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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 20-05-2023 07:00

The queen bee is leaving the hive

Unfortunately for Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and for the movement that sprung up around her, almost all her acolytes are minor figures, as are most of her allies.

For understandable reasons, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner despises the many people who have made a career out of hanging on to her apron strings and dutifully applauding everything she says. She knows that most of them are useless. She made this clear in her recent long open letter in which, among many other things, she said she would not stand for election this time round because she has no desire to be anyone’s political “pet,” by which she presumably means letting another non-entity like Alberto Fernández make use of what power she retains.

Unfortunately for her, and for the movement that sprung up around her, almost all her acolytes are minor figures, as are most of her allies. The only real exception to this depressing rule is Sergio Massa, an extremely ambitious individual who, as she knows perfectly well, would have no qualms at all about sacrificing her if it suited his purposes. As far as Massa is concerned, she is just another obstacle standing in his path which, sooner or later, he would have had to remove by whatever means struck him as necessary.

For months now, Kirchnerites of all descriptions have been begging Cristina to run for office, not only because many think she is wonderful but also because they believe that having her name at the top of an electoral list, any list, would be enough to guarantee them a fair number of votes. They fear that, without her up there, their faction’s candidates could get wiped out in the forthcoming elections. 

They may be exaggerating. Recent opinion polls suggest that, despite everything that has happened since Cristina and her groupies returned to power, large numbers of people are still reluctant to give her brand of old-fashioned populism the boot, so some Kirchnerites in places like La Matanza can expect to continue to cling to the posts they currently occupy. It is even feasible – though highly unlikely – that, in the confusion now reigning, which has been compounded by the irruption of the punkish ultra-liberal Javier Milei who appeals to the many who would very much like to see the prevailing order go up in smoke, that a Peronist could reach the presidency. The lacklustre performance of an opposition which seems obsessed with its own internal squabbles makes this less improbable than it seemed a few months ago.

All this has encouraged Massa, who can blame his inability to put the economy to rights on the obstreperous behaviour of his government colleagues, beginning with the meddlesome vice-president, to delay throwing in the towel. In other circumstances, his notorious slipperiness would play against him, but in the middle of the bewildering and apparently endless crisis which is battering the country it could turn out to be an asset; unlike Cristina and her friends, he would certainly not let himself be misled by outlandish political and economic theories peddled by a bunch of self-styled intellectuals on the government payroll. 

For 20 years now, Cristina has been at the centre of Argentina’s political system and has watched it revolve around her, while taking advantage of her access to public money to add bits of it to her own very personal movement. At first she was overshadowed by her husband Néstor Kirchner who, according to those who knew the couple in the early days down in Santa Cruz, enjoyed making fun of her trenchant but, to his mind, decidedly nutty views about economic matters. After his untimely death, she emerged to become the country’s most influential politician by a considerable margin.

Explaining just how this came about will surely keep historians, sociologists and psychologists busy for a long time to come. Narcissism apart, Cristina never seemed to possess many leadership qualities and, despite having once told a room full of students of philosophy that she had come to prefer the works of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel to those of Martin Heidegger, she was not widely regarded as a deep thinker. Was she endowed with what Max Weber called “charisma,” or something like that? For some she evidently was, but much of the population remained unmoved by whatever it was that allowed her to float above the rest of the local political fauna and, like Donald Trump in the United States, get away with doing things that would have put an abrupt end to the political prospects of anyone else.

Though Cristina’s influence among what is left of the faithful may linger for a while, by deserting her followers in their hour of need she has strengthened the many who are impatiently looking forward to the day when she is put in handcuffs and gets marched off to a penitentiary before, if she is lucky, being permitted to spend the rest of what could be a long sentence for corruption on an epic scale in one of her Patagonian properties, if she is allowed to keep them. To prevent any of this from happening, Cristina would need to increase the political power that for years enabled her to intimidate parts of the Judiciary, but her chances of doing so are now even smaller than they were barely a week ago when she could still hope that her loyalists would stage mass demonstrations that would be threatening enough to cow the Supreme Court justices into leaving her alone to enjoy a comfortable retirement.

For her own reasons, Cristina insists that she will not run for any electoral office because she is banned from doing so or, at any rate, would be, if it looked as though she could succeed. Somewhat ominously, she also makes out that Argentina is no longer a genuine democracy, a deficiency she attributes to the wicked machinations of an opposition “task force,” “concentrated economic groups” and the “judicial party.” In some people’s minds, this unhappy state of affairs would fully justify a violent rebellion against any future government she and those who surround her disapprove of.

This was something hard-core Kirchnerites were openly planning to do should a Juntos por el Cambio candidate move into the Pink House after winning the elections and then set about subjecting the economy to a severe bout of belt-tightening. Like authoritarians the world over, they think that the only legitimate political systems are those in which they can call all the shots, but it would seem that Cristina has lost interest in playing the demanding role they had reserved for her. Much as they dislike the idea, it looks as though they will simply have to make do without her.

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James Neilson

James Neilson

Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1979-1986).

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