Author`s name Margarita Kicherova

Kirchner's Argentina Spring

Kirchner produced a big change in the mood toward the government as well as concerning Argentine democracy

When Nestor Kirchner took office six weeks ago, the almost unknown leader from Patagonia was seen by local and international observers as a "good administrator" that had proved fiscal probity all along his years as Governor of the Southern Province of Santa Cruz. However, those who knew him from his long years as a militant in the left wing of the hegemonic Peronist party warned: "He is a man of convictions." They said that and were not wrong. In a short period of time, Kirchner tur ned Argentina upside down, and the friends of yesterday became the enemies of today.

Kirchner needed a few weeks to sack those army officers involved in the dirty war of the seventies, as studies to revoke a decree that automatically denies extradition requests for members of the armed forces engaged in human rights abuses. At the same time, it took him a month to provoke the resignation of the head of the Supreme Court of Justice, Julio Nazareno: a notoriously incompetent lawyer that systematically ruled to support doubtful, and frequently illegal, decisions taken by former President Carlos Menem. Kirchner grounded his decision in a bid to "preserve the institutions from those men who endanger them".


Kirchner ended the move perfectly by appointing the most prestigious Latin American specialist in criminal law, Eugenio Zaffaroni, to substitute Nazareno. What's more, Kirchner restricted presidential powers to name new members for country's main tribunal, as the proposed judge has to be approved by the community in special public audiences organized to review its background.


Also, Kirchner took very important decisions toward transparency in the public administration and the private activity. Firstly, he ordered the removal of those directors linked to corruption scandals in the administration of the social institute for pensioners (PAMI). The institute handles a budget equivalent to the one that controls the City of Buenos Aires and has been signaled by observers as a "monument of corruption" and the obscure source of funds for political campaigns.


Secondly, he pushed forward a legal procedure to crackdown a major operation to crack down on tax evasion, which involved 180 companies, including foreign investors as Telefonica (Spain), France Telecom, British Gas, Citibank, the HSBC Bank and others. On Monday, Kirchner addressed a statement in which accused "some" businessmen of being partially responsible for the hunger in Argentina. "They are used to implement all the economic policies that they want (but) never talked about hunger and unemployment", he said after launching a food program to attend 1.5 million people at risk of starvation. 


Furthermore, to crackdown the long-running crime wave in Buenos Aires metropolitan area, Kirchner forced the Provincial Government to sack the chief of police and investigate 20 other officers suspected of backing the organized crime. "Crime and corruption are undoubtedly linked", Kirchner said as put pressure over provincial authorities. Alberto Sobrado, former Buenos Aires Province Chief of Police had to resign after the press discovered that he had an undeclared USD 300,000 account in Bahamas.


"We are living a democratic revolution", says an enthusiastic professor at the University of Buenos Aires. "We have to support Kirchner because it is our last chance", says a clerk sat, by chance, at the same table in a cafй. However, what is democracy and hope for some means dislike and aversion for others. And the "others" began to show up in Buenos Aires' chilly winter, raising their voices to question Kirchner's democratic spring.


Far right ideologists began their attacks to defend the interests of those sectors flustered by the new administration: the military and the powerful local and international financial corporations. "The Government faces a Marxist invasion", reads an anachronistic editorial of the major business newspaper Ambito Financiero (Financial Field), traditional spokesman of these sectors.


At the same time, utility monopolies, sold to foreign investors in the nineties, have presented international legal demands to obtain an increasing in prices. Telefonica, France Telecom, British Gas and others say that they have been harmed by 2002 currency devaluation, because they were left with dollar-denominated debts and revenue in pesos. However, what they do not say is that acting as moneylenders, they took funds in the international market at 2 or 3 percent annual rate, to lend them at 14 - 15 percent in the pre-default moribund Argentine economy. 


In fact, the world of business shares the same worrying than the US Embassy: neither Kirchner, nor any minister attended to the traditional July 4 celebration in the well guarded building that holds Washington's diplomatic representation in Buenos Aires. "I didn't see any Minister. I'm amazed", said James Walsh, US ambassador to Buenos Aires, who had to wait for one week to visit President Kirchner after he took office. Analysts say a joint action of these sectors could endanger Kirchner's reforms, despite the enormous popularity he enjoys.


In the diplomatic field, Europe clearly took the advantage: France, Germany and Russia were the first guests at Foreign Ministry offices. Well-informed sources at the Russian Embassy in Buenos Aires told PRAVDA.Ru that Moscow "is optimistic about the relations with the new Government".


All in all, it is still premature to say that Kirchner's administration is a success; however, initial steps taken by his administration explain the 70 percent popularity that not many Argentine presidents ever enjoyed.


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