Kirchner vows to rebuild Argentina
Wants to help unite Congress
BY KEVIN G. HALL
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
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
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
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
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
Duhalde and his allies got out enough votes to ensure that Kirchner made the runoff.