Bold, divisive but never reserved Néstor Kirchner (1950 – 2010), represented to many the archetypal militant politician. His legacy of determined street-politicking and defense of downtrodden peoples brought hope and vigor to many sectors of a society who had previously suffered terrible repression yet his aggressive, unflinching partisanship has indelibly scarred the national political arena for many years to come.
For almost three days the streets surrounding the Plaza de Mayo, the public square in front of the Presidential Casa Rosada, have been thronging with people paying their respects to this ex-president of Argentina (2002 – 2007). His sudden death shocked the country and inspired a massive outpouring of support for the current president and his widow Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner with tens of thousands of Argentines visiting the Salon de los Patriotas de Latinoamerica to salute the coffin and chant political slogans and passionate cries of loyalty as she sat choking back the tears alongside her children and the solidarity of the presidents of Latin America. Along the route of his funeral cortege to the airport the passage was almost completely choked with raucous supporters smothering the hearse, singing, tossing flags and flowers and reaching out to touch the passing vehicle.
There can be no doubt watching these scenes that Néstor was a beloved figure but as we find so often in Argentina his was a career of dualities and extremes. He nobly ordered the police to stand down from confrontation with protestors and thereon gifted the streets to the diverse groups of social and political activists, in stark contrast to contemporary European politicians who prefer things to be resolved exclusively in the Parliament. However the extent to which this dynasty bribed demonstrators and trade unionists to attend their rallies has always been a point of much suspicion and the vitriolic attacks on rival or dissenting politicians fermented a culture of bitter disputes and unseemly bickering.
Kirchner literally gave his own life for his ideological vision for the country. Despite a history of coronary complications in recent years he never drew back from his grueling commitments and relentlessly championed the implementation of a populist Peronist agenda at home as President, Senator and Leader of the Justice Party, simultaneously working towards the Bolivarian dream of a more united continent as president of the UNASUR.
Much will be asked of the current president, now left to continue the fight without the presence of her mentor and confidant, the real power behind the throne as many believed him to be. Soon our attentions will turn to the future and the coming year’s elections and the opposition will not wait long to capitalize on this weakening of the current regime. Serious electioneering amongst the presidential front-runners must begin soon and the recent show of public support may be utilized by rising union leaders to garner support.
This tragic event heralds a new, exciting dawn in Argentine politics. Suddenly stripped of this massively important figure how the country quarrels over dividing the political spoils will be crucial to the future of this ever fractious nation.