Political drama may have once served Argentine President Kirchner, but now national debt, corruption and the suspicious death of a prosecutor are turning the people against her.
Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is and always has been a polarizing figure in Argentina. She's also made quite a name for herself around the world. Not since Eva Perón has the country produced a female political figure of such international renown. And in some respects the 61-year-old leader has even surpassed the iconic "Evita," who was happy to mostly just provide political support to her husband. Mrs. Kirchner, instead, has twice won elections in her own right.
Cristina, as she's known in Argentina, has done much for her country. But she has also deepened a historical rift between the Peronistas — political forces inspired by the social-democratic legacy of Gen. Juan Perón and his wife Evita — and their opponents. At this point it's unclear if the two sides can be reconciled at all.
For her supporters, Cristina has turned many of Evita's dreams into the law of the land. Her enemies say she has dragged the country into decadence, if not ridicule. You either love or hate her; with Cristina K. there's simply no middle ground.
Her greatest achievement is arguably the progress made in uncovering the crimes of the country's 1970s-era military junta. In the Peronist tradition, Kirchner has also increased social spending and expanded state control over various sectors. Her objective, in her own words, was to "recover the Argentine people's self-esteem."
Not just a legacy at stake
To do that, she chose a path of confrontation — in both economic and foreign policy. This is illustrated by her calls on Great Britain to abandon the Falkland Islands and her later rejection of any agreement with the so-called vulture funds over Argentina's national debt.
The approach has proven costly. The economy is shrinking. And the technical default resulting from Argentine's dispute with creditor funds has damaged the country's credibility. Capital is becoming scarcer and firms see themselves obliged to negotiate in positions of weakness. Corruption and crime are increasing. State institutions are weaker. The debate over media policy has led Kirchner into a personal battle with the Clarín group, harming the credibility of the entire press.
The president has weathered challenge after challenge. She is an expert at taking accusations against her and turning them against her attackers. She has talent for drama. Who could forget in her re-election campaign, shortly after the death of her late husband Néstor Kirchner, when she appeared clad in mourning attire: all in black, though not without her designer dresses or jewelry, part and parcel as she sees it of a head of state's attire. She has a particular penchant for playing the role of victim, and playing it well, as even her opponents admit.
But is Cristina Kirchner finally losing her golden touch? The mysterious death of public prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who accused her of blocking, for political and economic reasons, investigations into the 1994 bomb attack on a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, has provoked one of the worst crises of her presidency. Public protests demonstrate just how much Argentines have stopped trusting their government.
The president continues to communicate with Argentines through Facebook and Twitter, sharing her interpretation of events and elaborating on her various conspiracy theories. The public is used to this approach. But it's not what the people need right now.
What the country needs instead is for the the judiciary to operate indpendently as it grapples with the historic and internationally relevant Nisman case. Cristina owes it to the country to step beack and let the courts do their job — and quickly. She should also do so for the sake of her own reputation, which even now, near the end of her second and final presidential term, is very much at stake. If she doesn't, Cristina risks being rememered as the leader who, after winning unprecedented victories, "lost all sense of reality."