| Photo by Anish Bramhandkar
For all the statistics about Argentine economic achievement mentioned last evening, one might be surprised to learn that Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the current president of Argentina, is languishing in the polls. Her approval rating slid nearly 30% in the four months after taking office and she has remained a controversial figure both domestically and internationally.
Her husband, the last president, presided over a surge of economic growth following the 2001 collapse of the Argentine peso. However, price controls and increasing taxation has led to rapid inflation (though official figures still state it at a mere 8%) and rising unemployment. A 2008 tariff sparked a farmers’ revolt that ended the Kirchner honeymoon. Accusations of corruption and cronyism have continued to plague her administration.
Despite its problems, Argentina is still much better off than it could have been, having weathered two economic collapses: one domestic and one global. This is the message the embattled President sought to present at the World Leaders’ Forum.
During her meandering address, Kirchner tried to take the lessons learned during the Argentine recovery and apply them to the global financial crisis. The “imbalances we have seen around the world,” she said, have led to uncertainty and volatility.” For stabilization, we need “certainty – this element is key.”
As for how to achieve this economic certainty, Kirchner described her conversation with Joseph Stiglitz regarding the need for new international organizations to promote global economic and social development, especially in developing countries. She did not specify the details of such organizations and simultaneously lambasted the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for pushing policies on developing countries that allegedly fueled the collapse.
Such vagueness plagued her discussion of past economic policies, save a few “I told you so” moments such as describing how Argentina didn’t default on its foreign loans in 2009 as predicted by Lehman Brothers. “By failing to note the changes in the [economic] model” such as the new role of services, technology, and access to media, the world ended up with not only a financial crisis but a “crisis of ideas.” Kirchner called on intellectuals whose job it is to visualize the new world to think about new “global rules.” “We are facing a new phase in civilization” and we must have new rules for a new era “in which the concept of well-being extends to all nations, not just developed countries.”
| Photo via Flickr
Time remained for a single question following her address. Dean Coatsworth, drawing from a pile of questions from the audience, asked her about allegations of media manipulation by the government, including tightening slander laws and favoring news organizations that do not criticize the government. In her response, Kirchner explained that “freedom of expression is in [Argentine] DNA” and that she would “prefer a billion lies to be told” rather than have a restricted press.
A new law being considered by Argentine legislators will address the concern that 73% of media organizations are owned by a single company. Though the aim of the bill is to more evenly distribute broadcast licenses, critics claim the bill is designed to break up media organizations with the strength to oppose the government without consequence.
Clearly, though, she is focused on more important things. The final question prompted a furrowed brow and a declaration that “this is the toughest question I’ve ever been asked.” The question? How to ensure that Argentina’s national soccer team will qualify for the World Cup.
“We’ll have to work very hard,” Kirchner said.