Argentine voters rewarded President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner for a booming economy with a big reelection victory on Oct. 23. The victory will strengthen the trend of left of center governments working toward the economic and political integration of Latin America, which has challenged the long history of US domination of the region.
Kirchner's victory came almost on the first anniversary of the death of her husband, Nestor Kirchner, who had preceded her in the presidency.
Nestor Kirchner's place in Argentina's history books is assured because when he was elected in 2003, Argentina was in terrible economic shape and over its head in debt to international lenders. Rather than impose austerity measures on the Argentine people, thereby lowering even more living standards that had been dropping steadily under a series of corrupt military and civilian governments, Kirchner chose to default on a large portion of the country's international debt, striving instead to build up the country's internal markets.
A devaluation of the currency followed, making Argentina's exports more attractive in other countries. Although Argentina had a rough time at first, the Kirchner policy was eventually so successful that Argentina was able to renegotiate its relationships with international lenders, including the International Monetary Fund. In international affairs, Kirchner's government played a major role in scuttling the U.S.-sponsored "Free Trade Area of the Americas" (FTAA), and in building up first MERCOSUR and then UNASUR as mechanisms of "horizontal" economic and political integration of the nations of South America, through enhanced regional trade and development aid.
Kirchner also faced down ultra-rightist tendencies in the military, and began the process of calling to account the military officers who had committed atrocities during the dictatorship of 1976 to 1983.
Kirchner's wife, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, was the candidate of the left wing of the Justicialist Party in the 2007 elections, and won with 45 percent of the vote. The Justicialist Party was founded by former Argentine President Juan Domingo Peron, who initially governed from 1946 to 1955.
Peron was overthrown by a military coup but came back as president again from 1973 to 1974. During Peron's second presidency and that of his second wife Isabel (1974 to 1976), splits in the Justicialist Party led to a situation of very violent repression by the Justicialist right and the military against the left. A military dictatorship ousted Isabel Peron and continued the "dirty war" in which at least 30,000 suspected leftists were murdered. Civilian rule was restored in 1983.
On October 23, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, candidate of the Front for Victory in which the Judicialist left is the major component, won with 54 percent of the popular vote, eliminating the need for a runoff.
The rest of the field was far behind. Socialist Party candidate Hermes Binner got about 17 percent, while the Radical Party's Ricardo Alfonsin (son of former President Raul Alfonsin) got only 11 percent. Former President Eduardo Duhalde, running for the Popular Front-PJ representing right-wing Peronism, was far behind, with under 6 percent of the vote.
Cristinia Fernandez de Kirchner's victory margin of 36 percentage points over her closest rival, Binner, establishes a historic record. Moreover, she won all but one of Argentina's provinces.
In legislative elections, Kirchner and her allies have every reason to be pleased also. In legislative elections in 2009, Cristina Kirchner had lost her majorities in both houses of the Argentine Congress. However, this time around, it appears that much of the loss has been made up, and that in fact the government, with allies, will have an effective majority in both houses.
Some in the corporate media attributed the landslide vote for Cristina Kirchner to sympathy over the death of her husband. However, it is also true that like other countries in the region which have abandoned the "Washington Consensus" of neo-liberal policies such as "free" trade, austerity and privatization, Argentina, under her leadership, has managed to steer clear of the economic troubles which have caused suffering and uproar in much wealthier countries such as those of Western Europe, not to mention the United States.
Last year Argentina registered 8 percent in growth of its Gross Domestic Product, and unemployment is relatively low and consumer spending high. Agricultural exports are booming, and indebtedness is low. The opposition complained that the government was concealing a growing inflation problem, but evidently the voters perceived their living standards as growing, and gave the government its solid victory as a result.
The Communist Party of Argentina, which had supported Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in the elections, hailed the victory and the accomplishments of her government. It called for bold new initiatives in tax and financial reform, and in dealing with extractive industries such as mining. The Party called for "a new law on mining which will impede this looting [of Argentina's resources] by the great transnational monopolies."