Néstor Kirchner, RIP

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Sad news from South America this morning:

The president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, lamented the death of the former president of Argentina, Néstor Kirchner, with a message of solidarity for his Argentine counterpart, Cristina Fernández.

“Oh, my dear Cristina…how sad! What a great loss Argentina and our [Latin] America have suffered! Long live Kirchner, forever!” wrote the president on his Twitter page.

Kirchner died at age 60, of a heart attack, on Wednesday morning at home.

Translation mine.

It seems appropriate that Chavecito would choose to express himself the way he did; he and the now widowed Cristina have been chatting back and forth since they both got on the tweeter, and it’s lovely to follow their conversation. It’s also emblematic of just how far things have come in Latin America since 2003, when Néstor Kirchner was elected in the teeth of a total economic collapse in Argentina.

There’s a real solidarity in South America now that wasn’t there before. The repeated economic crises of the last 30-odd years have served as a forcing ground for progressive Latin American leaders. Venezuela’s collapse in 1989 shaped the destiny of Chávez, who staged a failed uprising in 1992 that won him popularity enough to become an elected leader; Argentina’s similar collapse, in 2001, pulled Kirchner out of the obscurity of the Patagonian state of Santa Cruz, where he had been governor, and catapulted him onto the national stage. By the time Kirchner was elected, Chávez had already been president of Venezuela for four years, and had survived a coup attempt. He was also in an excellent position to offer economic help to his Argentine friend, with the price of oil on the rise and Venezuela’s coffers filling. Kirchner was happy to accept the help, as he did the unthinkable: he put the IMF, his country’s biggest oppressor, over his knee and dealt it a sound spanking. Argentina grew again, and rapidly, with Kirchner at the helm; he became its most popular president since his party’s founder, Juan Perón.

Néstor Kirchner’s sudden death was somewhat foreseeable; he’d been in treatment for heart trouble earlier this year, and had surgery to open a blocked coronary artery. Between the famously beef-heavy Argentine eating habit and the high stress of his leadership role both openly and behind the scenes, life took its toll on Kirchner in a manner any cardiologist could have predicted. Sadly, the medical measures taken earlier didn’t do enough for him. The Justicialista (or Peronist) party will now have to choose another candidate for next year’s presidential elections, since Kirchner–widely favored for the role–is no longer with them.

Kirchner was never what you’d call handsome, and he wasn’t as radical as many (myself included) would have liked, but I always found him rather endearing. He took on what was, at the time, the least enviable role in Argentina, indeed all of Latin America. And he confounded all the skeptics. Not only did he last out his term (which about a half-dozen of his immediate predecessors did not), he also managed to get the IMF’s boot off his country’s neck, with help from Chavecito and the ALBA (the idea for which was actually conceived at Mar del Plata in 2005, when Chavecito attended a Kirchner-hosted summit, to the delight of a huge crowd of happy Argentines).

Néstor Kirchner was a lucky man to have such friends, and Argentina was lucky to have him when it needed someone–not a traditional charismatic caudillo like the evil enchanters of the Junta, but a democratic leader of real intelligence–to turn a god-awful situation around and throw the Washington Consensus out for good.

In fact, he was still at it as late as this month, kicking the IMF’s ass almost literally to his dying day. Solidarity and sovereignty are the legacies he leaves behind. Argentina is better today than it was ten years ago, thanks in no small part to him.

He will be missed!

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5 Responses to Néstor Kirchner, RIP

  1. Manaat says:

    This is too sad. Nestor Kirchner, RIP, QEPD.

  2. Nolan says:

    Nestor Kirchner was a flawed leader, like most South American heads of state he never truly fit into the Left-Right divide as neatly as the lazy gringo media would have liked. Like all Peronists his ideology was often clouded by the political machinery he relied upon. But when you consider Argentina’s presidential track records I think Nestor’s legacy is overall a positive one.
    His rejection of the IMF and contributions toward ending the immunity of members of the military junta were huge for Argentina.
    His death also complicates an already ridiculous upcoming presidential election. The left wing Peronists of the Kirchner faction were split from Duhalde’s right wing Peronists who will most likely align themselves with that scumbag Macri and PRO in the next election, and I don’t think the K faction has anyone that comes even close to Kirchner’s unique sort of Charisma.
    Either way, it’s a sad day for the Argentine Republic. QEPD

  3. Anthony says:

    I’m trying to write my thoughts on Nestor Kirchner after his death, but I’ll let this picture speak for itself…
    http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4087/5040416403_bd370ac5ea_o.jpg
    …of Nestor bringing together the presidents of South America after the coup attempt against Rafael Correa, leading a unilateral condemnation. If it weren’t for Nestor’s efforts, Ecuador could’ve been a dictatorship right now – and I am grateful that Nestor averted a potential authoritarian disaster for South America.
    QEPD, Mr. Kirchner.

  4. Anthony says:

    Quick addendum: Colombia, Venezuela, Uruguay, Bolivia, Paraguay, Ecuador, and Brazil have alongside Argentina declared three days of national mourning following Nestor’s death. Goes to show the deep respect that he enjoyed throughout the continent…

  5. Slave Revolt says:

    An untimely death of a remarkable man. Indeed, he got Argentina on solid footing at a crucial juncture. Given the political and economic shoals he has to negotiate, his presidency was impressive.
    He lives through Argentina today.

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