Argentina Elections reproduce el artículo de «The New York Times» que vuelve a tratar en su sección internacional la coyuntura política argentina. Es la segunda vez desde que se conoció la noticia sobre la postulación de Cristina Fernandez como candidata que publican una nota.
Argentine Leader’s Wife May Inherit His Troubles
By LARRY ROHTER
The New York Times
Published: July 10, 2007
BUENOS AIRES, July 8 — Néstor Kirchner’s decision not to seek a second term as president of Argentina and instead step aside in favor of his wife’s candidacy has been described both as an act of generosity and canny political calculation. But his wife, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, faces several traps, mostly of her husband’s making, during the campaign that lies ahead, and even more if, as expected, she wins the October election.
After four years, Mr. Kirchner, 57, enjoys a level of job approval and popularity here that are unusual for someone in office that long. But his numbers have been slipping in recent months, the result of problems and controversies that have emerged in both the political and economic realms.
“The horizon holds some clouds for her,” said Graciela Romer, a leading poll taker and political analyst here. “In the short term, everything seems sunny. But the forecast has to be that of a high probability of storm clouds, especially if the economic situation stagnates.”
When Mr. Kirchner squeezed into office in 2003 with less than a quarter of the popular vote, he promised to usher in a new era of openness and transparency in government and to clean up corruption. But the complaints about him now are that he has concentrated all power in the executive branch and run roughshod over the legislature and courts.
“Not only has there been no change, but he has re-created the old structures of a centralized presidency,” said Luis Alberto Romero, the author of “A History of Argentina in the 20th Century” and a university professor. “Kirchner has rebuilt the authority of the presidency at the expense of democratic institutions that have been constructed with great effort since the end of the military dictatorship” in 1982.
On the corruption front, Mr. Kirchner’s left-leaning administration was able to portray itself as having clean hands until recently. Late in 2005, Roberto Lavagna, then the economy minister, complained of what he called cronyism in the awarding of government contracts, but Mr. Kirchner took no public action other than to force him to resign, and no proof of such irregularities ever surfaced.
But since March, Mr. Kirchner has had to contend with clear indications of corruption in a large gas pipeline project. When one of the companies involved in the endeavor, the Swedish construction company Skanska, did an internal audit, it found evidence of what it described as “improper payments” by some of its executives, who have since been fired. Opposition legislators, who say that as much as $25 million may be involved, news reports and an investigating judge say the money appears to have gone to Argentine government officials.
Then, last month, another controversy emerged. Fire inspectors making what was said to be a routine check of the offices of the new economy minister, Felisa Miceli, found a large amount of cash, in both local currency and dollars, stashed in her bathroom.
Initial news reports put the total at nearly $250,000, but on Friday, after an official investigation was announced, Ms. Miceli said the correct amount was $64,000. Opposition figures have suggested that the money was either part of a government slush fund or evidence of illegal enrichment on her part, but Ms. Miceli said she borrowed most of it from a brother for a real estate transaction she hoped to make.
“It seems to me there was naïveté and stupidity on my part,” said Ms. Miceli, who has previously been accused of manipulating inflation figures to benefit Mr. Kirchner, in an interview with the country’s three main newspapers that was published Friday. “It was a mistake, there could have been negligence, but I am certain that I have not committed a crime.”
Mr. Kirchner, already campaigning for his wife, a 54-year old senator, said last week that her government would be “even better” than his and would “deepen change.” But, with the recent corruption allegations apparently in mind, he also warned Friday of what he said would be “a dirty campaign against Cristina.”
In municipal and provincial elections on June 24, said to have precipitated Mr. Kirchner’s decision to step aside, an opposition candidate from a center-left party with a strong anticorruption platform won the governorship in Tierra del Fuego. But the main challenge to the Kirchners came here in the capital, where a conservative, Mauricio Macri, easily beat their handpicked candidate for mayor.
Mr. Macri comes from one of the country’s wealthiest families, which benefited greatly during the wave of privatizations of state enterprises that took place when Carlos Menem was in power in the 1990s. The splintered political opposition has been dreaming of a counterweight to the Kirchners, a role Mr. Macri, who is also president of the country’s most popular soccer club, seems eager to play.
“A figure like Mauricio Macri is an expression of discontent, but his victory does not represent the swing to the right that some claim it is,” Ms. Romer, the pollster, cautioned. “What voters want is to put some sort of limits on the national government.”
The Kirchners’ most serious long-term problem, however, may be a growing energy shortage that is driving up inflation. Gas supplies to factories are already being rationed in order to ensure adequate energy to heat homes, cabdrivers recently blocked downtown streets here to protest restrictions imposed on them and, with winter just starting, there are concerns the situation could worsen.
To alleviate the problem, Argentina, until recently an energy exporter, has made arrangements to import electricity from Brazil. Energy companies say they need utility rates, mostly frozen since 2002, to rise if they are to make new investments, but the government says the companies failed to comply with contracts negotiated during the boom years of the 1990s, are responsible for their own difficulties and must comply with local laws.
Mr. Kirchner has recently acknowledged the crisis but also says there is “no reason for drama.” He portrays the energy shortages as merely a temporary bottleneck that is a consequence of the success of his economic policies.
“Thanks to having grown 50 percent over the past four and a half years, we have a strong need for this product,” he said this week. “Sometimes growth brings us problems,” he added, but “an Argentina that grows, with jobs and consumption” is preferable to the depressed economy he inherited when he took office.
But economists are virtually unanimous in predicting that the combination of energy shortages and inflation will continue or even intensify. But it is Mrs. Kirchner, not her husband, who is likely to have to pay the bill.
“All effort is being concentrated on winning the election in October, even though Kirchner knows that a time bomb is being rigged,” Mr. Romero, the historian, said. “What is he building to prepare for living in hard times?”