Who Will Argentina's President Follow Now That Chavez Is Gone?

Bolivarian minds think alike, and Kirchner has copied many of Venezuela's policies for her own country.
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The scene outside the Venezuelan Embassy in Buenos Aires. (Marie Metz)

What's a woman to do when her political boyfriend passes away?

The scene outside of the Venezuelan Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina the day after Hugo Chavez died was highly symbolic of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner's relationship with El Comandante. In the early morning, mournful Argentines stood outside the Embassy lamenting his passing. Hand-written signs thanked Chavez for buying Argentine bonds without a tinge of irony.

Later in the day, government-paid supporters stood outside of the embassy, uninterestedly waving Argentine flags and conveniently blocking traffic along Avenida Luis Maria Campos just at rush hour.

The question is now, how does Kirchner move on? For a woman who has dressed in black since the passing of Nestor Kirchner, her husband and former president in 2010, the passing of Hugo Chavez, her soulmate in policy, is also a blow.

Since Nestor's death, Kirchner has moved ideologically closer to Chavez, implementing various programs that have made the Argentine business class nervous and given rise to terms like "Argenzuela." Even supporters of Kirchner have joked over the last few years that Kirchner and Hugo were an item, if for no other reason, her blatant copying of his policies.

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The parallels are many, but some of the most famous are:

1. Currency controls that have given rise to a parallel market for U.S. dollars. Much like Venezuela, Argentines are now highly restricted in the number of dollars they are allowed to access, even if they are scheduled to travel to the U.S. This has given rise to a thriving parallel or blue market, where Pesos are valued at around 7.8 to the dollar, even though the official value is about 5.1.

2. Import problems for businesses big and small. Small businesses can't get parts for computers; multi-nationals can't get laptops and Blackberries to their workers. Where are all of these pieces of equipment? Stuck in Argentine customs, usually for one to two years - no matter how important your company is.

3. Rising insecurity. Though there's no doubt that Buenos Aires is a far cry from Caracas (private estimates say the latter has a murder rate of over 60 people per 100,000, making Caracas the most dangerous city in South America). Buenos Aires residents say they feel less safe than they did 10 years ago. Violent robbery is on the rise, and there's no sign of abatement.

Kirchner declared three days of mourning nationwide after Chavez passed and was on the first plane to Caracas for meetings and funeral events. Even her supporters at home had to joke that her response to Chavez' passing was stronger than to that of her own husband. Without an ideological leader, it's possible that La Presidenta (a term she coined for herself) is feeling a bit lost.

Now that the initial shock is over, Argentines are left wondering what is next. With three years left in office, it is likely that Kirchner will just let the policies already in place take their course: let inflation grow, insecurity rise, and the middle class shrink. Yet, another path is also possible: a more radical one in which she changes the constitution to allow her to run for a third term. President for life? Nothing more Bolivarian than that.

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Marie Metz

Marie Metz is a Latin America security analyst based in Mexico City.

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