Cristina Kirchner’s Choice

BUENOS AIRES – Bolstered by Argentina’s economic stability and widespread sympathy for her widowhood, President Cristina Kirchner’s easy re-election has confirmed that she can, indeed, govern a complex, contentious, and at times self-destructive society without her husband, Néstor. His presidency paved the way for hers, but she is a leader in her own right. The question now is what kind of leader she will want to be in today’s more difficult domestic and international context.

The Kirchners lifted Argentina out of the deep crisis of 2001, presiding over GDP growth rates similar to those of China. They partly restored Argentina’s social and political fabric, which had been weakened by the brutal adjustments made during that crisis, which triggered a president’s fall from power, default on the country’s debts, and a dramatic decline in living standards that left more than half of the population below the poverty line. Their management of the economy, which included a deluge of subsidies, reduced unemployment and poverty.

The opposition underestimates the Kirchners’ achievements, arguing that the international context, particularly high commodity prices – and thus strong export revenues – bailed them out. While that is true, high export prices alone were no guarantee for success.

But that tailwind may have been squandered, because the Kirchners have yet to make the structural changes – in industry, in the country’s energy policy, in education, and elsewhere – needed to free Argentina from extreme dependence on commodity prices.