“She wears more make-up than Katie Price (British TV personality), never leaves home without high heels, owns at least 200 black dresses” and is known as “the Botox Evita” (The Sun). “[She is a] ruthless politician… [a] steely, unflinching leader… brazen…strong willed,” and ready “for a fight” (The Sun). Both of these accounts were recently used to describe Argentinian President, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. Cristina, as she is known throughout the country, is a controversial figure in Latin American politics, appearing to constantly manipulate her public image to suite her political agenda. Considered by many in the Argentinian and international community as a corrupt and self-promoting figure, a brief look into Cristina’s leadership style reveals what can happen when a female politician create an questionable image as a hardline policy maker while promoting her femininity and sexual charms.
With a political career spanning almost 50 years as a lawyer, provincial and national deputy, and senator, many consider Cristina Kirchner to be well qualified to fill the Presidential role (BBC). Having succeeded her husband, Nestor Kirchner, as president, many in the public who were familiar with the populist policies of the former administration believed that Cristina would focus her presidency on implementing social reforms to help the poor and strengthening the economy. Many were shocked to see that after only a year in power, President Kirchner turned not toward the economy but toward a strong stance against many Argentinian media corporations.
In 2008, after just a year in office, the leading national media outlets, Clarin and La Nacion, ran several anti-Kirchner articles in their websites. After the release of these articles President Kirchner’s administration began to restrict the level of government advertising directed towards these publications. In an attempt to promote her image and popularity, President Kirchner only approved government funding for news outlets that promoted “friendly” and “respectful” portrayals of her administration (The Crimson). This caused a backlash from the local media outlets who continued to highlight corruption scandals among President Kirchner’s political allies. This backlash led to members of Kirchner’s party to submit and approve a variety of laws that restricted the rights of media outlets across the nation. In one law the government “effectively took control of the country’s only newsprint manufacturer, declaring that the production, sale, and distribution of newspapers were of ‘public interest’ and therefore to be controlled by the national government (The Crimson). Another law broadened the national definition of terrorism, so much so that social protests, anti-administration headlines, and articles criticizing the President could be considered an act of terrorism (Reuters).
When asked to explain these highly restrictive laws and practices, President Kirchner and her administration explained that the new laws were intended to protect the Argentinian people from the monopoly building media outlets who terrorized the population (Retuers). In an interview at Harvard University, Kirchner even said that Argentina had “never seen as much freedom of expression as now” and that her strong policies would strengthen rather than hurt the press in Argentina (The Crimson).
Another important issues on the Kirchner administrations agenda, is the issue surrounding the Falkland Islands. The islands which reside 300 miles north east of Argentina were taken by Britain in a1982 invasion (The Sun). In an attempt to flex some muscle on the international stage, President Kirchner called upon the British government to begin talks with Argentina on the Falklands sovereignty. To prove her power among the Latin American countries, President Kirchner even “persuaded countries including Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay to ban Falkland vessels from their ports…[showing] Latin American solidarity” (The Sun). Although many British representatives were not willing to listen to President Kirchner’s demands at first, her persistent harassment of the British government supposedly lead “David Cameron…to dust off war plans to defend the island” (The Sun).
This image of Kirchner as a hardline policy maker is juxtaposed with the self-promoted image of herself as the new Evita. Eva Peron, known as a great Argentinian political figure, is worshiped by citizens across the nation and idolized for her work in helping the poor and underrepresented. Kirchner is known to feed off of this image, often saying that she identifies with the stylish, and beautiful, “Evita of the hair in a bun and the clenched fist before a microphone” (The Sun). To promote this image of a stylish and passionate leader, Kirchner works tirelessly to maintain a fashionable wardrobe. Building a reputation as a lover of fashion, and someone who “deploys her glamour and sexuality as a potent weapon” to be used to gain the public’s love and affection (The Sun).
Although President Kirchner’s husband, Nestor, was known for being a tough and at times manipulative executive during his presidency, his wife has turned out to be an even tougher and more manipulative. Along with the laws restricting the national media and the battle with Britain over the Falkland Islands, the current President Kirchner has worked hard to push any political agenda or policy that could give her any kind of advantage at the polls or with the people. Just recently Kirchner’s administration was able to push through a new law lowering the voting age from 18 to 16. Having a large “youth movement” in support of her political ideals, Kirchner fought for the approval of this bill and won with a landslide vote (Christian Science Monitor). Unlike her husband, who worked tirelessly to create political ties to the national unions, President Cristina Kirchner believed the unions were receiving too much power and overruling some of the policies she wanted to implement; therefore she dropped her alliance with the unions and instead focused her energy on her youth organizations (Christian Science Monitor). Through these policies, Kirchner showed the lengths that she was willing to go to secure her political power, reverting to actions and policies that her husband never used.
The factors that best explain why Kirchner chooses this particular leadership style root back to her idolization of the Evita figure and her desire for Argentina to be taken seriously among the international elites. President Kirchner wants to make as lasting an impression on her people as Evita did 60 years ago. By maintain her image of fashion and power, President Kirchner is able to show the Argentinian public that she too will fight for her people’s rights, will fight against the international elites that seek to overlook their people, and will make Argentina the center of the international community.
Through her work to create an image as a hard line politician and a fashionista, President Cristina Kirchner has shown the complex role of a politician trying bring to competing worlds together in one.
BBC. "Latin America World." http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-12284208 Accessed October 31, 2012
Reuters. "Argentinian Terrorism." http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/12/28/us-argentina-terrorism-idUSTRE7BR1BZ20111228 Accessed October 31, 2012
The Crimson. "Kirchner's lack of answers." http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2012/10/1/kirchner-argentina-abuses/. Accessed October 30, 2012
The Sun. "Sexier than Evita, as tough as Maggie with her eyes on the Falklands". http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/features/4074118/Cristina-Fernandez-de-Kirchner-Shes-sexier-than-Evita-as-tough-as-Maggie-with-her-eyes-on-the-Falklands.html Accessed November 1, 2012