Exiting the Plaza de Mayo subway stop took at least 10 minutes. A long queue had formed, people packed shoulder-to-shoulder within the narrow confines of the stairwell, waiting for an opening near the top. As people jockeyed for space, the sound of a large crowd carried through the drafty underground hallway. Laughter, drum beats, cheers, and the occasional pop of a firework.
When we finally emerged, it was like walking into a music festival. Throngs of people filled every inch of the sidewalk and street. The more able-bodied had climbed on top of subway signs and kiosk roofs for fresh air and better vantage points.
Some sported body glitter and colourful t-shirts. Others toted beer cans or soda bottles cut in half and filled with Fernet and Coke. A few enterprising individuals brought grills to sell choripánes. One grillmaster described it as “the best party since Macri took office.”
Sweltering heat temperatures reached 36-degree Celsius left those who arrived early to snag a spot sweat-stained and visibly exhausted.
But the ubiquitous presence of black and white posters emblazoned with familiar faces confirmed this was the inauguration of President Alberto Fernández and VicePresident Fernández de Kirchner.
Peronists of all ages filled the square, flanked by trade unions and social organisations. They strung up hand-painted banners on buildings surrounding Plaza de Mayo and Congress, celebrating the reunification of the country’s dominant political movement. Argentine flags — earlier this year seen as a hallmark of the Juntos por el Cambio campaign — flew in the air, perhaps symbolic of the perceived “taking back” of the nation for the pueblo.
“It’s important the pueblo could celebrate and share this day because it’s been four years of us losing hope and happiness,” said Silvia Susmano, who identified herself as a Kirchnerista.
Though Fernández and Fernández de Kirchner were the main act, they were preceded by a line-up of bonafide famous musicians in Argentina like Fena, Los Tipitos and Coti.
“Nada fue un error,” [‘Nothing was an error’] belted the crowd, swaying in unison, anticipating the arrival of the new heads of state.
THE CRISTINA EFFECT
Both the campaign and the early days of Fernández’s presidency have been plagued by uncertainty around how much influence he’ll yield to his powerful, more ideological vice president. The night’s event did little to assuage those worries.
When she took the stage, the crowd roared, a sign of its near adoration for the iconic leader. Her first words harkened back to her last night as president in 2015, painting a picture of a utopian Argentina under her leadership. “That night, I told you what we had been living wasn’t magic. It was an Argentina in solidarity where what happened to one person was important to another,” she said, dressed all in white.
She then drew a stark contrast between the Argentina she described and that of the last four years under Macri. “We were the objects of persecution, they tried to make us disappear. In spite of everything, we are here,” she roared.
The key to unifying the Frente de Todos coalition, Fernández de Kirchner came across as the abriter of Peronism, keenly aware of how her choice of Fernández as her presidential candidate brought together the once fractured coalition and swayed the race.
Speaking directly to him, she then told him to “trust in the people” who elected him. “All they ask is that you defend them and represent them,” she said.
She then passed the microphone — and the torch — to the new president, who began his speech by imagining himself as the extension of Néstor Kirchner legacy. The crowd chanted “Néstor didn’t die. Néstor lives in the people,” in response.
He thanked the vice-president, who remained by his side throughout his speech.
Fernández also acknowledged their former animosity: “Sometimes we distanced ourselves from one another and other times we moved closer to one another [...] All of that is in the past.”
The president called for an end to corruption in the Judiciary, impunity in intelligence and “media lynchings,” and rallied the crowd around his campaign message of unity. “We learned that our division makes them stronger. Because of that, we won’t divide again.”
Earlier that day, Fernández drove himself to his swearing in at Congress in his silver Toyota. His role as president-of-the-people was echoed in the night’s speech.
“We are a political movement born out of the face of the earth to be in solidarity with our neighbors. We will make the best era that we can as a society so that nobody else lacks a plate of food,” he said.
That commitment to populism and ruling “for the people” was what galvanised so many supporters during the campaign and during inauguration day, Susmano said.
“Alberto’s election represents the power that this country can have, and the fact that we can have a government that we chose, and not one that’s been imposed upon us by outside interests,” she said.