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Néstor Carlos Kirchner Ostoić (born February 25, 1950) was the President of Argentinamarker from May 25, 2003 until December 10, 2007. A Justicialist, Kirchner was previously governor of the province of Santa Cruzmarker.

Kirchner was little-known internationally and even domestically before his election, which he won by default with only 22.24 percent of the vote in the first round when former President Carlos Menem (24.45%) withdrew from the race.

Soon after taking office in May 2003, Kirchner surprised the world by standing down powerful military and police officials. Stressing the need to increase accountability and transparency in government, Kirchner overturned amnesty laws for military officers accused of torture and assassinations during the 1976–1983 "dirty war" under military rule.

On October 28, 2007 his wife Cristina Fernández was elected to replace him as President of Argentina. He is currently the First Gentleman of Argentina.

Early years

Kirchner was born in Río Gallegos, in the Patagonian province of Santa Cruzmarker. His father, a post office official, was of Swiss descent; his mother, María Juana Ostoic Dragnic, a Chileanmarker of Croatian descent from Punta Arenasmarker. He received his primary and secondary education at local public schools, and his high-school diploma from the Argentine school Colegio Nacional República de Guatemala.

Kirchner affirms that early on he participated in the Movimiento Justicialista, first as a member of the Young Peronists, whose left-wing radicalism was strongly opposed to the military dictatorships. In the mid-1970s, Kirchner studied law at National University of La Platamarker, receiving his law degree in 1976. He returned to Río Gallegos with his wife, Cristina Fernández, also a lawyer and member of the Justicialist Party (Partido Justicialista, PJ), to practice law.

After the downfall of the military dictatorship and restoration of democracy in 1983, Kirchner became a public officer in the provincial government. The following year, he was briefly president of the Río Gallegos social welfare fund, but was forced out by the governor because of a dispute over financial policy. The affair made him a local celebrity and laid the foundation for his career.

By 1986, Kirchner had developed sufficient political capital to be put forward as the PJ's candidate for mayor of Río Gallegos. He won the 1987 elections for this post by the very slim margin of about 100 votes. Fellow PJ member Ricardo del Val became governor, keeping Santa Cruz firmly within the hands of the PJ.

Kirchner's performance as mayor from 1987 to 1991 was satisfactory enough to the electorate and to the party to enable him to run for governor in 1991, where he won with 61% of the votes. By this time his wife was also a member of the provincial congress.

Governor of Santa Cruz

When Kirchner assumed the governorship, the province of Santa Cruzmarker (pop. 197,000) contributed one percent to Argentina's gross national product, primarily through the production of raw materials (mostly oil), and was being battered by the ongoing economic crisis, with high unemployment and a budget deficit equal to US$ 1.2 billion. He arranged for substantial investments to stimulate productivity, the labor market, and consumption. By eliminating unproductive expenditures and cutting back on tax exemptions for the key petroleum industry, Kirchner restored the financial balance of the province. Through his expansionist and social policies, Kirchner was credited with bringing a substantial measure of prosperity to Santa Cruz. Subsequent studies showed that the province had a better distribution of wealth and lower levels of poverty than most other provinces, second only to Buenos Airesmarker.

Kirchner emerged as a self-called center Peronist, critical both of President Menem's far-reaching neoliberal model and of the syndicalist bureaucracy of the PJ. He attached great importance not only to careful management of the budgetary deficits but also economic growth based on domestic production, rather than financial speculation. He was also considered a progressive in human rights issues, voicing his opposition to Menem's decision in 1990 to grant a presidential pardon to the leaders of the last junta.

In 1994 and 1998, Kirchner introduced amendments to the provincial constitution, to enable him to run for re-election indefinitely. As a member of the 1994 Constitutional Assembly organized by Menem and former president Raúl Alfonsín, Kirchner participated in the drafting of a new national constitution which allowed the president to be re-elected for a second four-year term.

In 1995, with his constitutional changes in place, Kirchner was easily re-elected to a second term as governor, with 66.5% of the votes. But by now, Kirchner was distancing himself from the charismatic and controversial Menem, who was also the nominal head of the PJ; this was made particularly apparent with the launch of Corriente Peronista, an initiative supported by Kirchner to create an alternative space within the Justicialist Party, outside of Menem's influence.

In 1998, Menem's attempt to stand for re-election a second time, by means of an ad hoc interpretation of a constitutional clause, met with strong resistance among Peronist rank-and-file, who were finding themselves under increasing pressure due to the highly controversial policies of the Menem administration and its involvement in corruption scandals. Kirchner joined the camp of Menem's chief opponent within the PJ, the governor of Buenos Aires Province (and later president, 2002–2003) Eduardo Duhalde.

Menem did not run, and the PJ nominated Duhalde. The elections of 24 October 1999 were a major upset for the PJ; Duhalde was beaten by Fernando de la Rúa, the Alianza (opposition coalition) candidate, and the party lost its majority in Congressmarker. Although the Alianza also made headway in Santa Cruz, Kirchner managed to be re-elected to a third term as governor in May 1999 with 45.7% of the vote. De la Rúa's victory was in part a rejection of Menem's perceived flamboyance and corruption during his last term. De la Rúa instituted austerity measures and reforms to improve the economy; taxes were increased to reduce the deficit, the government bureaucracy was trimmed, and legal restrictions on union negotiations were eased.

2001 crisis

De la Rúa's measures did not work to stop the economic collapse. By late 2000, Argentina was deep in recession and the government sought help from the International Monetary Fundmarker (IMF) and private banks to meet its financial obligations and refinance existing debt. In December 2000, an aid package of nearly $40 billion was arranged, and the government announced a $20 billion public works program that was designed to help revive the economy. Despite measures designed to revive it, the economy remained in recession, however, aggravating the problems posed by the country's substantial budget deficit and public debt. Unemployment rose to around 20% at the end of 2001. Ongoing economic problems led to a crisis of confidence as domestic depositors began a run on the banks, resulting in the highly unpopular corralito, a limit, and subsequently a full ban, on withdrawals. International investors by this time had already begun withdrawing large amounts of capital from Argentina, adding further stress to the embattled economy. The IMF insisted that the government meet certain conditions required for further distributions from the fund (including a 10% cut in the government's large budget deficit), with which the government could not or would not comply. With the IMF and private institutional investors unwilling to continue financing the budget deficit, the government effectively ran out of money in late-2001, defaulting on its financial obligations to international creditors.

Nationwide riots, looting, strike and demonstrations erupted in late December, leading De La Rúa to resign (see December 2001 riots). A series of interim presidents and renewed demonstrations ended with the appointment of Duhalde as interim president in January 2002, to serve until new presidential elections in 2003. Duhalde abolished the fixed exchange rate regime that had been in place since 1991, and the Argentine peso quickly devalued by more than two thirds of its value, diminishing middle-class savings and sinking the heavily import-dependent Argentine economy even deeper, but giving a significant profit boost to Argentinian exports. There was a strong public rejection of the entire political class, characterized by the pithy slogan que se vayan todos ("away with them all").

2003 presidential election

Kirchner's electoral promises included "returning to a republic of equals". After the first round of the election, Kirchner visited the president of Brazilmarker, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who received him enthusiastically. He also declared he was proud of his radical left-wing political past.

Although Menem, who was president from 1989 to 1999, won the first round of the election on April 27, 2003, he only got 24% of the valid votes — just 2% ahead of Kirchner. This was an empty victory, as Menem was viewed very negatively by much of the Argentine population and had virtually no chance of winning the runoff election. After days of speculation, during which polls forecast a massive victory for Kirchner with about a 30%–40% difference, Menem finally decided to stand down. This automatically made Kirchner president of Argentina, even though having secured only 22% of the votes in the election, the lowest percentage gained by the eventual winner of Argentine presidential election. He was sworn in on May 25, 2003 to a four-year term of office.

President of Argentina

Kirchner came into office on the tail of a deep economic crisis. A country which had once equalled Europe in levels of prosperity and considered itself a bulwark of European culture in Latin America found itself deeply impoverished, with a depleted middle class and malnutrition appearing in the lower strata of society. The country was burdened with $178 billion in debt, the government strapped for cash. While associated to the clientelist and nearly feudal style of government of many provincial governors and the corruption of the PJ, Kirchner was comparatively unknown to the national public, and he showed himself as a newcomer who had arrived at the Casa Rosadamarker without the usual whiff of scandal about him, trying not to make a point of the fact that he himself had seven times been on the same electoral ballot with Menem.

Shortly after coming into office, Kirchner made changes to the Argentine Supreme Court. He accused certain justices of extortion and pressured them to resign, while also fostering the impeachment of two others. In place of a majority of politically right-wing and religiously conservative justices, he appointed new ones who were ideologically closer to him, including two women (one of them an avowed atheist). Kirchner also retired dozens of generals, admirals, and brigadiers from the armed forces, a few of them with reputations tainted by the atrocities of the Dirty War.
Kirchner kept the Duhalde administration's Minister of the Economy, Roberto Lavagna. Lavagna also declared that his first priority now was social problems. Argentina's default was the largest in financial history, and ironically it gave Kirchner and Lavagna significant bargaining power with the IMF, which loathes having bad debts in its books. During his first year of office, Kirchner achieved a difficult agreement to reschedule $84 billion in debts with international organizations, for three years. In the first half of 2005, the government launched a bond exchange to restructure approximately $81 billion of national public debt (an additional $20 billion in past defaulted interest was not recognized). Over 76% of the debt was tendered and restructured for a recovery value of approximately one third of its nominal value.

Under Kirchner, Argentine foreign policy shifted from the "automatic alignment" with the United States during the 1990s, to one stressing stronger ties (economic and political) within Mercosur and with other Latin American countries, and rejecting the Free Trade Area of the Americas.

Kirchner saw the 2005 parliamentary elections as a means to confirm his political power, since Carlos Menem's defection in the second round of the 2003 presidential elections did not allow Kirchner to receive the large number of votes that surveys predicted. Kirchner explicitly stated that the 2005 elections would be like a mid-term plebiscite for his administration, and he actively participated in the campaign in most provinces. Due to internal disagreements, the Justicialist Party was not presented as such on the polls but split into several factions. Kirchner's Frente para la Victoria (FPV, Front for Victory) was overwhelmingly the winner (the candidates of the FPV got more than 40% of the national vote), following which many supporters of other factions (mostly those led by former presidents Eduardo Duhalde and Carlos Menem) migrated to the FPV.

On 15 December 2005, following Brazilmarker's initiative, Kirchner announced the cancellation of Argentina's debt to the IMF in full and offered a single payment, in a historical decision that generated controversy at the time (see Argentine debt restructuring). Some commentators, such as Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, suggest that the Argentine experiment has thus far proven successful. Others, such as Michael Mussa, formerly on the staff of the International Monetary Fundmarker and now with the Peterson Institute, question the longer-term sustainability of Pres. Kirchner's approach.

In a meeting with executives of multinational corporations at Wall Streetmarker—after which he was the first Argentine president to ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchangemarker—Kirchner defended his "heterodox economic policy, within the canon of classic economics" and criticized the IMF for its lack of collaboration with the Argentine recovery.

On July 2, 2007, President Kirchner announced he would not seek re-election in the October elections, despite having the support of 60% of those surveyed in polls. Instead, Kirchner will focus on the creation of a new political party. In December 2007, he participated as witness in a failed mission—organized by Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez—to liberate three hostages held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The three were among 700 hostages reportedly still in guerrilla hands.

Kirchner secured the Presidency of the Justicialist Party (to which his FPV belongs), in April 2008. Following the FPV's loss of 4 Senators and over 20 Congressmen in the June 28, 2009 mid-term elections, however, he was replaced by Buenos Aires Provincemarker Governor Daniel Scioli.

Personal style and ideology


Kirchner is a critic of IMF structural adjustment programs. His criticisms were supported in part by former World Bank economist Joseph Stiglitz, who opposes the IMF's measures as recessionary and urged Argentina to take an independent path. According to some commentators, Kirchner can be seen as part of a spectrum of new Latin American leaders, including Hugo Chávez in Venezuelamarker, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazilmarker and Tabaré Vázquez in Uruguaymarker, who see the Washington consensus as an unsuccessful model for economic development in the region.

Kirchner's increasing alignment with Chávez became evident when during a visit to Venezuela on July 2006 he attended a military parade alongside Bolivian president Evo Morales. On that occasion Mr Chávez called for a defensive military pact between the armies of the region with a common doctrine and organization. Kirchner stated in a speech to the Venezuela national assembly that Venezuela represented a true democracy fighting for the dignity of its people.

While a critic of neoliberalism, Kichner does not describe himself as an opponent of markets and the private sector. [32114]

Kirchner has emphasized holding businesses accountable to Argentina's democratic institutions, laws prompting environmental standards, and contractual obligations. He has pledged to not open his administration to the influence of interests that "benefited from inadmissible privileges in the last decade" under Menem. These groups, according to Kirchner, were privileged by an economic model that favored "financial speculation and political subordination" of politicians to well-connected elites. [32115] For instance, in 2006, citing the alleged failure of Aguas Argentinas, a company partly owned by the French utility group Suez, to meet its contractual obligation to improve the quality of water, Kirchner terminated the company's contract with Argentina to provide drinking water to Buenos Aires. [32116]. His preference for a more active role of the state in the economy is showcased with the founding, in 2004, of ENARSA a new state owned energy company. At the June 2007 summit of the Mercosur, he scolded energy companies for their lack of investment in the sector and for not supporting his strategic vision for the region. He said he was losing patience with energy companies as South America's second-largest economy faces power rationing and shortages during the Southern Hemisphere winter. Price controls on energy rates instituted in 2002 are attributed to have limited investment in Argentina's energy infrastructure, risking more than four years of economic growth greater than 8 percent.

Kirchner's collaborators and others who support and stand politically close to him are known informally as pingüinos ("penguins"), alluding to his birthplace in the cold southern region of Argentina.Some media and sectors of society also resorted to using the letter K as a shorthand for Kirchner and his policies (as seen, for example, in the controversial group of supporters self-styled Los Jóvenes K, that is "The K Youth", and in the faction of the Radical Civic Union that supports Kirchner, referred to by the media as Radicales K).

Nestor and Cristina Kirchner at an election-eve campaign rally, 2007.

Criticism and controversy

Despite his high public approval ratings, Kirchner has been strongly criticized by commentators accusing him of overly concentrating power in the executive and excessive use of decrees. The magazine The Economist is among Kirchner's foreign critics. In an August 2006 article, it stated, "Kirchner appointed a majority of the judges on the Supreme Court, then gained an effective veto over lower court nominations ... and on August 3, 2006 the Congress gave him authority to reallocate government spending as he sees fit." The Economist also accuses Kirchner of "populism", which it describes as a Latin American tendency that the Argentine president shares with a diverse range of figures, such as indigenous Peruvian nationalist Ollanta Humala, Mexican social democrat Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and socialist Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

The Wall Street Journal is another English-language publication critical of Kirchner. The newspaper, for instance, ran an article criticizing the NYSE for choosing Kirchner as a bell ringer, accusing him of being "anti-market."

Joaquín Morales Solá, a political columnist for the Argentine newspaper La Nación, accused Kirchner of having a "personalistic style of governing, with a dose of authoritarianism and hegemony, an aggressive style of induced rupture and confrontation", and recently diverse allegations of cronyism and corrupt practices by his government's officials began to mount.

Controversy also arose when the ex-Minister of Economy Felisa Miceli removed an officer of the National Institute of Statistics and Census of Argentinamarker in charge of the calculus of the inflation indexes, hand-picking another person from outside the institution, what was seen as a measure of the government to manipulate the indexes.

In the last months of his presidency, Kirchner had to weather several scandals. His Minister of Economy Felisa Miceli was forced to resign over more than $60,000 found stashed in a bag in her office bathroom, and a businessman carrying a suitcase with US$800,000 in cash, on a government-hired jet traveling from Venezuela, was discovered at an Argentine airport.

In May 2009, it was publicized that the Argentinian Intelligence Services (SIDE) were obeying Kirchner's orders and spied and harassed his opponents and at times even his own political partners from the Partido Justicialista to aid him in winning the legislative elections. The current president of SIDE, Héctor Icazuriaga, attends official acts with Kirchner and "offers political assistance" to him in the weekends at the official residence of the ex President. This is not a new affair: in March 2007, it was confirmed that the SIDE had intervened and disrupted calls shortly before Cristina succeeded Néstor in the Casa Rosada; the Federal Police intervened in a clandestine operation involving the SIDE 15.000 to 20.000 telephone numbers. Harassment of the mayor of Mar del Plata, largest tourist destination of Buenos Aires, Gustavo Pulti, was also a source of controversy and an example of this behaviour.

See also


External links

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