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ARGENTINA
Cristina dreams of Evita
Paolo Moiola
8/23/2007
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How much will being first lady help Cristina Fernández?

When Cristina Fernández de Kirchner praises women, the television cameras close in tight on Estela Carlotto, the president of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a rights group of relatives of victims of the 1976-83 dictatorship.

“We’re prepared to support the pain,” she says. “We’re prepared for the most difficult situations. And we’re prepared to work in the public and private arenas.”

Fernández announced her candidacy on July 19 in the La Plata theater, just a few short months before the October presidential elections. Her husband, President Néstor Kirchner, watched from the balcony.

“Just like Romeo and Juliet but reversed with him in the balcony and her below, declaring her love and admiration,” wrote Página 12, an influential Argentine daily.

Born in La Plata in 1953, Fernández studied law at the local university there, where she met Kirchner. The two married and had two children. When she finished her studies, Fernández started to work in the political sphere as a human rights activist. She joined a Peronist youth group.

After the 1976 military coup, the couple moved to Río Gallegos, capital of the Santa Cruz province in isolated and uninhabited Patagonia.

Kirchner became the Rio Gallegos mayor in 1987 and in 1991 he began his first of three consecutive terms as provincial governor, but his career was not without scandal, including the alleged misuse of US$500 million in public funds sent abroad.

In 1989 Fernández became a provincial deputy of Santa Cruz and a national senator in 1995.

In May 2003, Kirchner won the presidential election with 22.3 percent of the vote (LP, June 4, 2003). In his four years as president, Kirchner has governed Argentina through its economic recovery and allied himself with human rights movements. He defended himself successfully before his staunchest rivals, other Peronists, including the powerful Eduardo Duhalde and his wife, Chiche Duhalde, whom Fernández beat in senatorial elections in 2005.

Polls positive for Fernández
If recent polls are correct, Fernández will succeed her husband as president of Argentina.

But despite the couple’s political power, there have also been many criticisms. For example, the conservative newspaper La Nación stated: “It’s complicated to explain that the country managed to keep the Republic by the wayside even just for one historic moment, to test the taste of a strange and special monarchy, during which the succession was not established between fathers and sons, but instead between husband and wife.”

In reality, the Kirchner couple seems to have planned very careful all of their steps. For months, Fernández has toured the world — mostly countries in the Americas — in an effort to make herself known. Meanwhile, comparisons to Evita Perón began to surface.

The memory of Evita Perón (1919-1952) is a fixture of Argentine culture. Evita, who came from a poor family and had a difficult childhood, was able to unite society, especially women: During the first presidency of her husband, Juan Domingo Perón (1946-52), Argentine women gained the right to vote.

“I have in this instant, from the hands of the Government of the Nation, the law that consecrates our civil rights. And I receive it, before you, with the certainty of what I am doing, in the name and representation of all Argentine women. Feeling so joyous that my hands are shaking when I touch the laurel that proclaims victory. Here it is my sisters, in the words of a few articles, a long history of struggle, mistakes and hopes,” Evita said Sept. 23, 1947 from the balcony of the Casa Rosada presidential palace when she presented the suffrage law to Argentine women.

Impossible to ignore
Still today, 55 years after her death, it’s difficult for a woman active in public life to ignore the myth, which is at once fascinating and uncomfortable.

Fernández knows this and did not reject comparisons to Evita. Instead, she tries to use it to her advantage. “I identify myself with Eva Perón with her furious fist in front of the microphone,” Fernández said in an interview with the Spanish daily El País. Evita was noted for her public speeches, those broadcast by radio or from the balconies of the presidential palace.

Should Sen. Fernández win the elections, what will her husband do? “Néstor Kirchner’s dream”, writes Jorge Lanata, an Argentina journalist and critic of the couple, “is to carry his wife Cristina to the presidency. No one, nevertheless, could imagine him retired: in the worst of cases, he will be limited to rule behind the scene and run again in 2011.”

But Lanata underestimates two elements: who really runs things in the Kirchner marriage, and what will happen if Fernández’s candidacy is a success.


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