Kirchner, Néstor (1950–)

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Kirchner, Néstor (1950–)

Néstor Carlos Kirchner was born on February 25, 1950, in Río Gallegos, in the province of Santa Cruz, and served as president of Argentina from May 2003 to December 2007. His early studies were in his native city, and he then transferred to La Plata (Buenos Aires) to study law. There he joined the Peronist Youth, a leftist movement that supported the Montoneros guerrilla group during the last administration of Juan Perón and the subsequent administration of Perón's wife, María Estela Martínez de Perón. In March 1975 Kirchner married Cristina Fernández, a fellow student and political activist.

Following the military coup of 1976 Kirchner returned to Santa Cruz, abandoned political activity, and devoted himself to his profession. With the return of democracy in 1983 he rejoined the Peronist party and became president of the provincial pension fund (Caja de Previsión Social). In 1987 he was elected mayor of Río Gallegos and held the post until 1991, when he won the election for governor. Thanks to successive reforms of the province's constitution, he was reelected twice, in 1994 and 1998.

As governor he supported the nationwide privatization program implemented by Carlos Menem, particularly the privatization of the state oil company, YPF, which provided Santa Cruz with an abundance of funds for public works and for increasing the provincial government staff. Kirchner's management of the funds received from oil royalties was covert and at his own discretion. His supporters spoke highly of his management, whereas his adversaries accused him of having transformed the province into a fiefdom. He concentrated control of sources of wealth and jobs and overpowered the legislative and judiciary bodies as well as the media, and persecuted rivals and dissidents. He created a nationalist and populist inner sector that he sought to use to launch himself onto the national scene.

When Fernando de la Rúa resigned from the presidency in December 2001, he was succeeded by five interim presidents in the midst of an unprecedented crisis. The fifth, Eduardo Duhalde, supported Kirchner's candidacy in the elections that were finally held in March 2003 and in which he ran against two other Peronist candidates, thanks to a timely amendment to the party's bylaws and the support of the Congress. In the campaign, Kirchner positioned himself as the representative of the progressive, nationalist sector, in opposition to the neoliberal platform on which Menem sought to return to the presidency. He also promised to retain Duhalde's minister of the economy, Roberto Lavagna, who was credited with having begun to reactivate the economy in mid-2002. Although he only won 22 percent of the votes and placed second behind Menem, Kirchner managed to unite all anti-Menem factions and secure the presidency when Menem refused to run in the second round of elections.

Soon after his inauguration, he was able to gain the broad support of public opinion and sectors of his party and of other political forces weakened by the crisis, thanks to measures aimed at accelerating reactivation of the economy and improving the social situation. He renegotiated the $144 billion public debt that was in default, achieving a significant discount. Benefiting from high world prices on commodities, he applied a tax on exports that allowed him to increase social spending without affecting the fiscal surplus. He maintained a high exchange rate that allowed for rapid recovery of industry and a consequent reduction in unemployment, bringing down the proportion of the population in poverty from almost 55 percent to under 30 percent in three years.

With regard to institutional issues, his policies were more ambiguous. He spurred the reopening of trials for human rights violations during the dictatorship, forced the retirement of a large number of military officers, intensified the purge of corruption among some police forces, and propelled the removal of several of the more questionable judges from the Supreme Court. At the same time, he strengthened the executive's discretionary control of the budget, issued an unusual number of emergency decrees through bypassing Congress, persecuted media outlets and independent journalists, and purchased the loyalty of governors, mayors, and legislators of the Peronist party and the forces of opposition, using the augmented Treasury resources. Problems arose on the economic front toward the end of his administration, the result of distortions in relative prices (rates frozen for almost four years, price controls, and cross subsidies) and a growing recklessness in public spending.

See alsoArgentina: The Twentieth Century; Duhalde, Eduardo; Menem, Carlos Saúl; Perón, Juan Domingo.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Primary Work

With Torcuato S. Di Tella. Después del derrumbe: Teoría y práctica política en la Argentina que viene; Conversaciones. Buenos Aires: Galerna, 2003.

Secondary Works

Natanson, José. El presidente inesperado. Rosario, Argentina: Homo Sapiens, 2004.

Novaro, Marcos. Historia de la Argentina contemporánea. Buenos Aires: Edhasa, 2006.

                                           Marcos Novaro