The remarkable Cristina Fernandez

August 26, 2011

She looks stunningly good for a woman with 58 and I cannot rule out, that this fact made even me, a distant observer, interested in her case. To deflect the inevitable accusations of sexism I have instantly to correct and amend the leading statement and make clear that I meant: She fits the contemporary and prevailing male ideals of beauty and femininity perfectly.

Beauty is of course in the eye of the beholder and I can truly and wholeheartedly confirm that I regard all of my female role models as beautiful: Vandana Shiva, Alice Walker, Amy Goodman, Lama Tsultrim Allione, Maude Barlow, Asha Hagi Elmi, just to randomly name a few. Some of the entries in my long list of accomplished and revered women may not be considered as top contenders by an all male jury in a beauty contest, but that doesn’t diminish their accomplishments and their charisma, it only shows the shallowness and frivolity of todays consumer culture.

Nevertheless, looking good can be an essential asset for a woman, who is dealing with men, and Cristina Fernandez, the subject of this blog post, has to prevail in a male dominated business: in politics. Cristina Fernandez is the widow of former Argentinian president Nestor Kirchner and she is the incumbent president.

Her speeches are emotional and often dramatic, it is clear that she uses her femininity to calm and disarm her male political opponents.

Her opponents accuse her of an authoritarian attitude, and of turning to the left and following the “Chavez model.” Her four years in office were tumultuous and controversial, but Argentina’s economy is booming, to some extend fueled by high prices for agrarian exports, but mostly because of government investment and social spending instead of IMF-style austerity.

It is not surprising that conservative pundits and WTO officials are fuming about her rule. Argentine is ranked 138th out of 179 countries in the Heritage Foundation’s 2011 Index of Economic Freedom and an IMF official complained that Argentina “has introduced about 100 limiting measures since 2009, affecting its trade with 174 countries, and has the most restrictive trade policy in the world.”

Her decisive victory with 50 percent of the votes in a primary election on August 14 makes a re-election in October almost a foregone conclusion, while giving her more room to advance a progressive economic agenda. She benefitted from divisions within the opposition and the fact, that her opponents Ricardo Alfonsin and Eduardo Duhalde are not charismatic at all and recite mindlessly from the neocon textbook that was sent them together with a lot of funds from across the equator (not charismatic maybe even an understatement, compared to Cristina her political contenders look like walking corpses.)

The neocon textbook that her opponents received was for sure perfectly translated into Spanish, but it is nevertheless North American and will never resonate with Argentinian souls. Milton Friedman and his Chicago school of economics were very interested in Latin America and especially in Argentine, but they only understood economics, they didn’t understand culture. If Friedman would have listened to Adriana Varela, Carlos Gardel, Astor Piazzolla, Eduardo Falu, his economic model would have been different — maybe.

Argentinians have not a good experience with Friedman and the neocon recipes. In 1976, when a junta seized power from Isabel Peron, their country, together with Chile, Uruguay and Brazil (the other dominions ruled by US backed juntas) became a laboratory of Chicago School economics, and Argentina’s capitalist economy was further liberalized during the 1990s, along lines drawn by the IMF and the USA. Argentina’s leaders did just about everything the economic theorists said they should do to be prosperous and the USA rewarded them with 40 billion US$ in support.

During the Carlos Menem administration, Argentina, under the guidance of IMF, World Bank, and US Treasury. continued to borrow heavily, and public debt sky rocketed as loan payments had to be postponed.

Argentina commenced a neoliberal restructuring process (stabilize, privatize, liberalize). A number of labour market reforms were enacted, including new regulations for public employment, deregulation of the private sector along with weakened labor laws, and the partial privatization of social security. Argentina’s foreign debt grew substantially from 57 billion US$ in 1990 to 178 billion in 2003. The high debt, coupled with the devaluation of the Argentine peso, led to hyperinflation, high unemployment rates, a large informal sector, increased poverty, and cuts of health services and education. A reduction in public salaries and lay-offs stemming from privatization resulted in massive loss of income, effectively eliminating the middle class.

The neoliberal structural adjustment program eventually led to a severe economic crisis from 1999 to 2002 that brought the country to the brink of economic collapse. Unemployment was 20 to 30 percent, homelessness doubled and half of the population were below the poverty line. The government had to freeze all bank accounts for a year, allowing only minor sums to be withdrawn. Argentinians resided to barter trading, subsistence agriculture, and scavenging. Many Argentinians suffered from malnutrition.

Nestor Kirchner, a lawyer who won the presidential race against the disgraced Carlos Menem in 2003, abandoned the neoliberal policies and his four-year presidency was notable for a dramatic fall in poverty and unemployment. Argentina’s bankruptcy was the largest in financial history and gave Kirchner significant bargaining power against the IMF. He achieved an agreement to reschedule 84 billion US$ in debts with international organizations. In 2005 Kirchner announced the cancellation of Argentina’s debt to the IMF in full and offered a single payment of 9.810 billion US$.

Argentine severed the close economic links with the USA, rejected the Free Trade Area of the Americas and turned to Mercosur. Kirchner also bravely overturned amnesty laws for military officers accused of torture and assassinations during the junta reign.

When Nestor Kirchner tragically died of heart failure on 27 October 2010, he was not Argentina’s president anymore, because he had promoted his wife Cristina, also a lawyer, as his successor, leading to her election in 2007.

In an interview with Time Magazine shortly before her election in 2007 she stated: “Women are the politicians of the future, because they’re culturally formed to be citizens of two worlds, public and private.…We see the big geopolitical picture, but also the smaller daily details of our citizens lives.”

This statement sounds genuine because she has raised two children, Maximo and Florencia (florkey.)

Cristina Fernandez became an advocate for human rights and public health improvements, and she continued her husbands politic of increased government influence and stronger regulation of private businesses. Argentina’s relations with the USA deteriorated further as a result of this and also as a result of allegations, that Venezuela had made illegal contributions to her election campaign.

In 2008, she introduced a new sliding-scale taxation system for agricultural exports, raising levies on soybean exports from 35 to 44 percent, which met stiff resistance from big farmers and was defeated in the Argentine Congress. In 2008 Cristina proposed the transfer of nearly 30 billion US$ in private pension holdings to the social security system, this bill passed. In 2009 she launched a universal child benefit plan as a way to fight poverty with the goal to reach million children and youths. The program has been credited for having boosted school attendance rates and reduced poverty.

In 2010, her administration completed the debt swap which was started by her husband in 2005, clearing 92 percent of the bad debt left from the bankruptcy in 2001. Argentinas external debt now is 30 percent of the country’s GDP, the Central Bank foreign reserves are 49 billion US$. She implemented a one-to-one foreign trade policy, anyone bringing imports to the country must match their value with exports. A bill to limit foreign ownership of Argentine rural land that her office submitted to Congress in April would bar individual foreigners from owning more than 2,500 acres and would limit aggregate foreign ownership to 20 percent of Argentina’s total rural land.

She also signed a bill legalizing same sex marriage.

Christina Fernandez is not an environmentalist, she vetoed the “Law of protection of the glaciers,” a move, which could threaten over 75 percent of the country’s water reserves and reopened the Pilcaniyeu uranium enrichment plant, put on ice in the 1990s. She also faces allegations of impropriety, because since their arrival to power in 2003, her and her late husbands declared assets have increased by 570 percent.

She likes expensive fashion cloth and jewelry and always wears makeup. That does not exactly match my ideals of a modest and environmental couscous lifestyle, though I have to concede that she has a good taste.

Nobody is perfect, and despite not being as humble and frugal as Mahatma Gandhi or Mother Theresa, I admire Cristina and wish her the best of luck!

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