The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Sunday, May 25, 2003  

Two Profiles of the Country's New President

As a Philadelphian, I feel a certain kinship with Argentina. Like Philadelphia, Argentina has never achieved its full potential. Every time the country seems to be making headway, one or another crisis comes along, either from within or without, that sets it back.

But Argentina today has a new president now (yes, another one), Néstor Kirchner, and in Argentina, hope springs eternal, even with the presidency is won, as in this case, by default. (Kirchner's opponent in the anticipated run-off, former president Carlos Menem, withdrew in the face of polls showing a landslide loss in the offing.)

Larry Rohter, in "Argentina Looks to a New Leader," (New York Times, May 25), captures the perennial quandary in Argentina:

What is not yet clear to Argentines, though, is whether Mr. Kirchner, the obscure Peronist governor of a remote province until he was catapulted into power in an unlikely turn of events, is the great reformer and renovator he claims to be or just another slick politician who will let the country down.

According to Rohter, Kirchner appears ready to take a hard line in talks with the International Monetary Fund. In addition:

He has also taken a tough stance on corruption and human rights. He has indicated that he favors reopening impeachment proceedings against a Supreme Court that is seen as loyal to Mr. Menem and has presented himself as a representative of the generation that was brutalized under the old military dictatorship and now wants justice.…

Today [May 24], newspapers here reported that Mr. Kirchner has decided to force the retirement of more than half of the armed forces' generals and admirals.

Kirchner's standing, reports Rohter, will also depend upon the outcome of congressional, mayoral and gubernatorial elections in the months ahead.

Meanwhile, Kirchner has made "cabinet choices that analysts said were designed to provide stability," including Finance Minister Robert Lavagna ("New Argentine President Likely to Pursue Different Path," Jon Jeter, Washington Post, as republished in the Philadelphia Inquirer, May 25):

A key cabinet holdover is Robert Lavagna, the finance minister, who has been Argentina's chief negotiator with the International Monetary Fund since the country defaulted on nearly $140 billion in public debt in December 2001. He is credited with fostering a slow but steady recovery in recent months, and analysts say Lavagna is Kirchner's most visible attempt to mollify the financial sector and international lenders.

Sounds promising. It was surprising, though, to learn that Kirchner, who ran on a campaign against Argentina's rampant cronyism, has appointed his sister, Alicia Kirchner, minister of social development. Ah, but that's nepotism, not cronyism. A break from the past, the dawn of a new day.

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