The Miami Herald
May. 17, 2003

Kirchner vows to rebuild Argentina

Wants to help unite Congress

  Knight Ridder News Service

  BUENOS AIRES - In his first news conference since becoming Argentina's president-elect by default, Nestor Kirchner promised Friday to rebuild his
  bankrupt country and develop a strong relationship with the country's deeply divided Congress.

  ''I think the responsibility of governance is great, but the responsibility of the legislators to govern this country is also very large,'' Kirchner said in the
  nationally televised event from Rio Gallegos, the capital of the Patagonian province of Santa Cruz, which he has governed since 1991.

  Kirchner's lack of a national political base, and deep divisions within his Peronist Party, have raised fears that Argentina's sixth president in 18 months
  may have a tough time governing his ailing country.


  In a response sure to upset Washington, Kirchner repeated Friday that he wants Argentina and its neighbors to further develop their regional trading bloc
  before concluding negotiations with the United States to create a hemisphere-wide free-trade zone by 2005.

  Leftist Elisa Carrio and conservative Ricardo López Murphy -- two strong finishers in the presidential race -- made governance tougher for Kirchner on
  Friday by rejecting his effort to create a unity government. Instead, the two vowed to end the Peronist Party's dominance over Argentina.

  Kirchner, 53, entered national politics just a year ago. He was the third potential presidential candidate approached by Peronist leader Eduardo Duhalde,
  the country's caretaker president. Kirchner finished second to former President Carlos Menem in the general election April 28, but Menem bowed out
  Wednesday to escape a drubbing in the runoff Sunday.

  Kirchner had campaigned lightly, essentially waiting for the Menem bandwagon to lose its wheels. His slogan was ''Argentina First,'' and he promised to
  boost the country's devastated manufacturing base without saying how he would. He pledged to create five million jobs through ''neo-Keynesian public
  works projects'' and to build three million homes. All this, Kirchner said, could be done without deficit spending.

  What passes for Kirchner's power base is Rio Gallegos, population 90,000, near South America's southern tip known as Patagonia.


  Kirchner, a lawyer, returned there in the 1970s with his wife, Cristina, who is now a federal senator, at a time when Argentina's military dictators were
  kidnapping and sometimes executing students and leftists.

  After time in the private sector, Kirchner entered local government in a social welfare post. He was elected mayor of Rio Gallegos in 1987 and governor of
  Santa Cruz in 1991. The province is rich in oil, whose revenues Kirchner used to expand government employment and patronage.

  Like many Peronist caudillos, or regional strong men, Kirchner had the provincial constitution changed to permit his reelection twice. Today, running the
  province is a family affair. His wife represents the province in the national Senate and his sister Alicia runs its social development programs.

  By all accounts, the governor managed his province's oil revenues shrewdly.

  Kirchner owes his election to the Peronist political machine of Duhalde, a former governor of Buenos Aires province, the nation's largest and richest.
  Duhalde and his allies got out enough votes to ensure that Kirchner made the runoff.