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An Antagonistic Leadership in Argentina

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By Pedro G. Cavallero (for Safe Democracy)

Pedro G. Cavallero sheds light on Argentinean President Néstor Kirchner‘s aggressive policies by looking at Argentina‘s past and through the study of History. Cavallero explains the motives behind the current Kirchner‘s antagonism towards a large number of social, political, and economic groups in Argentina, including the military and the Church, and states that with the next elections quickly approaching, his leadership becomes evident.


[2] Pedro German Cavallero is a policy analyst based in Washington DC. He holds a master degree in Comparative Law and comments regularly on U.S. foreign policy and inter-American affairs.

PRESIDENT NESTOR KIRCHNER´S LEADERSHIP STYLE BECOMES EVIDENT as he continues to play with the idea of his reelection, while testing society’s response to a prospective presidential run by the first lady. On a regular basis, Kirchner harshly confronts a myriad of political, institutional, social, and economic interlocutors whenever they disagree with governmental decisions.

However, this pattern reveals a natural disposition of the President himself, which characterized his long tenure as governor of Santa Cruz (1991-2003). There also seems to be an understanding in his inner circle that through confrontation and defiance, a president builds an aura of toughness and even invincibility.

I DO NOT FEAR YOU
This pattern transpired in recurrent showdowns among the administration and Church authorities; his Uruguayan counterpart, Tabaré Vazquez (and previous Uruguayan president, Jorge Battle); visiting President George W. Bush; the opposition; independent journalists; and most recently, the military.

[3] Oddly, during Army’s Day commemoration, President Kirchner’s official address was marked by its unwarranted defiance and warning tone directed squarely at the armed forces. Surrounded by the country’s leading uniformed men and troops, Kirchner concluded with: I do not fear you, a sentence that left his audience absolutely perplexed. By this statement, he was referring to the military establishment which had historically meddled in politics by desposing of democratically- elected governments.

A COMPLEX PAST
However, despite this attempt to simplify Argentina’s convoluted past, the country’s history has proven to be much more complex. In fact, military erruption into the public scene has always been preceded by the connivance, support, and active encouragement of key civilian sectors.

Paradoxically, the very political movement Kirchner belongs to (Peronism) was born precisely out of one of those chronic military outflows plaguing the second half of the twentieth century, which ultimately catapulted General Juan D. Peron to the presidency in 1946.

THE ARMY FORCES TURNED THE PAGE
In any case, Kirchner’s statement constitutes an anachronism, as the army long ago ceased being an influential political actor. In addition, the military is unwilling (and unable) to corner civilian leadership, as it fully understands its role of subservience to the elected civilian leadership.

In recent years, army spokespersons have gone through repentance and mea culpa phases, decrying the coups and the abuses committed during the so-called dirty war (1976-1983). Though there have also been instances whereby marginal voices made unacceptable excuses for human rights violations, the armed forces as such have definitely turned the page.

That explains why since the watershed election of left-of-center politician Raul Alfonsin to the presidency (1983), Argentina has been run democratically throughout the past quarter century.

[4] CONFRONTATIONAL STANCE
Since coming to office in May 2003, Kirchner has adopted a confrontational stance towards the military. Through repeated messages and highly-charged political gestures, President Kirchner has unambiguously embraced an understanding of the country’s recent past (in particular, the 1976-1983 period), which obliterates the aggression experienced by Argentine society at the hands of messianic, foreign-trained, indoctrinated, and funded irregular armed groups that had terrorized the country.

By choosing such a biased recollection of those traumatic years, Kirchner erodes key aspects of the country’s painful past. As a result, an unnecessary uncertainty has crept into the debate, while moving society’s attention away from Argentina’s most pressing socioeconomic concerns.

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