Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is the president of Argentina. A lawyer by training, she had a political career as a national senator while her husband, Nestor Kirchner, served as president from 2003 to 2007. When he decided not to seek reelection, Cristina, as she is called by her supporters, ran and won. She is serving her second term and can only seek a third term if the Constitution is changed, which is what her supporters are trying to do.
I have yet to meet anyone who is indifferent to Cristina. People either really like her and think she has done a lot to help the poor and working class or they think that she is driving the country into the ground as fast as she can fill her foreign bank accounts and set things up to benefit her family and friends.
On the whole, Argentines seem convinced that active participation in corruption is the natural baseline for politicians at all levels and that things just get worse from there.
An Argentine joke:
President Barack Obama, Prime Minister David Cameron, and President Cristina Kirchner are on a junket visiting significant public works projects in their respective countries. In the United States, they visit a hydroelectric dam. Cameron and Kirchner ooh and ahh. President Obama pats his pocket and says, “Five percent. In here.” Next they visit the United Kingdom, where they tour a wind farm. Obama and Kirchner sigh with envy, and Cameron pats his pocket and says, “Ten percent. In here.” Lastly, they travel to Argentina, where Kirchner is eager to show the two men a bridge critical to expanding the national transportation network. She points, and Obama and Cameron squint. “I can’t see it,” says Cameron. Kirchner pats her pocket and says, “One hundred percent. In here.”
In Bariloche and the province of Río Negro, things have been interesting since December 20, when looting took place on the outskirts of Bariloche. The mayor has taken a lot of heat because of the inadequate police response (especially since there was advance warning?), and la Presidenta was not pleased to have to send in 400 gendarmes to discourage subsequent looting and doubly displeased when there was copycat looting in other cities.
Earlier this week five individuals associated with a workers cooperative, including the leader—known as “The Mohican”—were arrested for suspicion of organizing the looting in Bariloche. In Argentina, there is a national program under which the jobless can work to earn a small amount of money, and, for reasons I don’t quite understand, worker cooperatives have sprung up around it. The cooperative in Bariloche now implicated in the looting is called First of May, a date known internationally as Labor Day.
People were dissatisfied with the mayor before the looting, but after the looting he started to face pressure to resign from within his own political party, which is the same party as the governor of the province, an influential senator from the province, and la Presidenta. There was reportedly a secret meeting—which the mayor denies—during which he was asked to resign and refused. So now the provincial governor and the senator (and we can assume La Presidenta) are pushing for a referendum to recall the mayor from office.
As part of the political jousting, the governor has questioned a reported payment in December of approximately $19,000 by the city to the First of May workers cooperative for “building sidewalks.” If I understand it correctly, the city says that a payment of $19,000 to First of May was made in error and that a return of funds was requested. (This is the root of what was originally reported as motivation for the looting, anger over a promise of money that was rescinded?) In turn, the mayor says that a payment of $8,000 was made by the province to First of May after the looting, and that this was payment by the governor for the cooperation of First of May in carrying out the looting.
What’s the truth? An Argentine would probably say that it’s typical political theater and that they’re all on the take anyway.