ENTRE RIOS PROVINCE, ARGENTINA -- Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, First Lady of Argentina, was elected president of the country on Sunday, Oct. 28, and will take office on Dec. 10, 2007. With more than 44 % of the vote, Fernandez de Kirchner is the first woman to be elected in the history of Argentine presidential elections.
It’s not a secret that Argentina suffered a very serious political and economic crisis in 2001. By December of that year, the effect of neo-liberalism on Argentine politics involved a financial crisis.
Unemployment and poverty were rising. The country had to face up to an increasing devaluation of money caused by inflation. Public sector salaries were not paid; the country's foreign debt was growing while payments were suspended. According to INDEC (National Institute of Statistics and Census), as of October 2001, more than 35 % of the population of Buenos Aires was below the poverty line.* In 2002 that number increased to 50 %, and the rate of unemployment was about 22%.
Nestor Kirchner, now president of Argentina, took office in May 2003. In that year, the country showed a reduced unemployment rate; and the poverty line decreased from 54.3% (Oct. 2002) to 51.7% (May 2003).
Four years passed. In July 2007 Kirchner decided not to run for the presidency again: His wife announced her candidacy. Many people thought that it was a strategy.
Another election took place on Oct. 28, 2007. That event had been a hot topic of conversation for months. The atmosphere was tense, and the opposition leaders have questioned the validity of the elections. They accused Nestor Kirchner’s government of probable fraud to guarantee a victory in the first round for the official candidate, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. Under Argentina's election law, a second round (ballotage) may be held between the two candidates who receive the highest percentage of votes in the first round. When a candidate obtains a majority of 45 % of the votes or 40% with a 10% lead over the closest rival, there is no ballotage. A 21 percent lead over her closest rival, Elisa Carrio, allowed Fernandez de Kirchner to win in the first round of voting.
More than 27 million Argentines voted on Oct. 28 and had to decide among 14 candidates for president.
Polls indicated three favorites among the candidates:
· Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. Lawyer. 54 years old. Leader of the Front for Victory. She proposed, if elected, to go on with the economic model of industrialism, economic accumulation -- based on Argentina's internal market growth, exports and social inclusion. This accumulation must favor people and fight against poverty. She also proposed to continue with the State benefit policy. (The government subsidizes companies in order to benefit the consumers and control the cost of services.) The benefits are given to private- and state-owned companies to alleviate the electrical, agricultural and transport crisis and make it possible for companies to satisfy the increasing consumer demand for their services. She assured people that she will control prices in an attempt to slow down inflation.
Cristina has promised to fight against poverty and social injustice and to reinforce democratic institutions like the Congress and the Court System.
· Elisa Carrio (22.9% of votes). 50 years old. Lawyer. Leader of the Civic Coalition. She denounces corruption and looks for transparency. She proposed to restructure the INDEC (The present government was accused of manipulating statistics). She wanted to change the State benefits system so that every mother would receive money according to the number of children. Her aim was to fight against drug consumption. She promised to guarantee the independence of judges.
· Roberto Lavagna (16.8% of votes). 65 years old. Ex-Minister of Economy under the Kirchner government between 2003 and 2005. He said he planned to fight against crime, poverty and unemployment. He promised to dismantle the Kirchner government's price controls that aggravate inflation instead of solving the problem.**
It is perfectly understandable that people chose the First Lady as President of the Republic. People expect her to go on with the policies of Nestor Kirchner, improving the country's productivity and economic growth as her husband did when Argentina went into the worst recession and economic crisis of its history in 2001.
In fact, in the last few years, Argentina's economy has improved, but not for all social sectors. In September 2007, Argentina's economy expanded 9.2% compared to the same period last year.*** However, basic consumer goods registered an increase of prices. People all over the country accuse INDEC of being manipulated by pro-government forces trying not to blemish the First Lady's presidential campaign.
Employees that resigned from INDEC have confirmed actual inflation that is not being shown by the Institute of Statistics.
Under President Nestor Kirchner, Argentina has undergone development but has not overcome poverty, public crimes and violence. Citizens are worried about insecurity. They filled the streets of many cities in the country, demanding more effective governmental action to stop government corruption, inequality, violence and crimes.
More than 40% of Argentines have chosen the same kind of government to handle the destiny of our country for the next four years. The people will have to face increasing inflation and insecurity.
Recently I watched our new president, Cristina, on a TV program on Argentina's Channel 7. Convinced of what she was saying, she argued that there was an increase in consumption and a decrease in the poverty index.
I do agree about the development of Argentina in comparison with a few years ago, but I think that when Mrs. Kirchner talked about consumption she was referring to consumers spending hours shopping in commercial centers in middle- or upper-class neighborhoods.
You only have to travel across the country to see misery -- millions of families under the poverty line, with no guarantee of health or education benefits. It seems to be a country of privileges and inclusion for some and exclusion for others. While poor people don’t have insurance, food or a safe place to go, upper-class Argentines build their ostentatious castles in private neighborhoods.
Goods consumption has increased but is paid in monthly installments. Salaries have increased, but inflation is reflected in salary adjustments.
It’s time to learn more about ourselves before we vote again. Certainly, there is something to do in all this. Make efforts and do not be afraid of changes. Think rationally and realize that voting is a way to exercise politics, but not the only one. Demand, participate in public issues, discuss. Democracy is a political and social construction, and we are the essential part of it.
* Click here for source of these statistics.
** Information taken from Reuters.com (Argentina)
*** Click here for these statistics.
Editor's note: Keweenaw Now guest author Evelyn Sigot Pavón is a student at the National University of Entre Ríos (Universidad Nacional de Entre Ríos) in Argentina. She is completing a degree in Social Communications with a specialization in Cultural Process. Evelyn is also working on ecology issues with M'Biguá, a non-governmental organization in Paraná, in Entre Ríos Province, Argentina. See her previous article for Keweenaw Now, "Pulp mill built by Finnish company stirs controversy on Uruguay-Argentina border," posted on this blog Oct. 8, 2007.