Cristina Fernández de KirchnerCristina Elisabet Fernández Wilhelm de Kirchner (born February 19, 1953), commonly known as Cristina Fernández or Cristina Kirchner, is an Argentine lawyer and politician from the Justicialist Party and the current President of Argentina. She is the wife of former President of Argentina Néstor Kirchner. Before assuming the presidency she was a Senator for Buenos Aires Province and acted as First Lady during her husband's term.
In the October 2007 general election, Fernández ran for the presidency of Argentina, representing the ruling Front for Victory party. She won with 45.29% of the vote, a 22% lead over her nearest rival. This was one of the widest margins obtained by a candidate since democracy returned in 1983, and it avoided the need for a runoff election. She is Argentina's second female president (after Isabel Martínez de Perón), but the first to be elected. Sworn in on December 10, 2007, she became the first wife in history to be elected to succeed her husband as a president. Néstor Kirchner has also become the first First Gentleman in Argentine history.
Election to Presidency of Argentina
Argentine military to protect environment, Antarctica
Relationship with the media
Cristina Elisabet Fernández was born in La Plata, province of Buenos Aires, daughter of Eduardo Fernández (of Spanish heritage) and Ofelia Esther Wilhelm (of German heritage). She studied law at the National University of La Plata during the 1970s. During her studies there, she met her future spouse, Néstor. They married on March 9, 1975 and had two children: Máximo and Florencia. Florencia received international media attention during early 2008 when she started keeping a Fotolog.
Kirchner started her political career in the Peronist Youth movement of the Justicialist Party in the 1970s. During the period of authoritarian rule in the country, she and Néstor dropped out of politics and practised law in Río Gallegos. She picked up politics again in the late 1980s, and was elected to the Santa Cruz provincial legislature in 1989, a position to which she was re-elected in 1993. In 1995 she was elected to represent Santa Cruz in the Senate, and in 1997 in the Chamber of Deputies. In 2001 she won again a seat in the Senate.
Kirchner provided the main backbone to her husband's successful campaign for the presidency in 2003, against two other Justicialist candidates and several other competitors. In the April 27, 2003 presidential election first round, former president Carlos Saúl Menem won the greatest number of votes (25%), but failed to get the votes necessary to win an overall majority. A second-round run-off vote between Menem and second-place finisher Néstor Kirchner was scheduled for May 18. Feeling certain that he was about to face a resounding electoral defeat, Menem decided to withdraw his candidacy, thus automatically making Kirchner the new president, with 21.97% of the votes (the lowest number in the history of the country) During her husband's term, Cristina Kirchner became an itinerant ambassador for his government. Her highly combative speech style polarized Argentine politics, recalling the style of Eva Perón. Although she repeatedly rejected the comparison later, Cristina once said in an interview that she identified herself "with the Evita of the hair in a bun and the clenched fist before a microphone" (the typical image of Eva Perón during public speeches) more than with the "miraculous Eva" of her mother's time, who had come "to bring work and the right to vote for women".
She was the main candidate for Senator of the Front for Victory faction of her party in the province of Buenos Aires, for the October 2005 elections, in a heated campaign directed mainly against Hilda González de Duhalde, the wife of former interim president Eduardo Duhalde. Kirchner won the elections by a 25% margin over González.
Election to Presidency of Argentina
With Kirchner leading all the pre-election polls by a wide margin, her challengers were trying to force her into a run-off. She needed either more than 45% of the vote, or 40% of the vote and a lead of more than 10% over her nearest rival, to win outright. The legality of her presidential bid funding was later disputed when U.S federal prosecutors alleged that the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez secretly tried to funnel nearly $1 million in cash to her campaign, while these allegations were vehemently denied by both the Argentinian and Venezuelan governments.
Kirchner finally won the election in the first round with 45.29% of the vote, followed by 22% for Elisa Carrió (candidate for the Civic Coalition) and 16% for former Economy Minister Roberto Lavagna. Eleven others split the remaining 15%. Fernández was popular among the suburban working class and the rural poor, while Carrió received more support from the urban middle class. Of note, Fernández lost the election in the three largest cities (Buenos Aires, Córdoba and Rosario), although she won in most other places elsewhere, including the large provincial capitals such as Mendoza and Tucumán.
The president elect began a four-year term on December 10, 2007, facing challenges including inflation, union demands for higher salaries, private investment in key areas, lack of institutional credibility (exemplified by the controversy surrounding the national statistics bureau, INDEC), utility companies demanding authorization to raise their fees, low availability of cheap credit to the private sector, and the upcoming negotiation of the defaulted foreign debt with the Paris Club.
On November 14, Cristina Kirchner announced the names of her new cabinet, which started working with her on December 10. Of the 12 ministers appointed, seven were already ministers in Néstor Kirchner's government whilst the other five took office for the first time.
During the first days of her presidency, Argentina's relations with the United States deteriorated as a result of allegations made by a United States assistant attorney of illegal campaign contributions, case known as the maletinazo (suitcase scandal). According to these allegations, agents tried to pressure a Venezuelan-American citizen (Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson) to lie about the origin of $790,550 in cash found in his suitcase on August 4, 2007 at a Buenos Aires airport. U.S. prosecutors said the money was sent to help Fernández's presidential campaign.
Fernández de Kirchner and Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, called the allegations "a trashing operation" and part of a conspiracy orchestrated by the United States to divide Latin American nations. On December 19, 2007 she restricted the U.S. ambassador's activities and limited his meetings to Foreign Ministry officials; a treatment reserved for hostile countries, in the opinion of a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State. However, on January 31, during a special meeting with the Argentine President, the United States ambassador in Argentina, Earl Anthony Wayne, clarified that the allegations "were never made by the United States government", and the dispute cooled down.
Elisa Carrió and María Estenssoro, both high ranking members of the main opposition parties, have claimed that the Argentine government's response to the allegations and its criticism of the US are a "smokescreen" and described US involvement in the affair as merely symptomatic, alleging that corruption in the Argentinean and Venezuelan governments are the root cause of the scandal.
In March 2008, Fernández de Kirchner's government introduced a new sliding-scale taxation system for agricultural exports, effectively raising levies on soybean exports to 44 percent from 35 percent at the time of the announcement. This led to a nationwide lockout by farming associations, starting on March 12, with the aim of forcing the government to back down on the new taxation scheme. As a result, on March 25 thousands of demonstrators banging pots massed around the obelisk in the capital and in front of the presidential palace. Protests extended across the country. In Buenos Aires, hours after Fernández attacked farmers for their two-week strike and "abundant" profits, there were violent incidents between government supporters and protesters, and the police was accused of wilfully turning a blind eye. The media was harshly critical of Luis D'Elia, a former government official who took part in the incidents, with some media sources and members of the opposition (notably Elisa Carrió), claiming that he and his followers had violently suppressed the protest pursuant to the government's orders.
On April 1 the government organised a rally during which thousands of pro-government protesters marched through downtown Buenos Aires in support of the Argentine leadership. Fernández recently called on farmers to act "as part of a country, not as owners of a country".
A poll-result published in the Spanish newspaper El Pais (Spain's most widely-circulated daily newspaper) revealed that, following the protests, Fernández's approval rating had "plummeted" from 57.8% at the start of her administration to an unprecedented 23%.. A recent poll of Management & Fit, confirms the growing unpopularity of the Fernández administration. This poll was taken between April 27 and April 30, and shows Fernández approval rating at 23.6%, and her disapproval rating at 61.8%.
Fernandez's inflexible handling of the protests and reluctance to review the policies that sparked the protest have led some people to claim that it is her husband, predecessor in office and current leader of the Justicialist Party, Nestor Kirchner, who pulls the strings behind her administration. The British weekly The Economist has described this situation as Mrs Fernandez "paying the price for her husbands pig headedness". The same article also openly accuses Fernandez's government of resorting to so called "rent-a-mobs" to intimidate peaceful protesters critical of her administration.
Argentina's military is to take on protecting the environment and interests in Antarctica under a shake-up being proposed by President Cristina Kirchner. The reform aims to assert Argentina's sovereignty over its natural resources, but could also create friction as competition intensifies between countries looking to establish claims on the South Pole, where large oil deposits may lie. "This world is no longer a world divided by ideology. It is more complex, and it is necessary to defend our natural resources, our Antarctica, our water," Kirchner told defense force representatives on Monday. She noted that Brazil is also looking at using its soldiers to protect the Amazon after some foreign observers suggested that international organizations take over conservation of the rainforest, crucial to absorbing carbon dioxide.
Argentina's focus on Antarctica could escalate rivalry between countries hoping to lay claim to parts of the southernmost continent. Although Antarctica is protected under a 1959 treaty allowing only scientific research, moves are being made by Argentina, Australia, Britain, China, France, New Zealand and Norway to boost their presence there and lay claim to territorial waters that could yield oil. The UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf is considering requests by some of those countries to extend ownership around territories close to Antarctica based on continental shelf surveys.
Britain, for instance, is seeking to increase its claim on waters around the Falkland Islands off Argentina, over which the two countries went to war in 1982. Up to 60 billion barrels of oil are estimated to possibly lie under the seabed there. The rivalry in the region is especially keen right now, given that a UN convention defining territorial sea limits has a deadline of May 2009 for countries to argue for expansion.
Relationship with the media
In April 2008 Fernández received a stern public rebuke from ADEPA (the Argentine Journalists Association) for having publicly accused the popular cartoonist Hermenegildo Sábat of behaving like a "quasi mafioso". In addition, a government proposal to create a watchdog to monitor racism and discrimination was received with suspicion by ADEPA, who called it a "covert attempt to control the media". In 2006, Nestor Kirchner, Fernández's husband and predecessor in office, received a similar rebuke for publicly and falsely denouncing that Joaquín Morales Solá, a journalist critical of the government, had produced an inflammatory text published in 1978.
Rematch Argentina Falklands
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