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Cristina Kirchner: end of an era in Argentina

Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. ©Reuters/Ivan Alvarado Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. ©Reuters/Ivan Alvarado

Cristina Kirchner, the fiery, unbending president who has dominated Argentine politics for 12 years along with her late husband Nestor, leaves a divisive legacy as the country elects her successor Sunday, AFP reports.

To her working-class base, Kirchner and her husband are the saviors who salvaged the economy after Argentina's 2001 crisis and stood up for the little guy against bullies both foreign and domestic.

To her generally better-off detractors, she is an overbearing interventionist who steered the economy back toward ruin and embarrassed the country with her acrimonious attacks on her favorite foes -- from old Falklands War enemy Britain, to the big media conglomerates whose empires she has sought to dismantle, to the "vulture" fund capitalists suing Argentina over defaulted debt.

"She's an arrogant liar. I can't wait for her to go. I hate her, plain and simple," said Monica Gurfinkel, a 48-year-old medical secretary who called Kirchner's government the worst she's ever seen.

"The greatest thing that ever happened to Argentina is Cristina," said Juan Bertone, a 32-year-old bank employee from the opposite side of the Kirchner divide.

"She's a courageous woman who improved our standard of living with the 'paritarias' (mandatory pay raises to keep pace with inflation) and defended the nation's interests against the 'vulture' funds. You have to love her."

Kirchner, 62, took office in 2007, vowing to continue the work started by her husband and predecessor.

Nestor Kirchner (2003-2007) had inherited an economy in shambles after what was then the largest sovereign debt default in history. But he turned it around thanks to booming demand for Argentine agricultural exports and his tough negotiations to restructure most of the country's $100 billion in privately held debt.

He and his wife were widely expected to continue their term-for-term tango, But he died of a heart attack in 2010.

Cristina Kirchner, a former senator and experienced politician in her own right, defended his legacy all the more combatively and won re-election in 2011.

Term limits now bar her from running again. But she leaves office with an approval rating of more than 50 percent.

She has vowed her chosen successor, Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli, will continue the work of "kirchnerism," as her and her husband's movement has become known.

Looking Scioli in the eyes with her steely gaze at a rally 10 days out from the polls, she called on him to "deepen this process, as great countries do."

  Less Washington, more Havana 

On the international stage, Kirchner has broken with Argentina's 1990s image as a close pal of Europe and the United States.

Whereas former president Carlos Menem once advocated "carnal relations" with the US, Kirchner has preferred the company of Russian, Chinese, Iranian, Venezuelan and Cuban leaders.

She has defiantly refused to settle with American hedge funds that declined to sign up for Nestor's debt restructuring plan, even when the resulting legal battle pushed Argentina back into default last year.

Born in La Plata, near Buenos Aires, Kirchner met Nestor as a 20-year-old student and married him six months later.

They got their start in national politics in Santa Cruz province, where Nestor became governor and Cristina a senator.

A practicing Catholic, Kirchner has sought to cultivate a close relationship with Pope Francis -- though they were less chummy when he was Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio, who called on the Kirchners to do more to fight poverty.

Critics accuse her of authoritarianism, corruption and, most damagingly, involvement in the mysterious death last January of Alberto Nisman, a prosecutor who had accused her of obstructing his investigation into a 1994 bombing at a Buenos Aires Jewish center.

None of the allegations have been proven, and Nisman's were repeatedly rejected by the courts.

Meanwhile, some supporters already tout her as a candidate for 2019.

Asked what Kirchner would do after standing down on December 10, her cabinet chief, Anibal Fernandez, said she "won't just stay home picking roses or taking care of the grandkids."

Kirchner has two children, Maximo, a 38-year-old congressional candidate, and Florencia, 24.


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