors of society also resorted to using the letter K as a shorthand for Kirchner and his policies (as seen, for example, in the controversial group of supporters self-styled Los Jóvenes K,[30] that is "The K Youth", and in the faction of the Radical Civic Union that supports Kirchner, referred to by the media as Radicales K).[31]

In 2008, he proposed the Justicialist Party to join the Socialist International, an international organization dedicated to left-wing and socialist politics.[32]

Criticism and controversy

Despite his high public approval ratings, Kirchner has been strongly criticized by commentators accusing him of overly concentrating power in the executive and excessive use of decrees. The magazine The Economist accuses Kirchner of "populism", which it describes as a Latin American tendency that the Argentine president shares with a diverse range of figures, such as indigenous Peruvian nationalist Ollanta Humala, Mexican social democrat Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and socialist Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.[33]

The Wall Street Journal is another English-language publication critical of Kirchner. The newspaper, for instance, ran an article criticizing the NYSE for choosing Kirchner as a bell ringer, accusing him of being "anti-market."[34][35]

Joaquín Morales Solá, a political columnist for the Argentine newspaper La Nación, accused Kirchner of having a "personalistic style of governing, with a dose of authoritarianism and hegemony, an aggressive style of induced rupture and confrontation", and recently diverse allegations of cronyism and corrupt practices by his government's officials began to mount.[36]

Controversy also arose when the Minister of Economy, Felisa Miceli, removed an officer of the National Institute of Statistics and Census of Argentina in charge of calculating the inflation indexes, allowing Commerce Secretary Guillermo Moreno to hand-pick an official from outside the institution for the post, in what was seen as a move to manipulate official data.[37]

In the last months of his presidency, Kirchner had to weather several scandals. His Minister of Economy Felisa Miceli was forced to resign over more than $60,000 found stashed in a bag in her office bathroom, and a businessman carrying a suitcase with US$800,000 in cash, on a government-hired jet traveling from Venezuela, was discovered at an Argentine airport.[38]

In May 2009, it was reported that the Argentine Intelligence Services (SIDE) were obeying Kirchner's orders in spying and harassing both his opponents as well as fellow Front for Victory and Justicialist Party figures to aid him in winning the 2009 mid-term elections, in which his party list struggled. The current SIDE Secretary, Héctor Icazuriaga, attends official acts with Kirchner and "offers political assistance" to him in the weekends at the official residence of the ex President.

This is not a new development: in March 2007, it was confirmed that the SIDE had intervened and disrupted calls shortly before Cristina succeeded Néstor in the Casa Rosada; the Federal Police were linked to a clandestine operation involving the SIDE and 15,000 to 20,000 telephone numbers; and the mayor of Mar del Plata, Gustavo Pulti, was reportedly harassed.[39]

See also

References

  1. ^ BBC News, Americas, Country profiles: Argentina. Leaders.
  2. ^ Human Rights Watch. January 2004. Overview of human rights issues in Argentina.
  3. ^ Guareschi, Roberto. 5 Nov 2005. "Not quite the Evita of Argentine legend". New Straits Times, p. 21.
  4. ^ a b c Council on Hemispheric Affairs, 27 January 2006. Argentina's Néstor Kirchner: Peronism Without the Tears
  5. ^ Official portal of Santa Cruz. Constitution of Santa Cruz Province.
  6. ^ La Nación, 28 April 2003. El patagónico que pegó el gran salto.
  7. ^ Ezequiel Adamovsky (2003-05-19). "Who is Néstor Kirchner Argentina's new President?". ZNet. http://www.zmag.org/Sustainers/Content/2003-05/19adamovsky.cfm. 
  8. ^ Office of the President. Inaugural speech before the Legislative Assembly (25 May 2003).
  9. ^ IFES Election Guide. Election profile for Argentina.
  10. ^ Washington Times. 22 July 2003. Argentine leader defies pessimism.
  11. ^ BBC News. 25 May 2004. Argentine revival marks Kirchner first year.
  12. ^ Worldpress.org. September 2003. Kirchner Reorients Foreign Policy. Translated from article in La Nación, 15 June 2006.
  13. ^ Weisbrot, Mark, "Doing it their own way", International Herald Tribune, 28 December 2006
  14. ^ Global Economic Prospects 2006/2007
  15. ^ La Nación, 21 September 2006. El Presidente tuvo 45 minutos para convencer a los inversores.
  16. ^ MILENIO.COM » Planea Néstor Kirchner crear nuevo partido en Argentina
  17. ^ New York Times. 2 January 2008. Chávez's Promised Hostage Release Fizzles, His Second Major Setback in Weeks
  18. ^ Infobae: La Justicia confirmó a Néstor Kirchner como presidente del Partido Justicialista (Spanish)
  19. ^ Clarín: Scioli estrenó su liderazgo peronista (Spanish)
  20. ^ Interior Ministry of Argentina, 2009 election results
  21. ^ Clarín, 2009 Legislative Election Results, published 28 June 2009
  22. ^ Internaron al ex presidente Néstor Kirchner en un sanatorio porteño
  23. ^ BBC News. 18 April 2006. Analysis: Latin America's new left axis.
  24. ^ (Spanish) La Nación. 5 July 2006. Kirchner dejó un fuerte apoyo a Chávez y se llevó un gesto por Malvinas.
  25. ^ BBC News
  26. ^ (Spanish) La Nación 30 June 2007. Duras críticas a empresas energéticas
  27. ^ Bloomberg 29 June 2007 Argentina's Kirchner Says Patience Is Wearing Thin
  28. ^ Buenos Aires Herald. March of the Penguins..
  29. ^ (Spanish) Clarín. 18 January 2006. Un combate entre "pingüinos" por la estratégica secretaría de Agricultura.
  30. ^ (Spanish) Jóvenes K — Official website.
  31. ^ (Spanish) Clarín. 12 August 2006. Los radicales K respaldaron las políticas del gobierno y se distancian de la UCR
  32. ^ Binner, Segun Hermes (February 26, 2008). "La incorporación del PJ a la Internacional Socialista "ayudará a comprender los problemas mundiales"" (in Spanish). Pagina/12. http://www.pagina12.com.ar/diario/ultimas/20-99675-2008-02-26.html. Retrieved January 29, 2010. 
  33. ^ The Economist. 12 April 2006. Latin America - The return of populism.
  34. ^ La Nación, 20 Sep 2006. Duro editorial de The Wall Street Journal contra Kirchner.
  35. ^ Clarín, 20 Sep 2006. En la ONU, Kirchner volvió a criticar al Fondo y a reclamarle a Gran Bretaña por Malvinas.
  36. ^ The New York Times, 3 Jan 2006. Dwindling Debt Boosts Argentine Leader.
  37. ^ "Economía designó a la nueva cúpula del INDEC" Clarín (Spanish)
  38. ^ Reuters, 9 Aug 2007"Suitcase of cash sparks new scandal in Argentina"
  39. ^ El Mundo (Spanish)

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Eduardo Duhalde
President of Argentina
2003–2007
Succeeded by
Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner
Preceded by
Héctor Marcelino García
Governor of Santa Cruz
1991–2003
Succeeded by
Héctor Icazuriaga
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Cristina Fernández de Kirchner
First Spouse of Argentina
2007–present
Succeeded by
Incumbent
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