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American Diplomacy
Commentary and Analysis

July 2003

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The author, a former secretary of foreign commerce in Argentina, is currently vice president of the Argentine Chamber of Exporters. He serves as a member of this journal’s editorial review panel.—Ed.

Argentina: The New Kirchner Government

“[He] is awakening hopes….”

Néstor Kirchner took office as the new president of Argentina on May 25. In some circles, both domestic and foreign, his accession to power raised concerns. These concerns arise from the fact that he is an almost unknown political figure, and that he was the hand-picked candidate of ex-President Eduardo Duhalde, who during his brief mandate changed Argentina’s position on Cuba's violation of human rights from the usual condemnation to abstention. Duhalde also criticized the U.S. intervention in Iraq, and he was using import substitution as the basis of recovery from the serious economic crisis the country is suffering.

After approximately a month in power, some aspects have become clear, such as that Kirchner is as far from Fidel Castro’s communism as he is from Chávez' populism. Among other leftist presidents in Latin America, he is closer to Lula in Brazil than to Lagos in Chile. This is due not so much to ideological considerations as to the fact that our Argentine institutional and economic situation is closer to that of Brazil. Regarding our relations with the United States, there are also similarities to Brazil’s U. S. relations.

The first steps of the Kirchner government have aimed at consolidating his power in the government. This is necessary, since his electoral mandate is more a rejection of Menem than a show of support for Kirchner and his policies. As yet, he is not proposing a solution to the difficult and urgent problems of the Argentine economy -- ending the default on the external debt, reconstruction of the banks, and changes in the tax system. Instead, he has emphasized political matters such as reform of the judicial system and fighting corruption.

It is too early yet judge the validity of the initial direction he has taken, but if it succeeds in restoring confidence in the laws and institutions, it will have established the basis for Argentines to keep their savings in the country and for the return of direct investment, both from foreign and domestic sources. With less corruption, better use will be made of public resources and there will be a decline in the widespread public skepticism about the functioning of democracy and political parties. There is not too much concern about preferring import substitution over stimulating exports as this will be short-lived. The necessity of a change of course will soon become evident.

In conclusion, even though a month is a short time to judge the government of President Kirchner, he is awakening hopes—something very necessary in Argentina these days.


Note: Translated from the Spanish by J. Edgar Williams.

The author is a former secretary of Foreign Commerce and vice president of the Central Bank of Argentina. He has published articles previously in this journal.

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