Opinion split on Argentina's directions

Nov. 3, 2010 at 5:12 PM
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BUENOS AIRES, Nov. 3 (UPI) -- Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is forging ahead without the shadow of late husband and former President Nestor Kirchner as expert opinion remains split on the country's future direction.

International Monetary Fund analysts said the death of Kirchner removes an important behind-the-scenes adviser and decision-maker and introduces uncertainty to Argentina's economic and political outlook. Kirchner died Oct. 27 from complications of heart disease. He was president from May 2003 to December 2007.

Other critics said Kirchner's death would give Fernandez the opportunity to be more presidential in her actions and pronouncements rather than be seen as the weaker half of what came to be known as Argentina's presidential couple -- self-assured, unmindful of critics and often controversial.

The World Bank's chief economist for Latin America, Augusto de la Torre, said he didn't know why Argentine business and economy reacted positively after Kirchner died. But, he added, financial markets often reacted quickly on scant information.

He cited "great uncertainty" in Argentina's political direction following Kirchner's death. Argentine bonds and stocks rallied soon after Kirchner's death in response to speculation his departure would make it hard for Fernandez to get re-elected in next year's polls and make way for the opposition that, in turn, could reverse current policies.

Kirchner had indicated he would stand for president in 2011, part of a strategy by the couple to alternate power sharing.

Both Fernandez and Kirchner were faulted by critics for not doing enough to remove causes of public discontent, stimulate the Argentine economy or encourage and reassure foreign investors.

Fernandez was voted in to succeed her husband in October 2007 but Kirchner exercised power behind the scenes, controlling political groups, often with controversial results. He returned to international prominence when the newly formed Union of South American Nations named him its first secretary-general in May this year.

Recent IMF analysis of Argentine economy said the Fernandez administration needs to implement reforms to promote sustained growth and encourage international investment.

Argentine policies toward its agriculture sector, a frequent trigger for disputes between the government and farmers' groups, also need radical reforms to remove sources of discontent, said an IMF report in October.

Argentina's economy has rebounded faster than the economies of several of its neighbors but the recovery is built largely on record soy crops and higher domestic consumption.

The IMF report estimated Argentine economy could expand 7.5 percent this year, matching the pace of growth in Brazil.

However, Fernandez among her latest comments gave no indication she contemplated reforms that would move the country away from the direction adopted under Kirchner's influence.

Instead, Fernandez indicated, the economic model adopted when Kirchner was president and continued through her presidency was here to stay.

All the intellectual and economic resources of the state are set toward deepening this industrial development model with a strong domestic market aims of boosting exports, said Fernandez.

She spoke to supporters at a rally Tuesday at the Renault automaker plant in the central province of Cordoba. It was her first major public appearance since Kirchner's funeral.

She promised to boost domestic manufacturing and improve earnings to help toward raising the standards of living in Argentina.

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