19 December 2016 - 08:00 AM
The Kirchner Legacy in Argentina: 12 Years of Gains
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For Argentines, just as the 1980s are referred to as the “lost decade,” the 12 years of Kirchner government (four by the late Nestor Kirchner and eight by Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner) is now often called the “won decade.”

Former Presidents Cristina Fernandez Kirchner and Nestor Kirchner.

As President Mauricio Macri finished his first year in office Kirchner powerhouse brought to Argentina.

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The Kirchner governments found success in systematically improving the everyday lives of Argentines. Social policies, such as subsidies, pension raises and unemployment benefits, went hand in hand with the improved economy, as well as the necessary and popular overhaul of Argentina’s judicial system after the murky history of human rights abuses committed with impunity.

Nestor Kirchner was also a key figure in the regional integration of Latin America. He was the leader who managed to restructure 93 percent of the country’s massive debt, Fernandez took the baton and heroically battled the remaining 7 percent demanding repayment, known as the vulture funds.

Economic Overhaul

When Kirchner took over the presidency in 2003, he managed to yank Argentina out of the depths of its worst economic collapse in history. Facing poverty levels of 54 percent and 26 percent unemployment, the new president took advantage of a period of record primary materials prices, in particular soy, one of the country’s top exports, and set Argentina on course for an average 9 percent annual growth for the next five years.

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By 2012, only 6.5 percent of the nation lived in poverty, and unemployment fell to 6.9 percent: Kirchner governments have generated 500,000 new jobs each year, or 5 million in the last 10 years. Silencing critics, Argentina’s middle class has doubled in the last decade, and between 2003 and 2013 the minimum wage rose by 1,300 percent.

The feat was one of South America’s greatest success stories.

In the last years, the focus turned to industrialization and advancing production, including the execution of the Industrial Parks National Program, in which some 7,800 small and medium businesses fiction, employed more than 250,000 workers.

Redefining the State

Argentina’s Finance Minister Axel Kicillof in 2015 said, “Before Kirchnerismo, the owners of big companies were governing the country.” After 30 years of neoliberal rule, the Kirchner governments turned the state on its head and looked to provide for the most vulnerable sectors of society.

When Fernandez was elected in 2007 (and re-elected in 2011 with 54 percent of the vote) the former first lady embarked on a program of nationalization.

The nationalization of Aerolineas Argentinas came in 2008, as well as pensions organization AFJP. The latter allowed the minimum retirement fund, affecting 75 percent of pensioners, to be raised by 1,400 percent.

Fernandez re-nationalized oil company YPF in 2012, and in 2015, railways were brought back into public ownership.

By 2007, public investment almost doubled, resulting in improved highways and public housing.

Human Rights First

With massive public backing, Kirchner overhauled Argentina’s troubled justice system. First was a renovation of the supreme court, making it entirely independent for the first time.

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In 2003, with 77 percent of the population in agreement, Kirchner presented to congress the annulment of the “Laws of Pardon” that guaranteed the immunity of those accused of crimes against humanity, including genocide, during the 1976-1983 regime. By 2007 the pardons of military leaders were declared unconstitutional and hundreds of cases were opened, delivering justice to the tens of thousands who were “disappeared” or extrajudicially executed during the dictatorship.

Government “K” has led the way in the region with progressive and diverse amendments. Argentina became the first country in Latin America, and the tenth in the world, to pass a law of same-sex marriage in 2010. The Gender Identity Law, passed in 2012, allows transvestites, transsexuals, and transgender people to choose their name and sex on identification documents.

Regional Integration

Kirchner decided that Argentina’s future lay in national sovereignty with regional integration, and union against foreign domination.

Shunning ties with the United States, the late president turned his attention inward, first making alliances with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. From there, the Argentine president backed Mercosur and drove the creation of Unasur, serving as its first secretary general.

The commercial and political blocs have contributed to redefining the world order, leaving the U.S. out in the cold.

Down with the Debt

Kirchner was saddled with billions of dollars of debt after Argentina defaulting in 2001, equal to 138 percent of GDP. But 10 years later this was down to 40 percent of the GDP, making Argentina one of the best on record for getting out of the red in the decade, thanks in part to the booming economy, and Kirchner’s restructuring of 93 percent of the debt.

And in 2006, Argentina used a third of its Central Bank funds to wipe the slate clean with the International Monetary Fund.

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But the 7 percent of debtors who could not be restructured did not go quietly. In 2014, the group of creditors, known as the vulture funds, demanded immediate repayment and were backed by courts who awarded them a US$1.3 billion payout.

But President Fernandez refused to bow to the pressure of the “internationally recognized blood suckers,” vowing, “Now never again will governments have to go into debt in order to pay debt. If we indebt ourselves, it will be for works of infrastructure, of growth, and not for the gains of the international finance sector.”

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