Press Memorandum: Argentina's President Kirchner Continues His Daring Departure from Past Practices

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Council On Hemispheric Affairs

Monitoring Political, Economic and Diplomatic Issues Affecting the Western Hemisphere

Memorandum to the Press 04.75


Word Count: 2425

Wednesday, 20 October 2004

To the Media: Advisory Regarding COHA Director Larry Birns

COHA’s director, Larry Birns, will be visiting South America from October 25 to November 8. He will be in Bogotá from October 25-27 and can be reached there at 57-3-315-897-3839. He will then travel to Buenos Aires from October 28-November 3 and can be reached there at 54-911-4410-9080. From November 4-8, Dr. Birns will be in Rio de Janeiro and can be contacted at 55-21-3204-2929. Birns can also be reached throughout his trip on his closely-monitored travel email account, larry_birns at COHA’s staff will also be available to assist those interested in contacting him and can be reached at COHA’s Washington office at (202) 223-4975 or coha at



Argentina’s President Kirchner Continues His Daring Departure from Past Practices

• For better or for worse, Argentine President Nestor Kirchner has taken an almost un-Argentine approach to dealing with the social unrest caused by the nation’s piqueteros as well as in IMF discussions regarding the country’s defaulted debt.

• Kirchner’s recent efforts to crackdown on extremist piquetero organizations of hardcore unemployed workers in response to growing middle class demands for a restoration of civil order have begun to stray from the non-aggressive tactics used by Presidents Carlos Saul Menem and Fernando de la Rua.

• By standing firm against IMF and bondholder demands for payment of a larger percentage of their foreign debt to be made, the Kirchner administration has shown that Argentina is not to be trifled with, but will this last?

• Kirchner’s policies appear to be strengthening
Argentina’s economy as foreign lenders realize that the social order is recovering, and foreign investors again seem bullish regarding the country’s near-term prospects.

On August 14, Argentina’s Minister of the Interior Aníbal Fernandez commented on the piqueteros (unemployed workers) who continue to confront the state by means of roadblocks and the seizure of buildings, saying they should “quit fooling around and get to work.” Two days later Fernandez incited more controversy when he implied that what this group really fears is not so much police clubs but physical labor. Thus began President Nestor Kirchner’s new round of more aggressive crackdowns on this unique form of social mobilization. Despite the embarrassment Fernandez’ comments may potentially bring to Kirchner’s left-of-center Peronist Party (PP), which historically has been mainly identified with the country’s blue collar trade union movement, they do reveal an important component of the administration’s thinking.

Kirchner, who ascended remarkably to the presidency in May 2003, has strayed from the usual practices of his predecessors who strived to squash piquetero-like movements in the past through repressive measures. He has likewise strayed from past policies through the bold manner in which he insisted that there be a 75 percent depreciation of the country’s private debt. Carlos Saul Menem (1989-1999) and Fernando de la Rua (1999-2001) adopted an official line that prioritized, in the words of the former’s foreign minister,
Argentina’s “carnal relations” with the United States and, by extension, Washington’s multinational and financial interests. In contrast, Kirchner has adopted an economic revitalization program with heavy populist undertones and has taken a strong negotiating stance with foreign and domestic creditors that have assuaged the fears of many Argentine citizens who previously felt that their country had fallen under the influence of self-serving international forces. As president, this former and relatively anonymous governor of the sparsely populated province of Santa Cruz has broken rank with his recent predecessors and, regardless of the solidity of his actions, has forged ahead on a path that offers great opportunities for Argentina, but one fraught with risks and obstacles.


This analysis was prepared by Gabriel Espinosa Gonzalez and Matthew B. Riley, COHA Research Associates.

October 20, 2004

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