Argentina Tilts To The Left With Presidential Election

Oct 28, 2019
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The political landscape is changing in Latin America. Argentina tilted to the left with yesterday's election. Voters there threw out their conservative President Mauricio Macri. In his place, they've chosen a political partnership that includes one of the country's best-known and most controversial leaders. NPR's Philip Reeves reports from the capital Buenos Aires.

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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing in Spanish).

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Cristina Kirchner stands on the stage waving and smiling before a sea of people.

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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing in Spanish).

REEVES: They're celebrating the election of a new president, but also Kirchner's stunning return to the heart of power in Argentina.

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CRISTINA KIRCHNER: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: Kirchner's already served two terms as president. She's been first lady. She was seen as one of the world's most influential women and a leading light in Latin American leftist politics. Now, at 66, she's back as vice president.

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KIRCHNER: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: The president elected yesterday will be Alberto Fernandez, a 60-year-old career politician and law professor with a reputation as a pragmatic consensus builder. He used to be Kirchner's chief of staff.

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KIRCHNER: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: "Alberto Fernandez is president for all Argentines," says Kirchner.

GABRIEL GRACIOSI: This is so emotional. This is very, very important for us.

REEVES: Business consultant Gabriel Graciosi is among the multitude who've come here to celebrate.

GRACIOSI: I can't believe that we had this massive demonstration and we won the elections after four years. This government that we have right now is so bad.

REEVES: Not long ago, Cristina Kirchner's chances of getting this close to power again seemed remote. She's facing multiple corruption allegations and murky political scandals. Her new job offers her protection from those. Kirchner's core support wasn't large enough for her to win outright as president. But with Fernandez on the ticket, everything changed, says Juan Decima of Clarin newspaper.

JUAN DECIMA: I don't think that she could've won the election. I don't think she could've galvanized the coalition that's supporting him. So she did a very smart move.

REEVES: Kirchner and Alberto Fernandez also owe this victory to something else. Macri, Argentina's outgoing president, arrived in office promising to fix the country's blighted economy. He leaves behind a mountain of debt and an annual inflation rate of around 50%. That's what matters on the streets.

Gloria Beatriz Castillo is a retired nurse.

GLORIA BEATRIZ CASTILLO: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: She's struggling to pay bills, she says. Castillo's not bothered by corruption allegations against Kirchner. What matters to her is surviving.

The question now is who will really run the country? Will Alberto Fernandez be his own man as president or, as Kirchner's foes warn, will she be the power behind the throne?

DECIMA: That is certainly a risk.

REEVES: Juan Decima again. Yet, he adds...

DECIMA: I would contend also that from what I know, Alberto's not a pushover. He is not and has never been somebody who you can pull the strings and he will do your bidding.

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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing in Spanish).

REEVES: As that huge crowd celebrates in Buenos Aries, they chant his name more often than hers and seem to believe Argentina's new political partnership will work out fine.

Will she be the president, or will he be the president?

GRACIOSI: Definitely, he will be the president.

REEVES: Gabriel Graciosi, the business consultant.

Why are you so sure?

GRACIOSI: Because he's the president, and she will respect that. She's very respectful.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Buenos Aires.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.