Argentina's new cabinet has ties to old administration

John O'Neill johnfergaloneill at
Mon May 19 10:46:50 MDT 2003

Argentina's new cabinet has ties to old administration
By Michael McCaughan

  ARGENTINA: Mr Néstor Kirchner, the unknown provincial governor who became
Argentina's president-elect this week, has named a conservative cabinet with
close ties to the current administration. Mr Kirchner will take office next
week with the lowest popular vote of any president in the country's history.

In his first public statement as incoming leader, Mr Kirchner yesterday
announced his priority was "to combat poverty, exclusion and
disillusionment", referring to the widespread distrust of the political
class. "No one can invent a new country in two days," he said, pleading for
the people's patience.

Former president Mr Carlos Menem narrowly won the first-round ballot last
month with 24 per cent of the vote, just ahead of Mr Kirchner's 22 per cent
in a field of 18 candidates.

But Mr Kirchner secured the presidency this week when Mr Menem withdrew from
a run-off election because polls showed Mr Kirchner would have won a 70 per
cent majority vote, an expression of disgust with Mr Menem rather than an
endorsement of his rival's candidacy.

"Mr Kirchner will not so much assume the throne as get strapped to the
electric chair," said one gloomy editorial in La Nacion newspaper.

Mr Kirchner yesterday claimed that Mr Menem sent various representatives "to
negotiate his impunity" over the past week. The former president still faces
charges of corruption and arms trafficking from his previous time in office,
between 1989 and 1999.

President-elect Kirchner is due to announce further social welfare schemes
for the poor and an 80 per cent increase in the minimum salary, which stands
at just 200 pesos a month, about ?100.

A public works "megaplan", financed by the World Bank, will provide incomes
to thousands of unemployed workers but the release of new funds will be
conditional on the acceptance of stringent cutbacks in public spending.

Mr Kirchner will first announce welfare measures before applying the
International Monetary Fund (IMF) recipe, which will involve a price hike in
basic services and compensation for banks forced to repay dollar loans at
the full rate despite a 66 per cent devaluation in the local currency. The
IMF will also oblige Argentina to reschedule crippling external debt
repayments suspended in the wake of the economic collapse in December 2001.

Mr Kirchner won the qualified support of defeated rival Ms Elisa Carrio who
advised her Alternative for a Republic of Equals supporters to vote for
"anyone but Menem" in the second round run-off. However, Ms Carrio yesterday
criticised Mr Kirchner's ministerial choices, saying there was "nothing new
in the cabinet".

Mr Kirchner (53), a lawyer and former governor of the oil-wealthy Santa Cruz
province, is regarded as a social democrat within the centre-right Peronist
party. The Peronists split three ways over an internal dispute on which
candidate would represent the party. Mr Kirchner is regarded as the "lesser
evil" because of Mr Menem's tainted 10-year presidency, which saw the
introduction of free-market policies now blamed for the economic crisis, the
worst in Argentina's 200-year history. During his term, Mr Menem packed the
Supreme Court with allies and amended the constitution so he could be
re-elected, moves that have fuelled bitter resentment among many

Mr Kirchner promised that he would not be "held captive" by powerful
business groups but few doubt the pragmatic new ruler will make a deal with
the nation's power brokers to insure his political survival. Argentina's
economy is on the ropes, social unrest has turned increasingly aggressive
and 60 per cent of people now survive beneath the poverty line - a powder
keg ready to explode at any minute.

Mr Menem is a dangerous enemy given his influence in the armed forces, where
he pardoned soldiers charged with crimes against humanity committed during
military rule between 1976 and 1983.

© The Irish Times

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