She is facing a battery of corruption allegations and criminal charges. Yet despite the evidence mounting against in the courts against Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the former president’s hard-core backers remained unperturbed. And that makes her a leading – if undeclared – contender to regain power in next year’s elections.
Hundreds of supporters thronged the street outside when investigators searched the former president’s apartment recently. Cries of support for the former president rise from crowds during protests against the austerity policies of the man who replaced her as president, Mauricio Macri.
“Many women voted for the government of Mauricio Macri and now they regret it,” Teresa Rollano said while walking arm-in-arm with a friend at a recent protest. “The people want Cristina because she represents the working class. She has given us all of our rights.”
One recent survey by local pollster Ricardo Rouvier & Associates said Fernández de Kirchner is almost neckand-neck with Macri in terms of support ahead of the October 2019 election.
That’s remarkable for a politician who faces numerous formal investigations into alleged bribery, money-laundering and criminal association dating back to her own administration from 2007 to 2015. Then there’s the charges related to that of her late husband Néstor Kirchner.
Fernández de Kirchner, now a senator, hasn’t been convicted of any crimes yet – a first trial is scheduled to start in February – and she fiercely denies any wrongdoing, accusing officials of “persecuting” her to distract from the current economic crisis.
But the local press continues to be filled with scandals: the bags of millions of dollars in cash tossed over a convent wall, the mysterious death of Alberto Nisman, the corruption conviction of Amado Boudou, her former vicepresident, the ‘notebooks’ scandal that has uncovered a network of bribery and corruption.
Part of her strength, it seems, stems from disenchantment with Macri, whose budget-cutting efforts have cut public-sector jobs, raised utility bills and hiked bus fares without managing to revive the economy or rein in soaring prices.
His decision this year to seek IMF aid has also roused fears among those who blame the international agency for a devastating economic crash in 2001, when the government was forced into the largest debt default in history.
Their backers credit the Kirchners with leading the country out of that crisis, even if many point to Latin America’s commodity boom. Macri’s backers blame their policies for eventually creating the country’s current woes.
Under Fernández de Kirchner, “I was able to buy a new car, fix my house and travel on a plane for the first time,” said Gloria Buffarini, a hairdresser. “I used to pay 600 pesos a month for electricity. Now, it’s 3,000.”
But she also inspires deep animosity. Detractors blame her for endemic corruption and the deterioration of the economy, which was choked by restrictions on imports, exports and foreign currency exchanges in the latter part of her administration.
“Not since [Juan Domingo] Perón has there been another leader who has generated such a situation of love and hate,” said Mariel Fornoni of the Management & Fit consultancy. She said Fernández de Kirchner has a “hard core of followers who are going to vote for her no matter what she does.”
The former president infuriates people like Patricio Canbelari, a language teacher, who said, “Most want to see her arrested,” and called her a “whitegloved thief.”
Will she go to jail? Fernández de Kirchner’s Senate seat grants her immunity from arrest but not from prosecution. That could be lifted only by an unlikely vote of two-thirds of the country’s senators. While a conviction might theoretically bar her from running for office, that would only occur after appeals were exhausted – a process that would take many years.
Fornoni said, many Argentines believe that although corruption was rife during Fernández de Kirchner’s term, it exists in Macri’s government as well.
“They say: ‘They were probably corrupt, but I lived better,’” Fornoni said.
Only one thing it seems is for sure. CFK isn’t going anywhere soon.