Néstor Kirchner; led Argentina out of fiscal crisis

Néstor Kirchner greeted supporters in Buenos Aires. Néstor Kirchner greeted supporters in Buenos Aires. (Ali Burafi/ AFP/ Getty Images/ 2003)
By Michael Warren
Associated Press / October 28, 2010

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BUENOS AIRES — Former Argentine president Néstor Kirchner — the country’s most powerful politician along with his wife, current leader Cristina Fernandez — died yesterday after suffering a heart attack, the presidency said.

“It was a sudden death,’’ his personal doctor, Luis Buonomo, told reporters in El Calafate. Buonomo said an official medical report would be released.

Mr. Kirchner, 60, had undergone an angioplasty after a heart attack in September, but was still expected to be a candidate in next year’s presidential elections.

The news shocked Argentines, who by law were at home to be counted in the nation’s census.

Mr. Kirchner worked hand-in-hand with his wife to maintain the ruling party’s hold on power. He was seen as the heir to strongman Juan Domingo Perón and one of the few people capable of managing Argentina’s unruly and chaotic political scene.

It was Mr. Kirchner who did the hard work of managing relationships with labor unions, activist groups, governors, and mayors — the political players who move thousands of voters and whose allegiance is vital to maintaining public order.

Under the Kirchners, Argentina abandoned the “Washington consensus’’ of tight fiscal policies and free trade, isolating the country from foreign debt markets and imposing stringent controls on the flow of money and goods in and out of the country.

Mr. Kirchner served as president from 2003 to 2007, bringing Argentina out of severe economic crisis and encouraging judicial changes that set in motion dozens of human rights trials involving hundreds of dictatorship-era figures who had previously benefited from an amnesty.

As secretary general of the Union of South American Republics, or Unasur, Mr. Kirchner mediated one of the many border disputes between Venezuela and Colombia. Both countries’ leaders mourned his loss Wednesday.

“Oh, my dear Cristina . . . how sad! What a huge loss suffered by Argentina and our America! May Kirchner live forever!’’ tweeted President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela.

President Obama praised Mr. Kirchner’s significant roles in Argentina and Unasur. “Michelle’s and my thoughts and prayers are with President Fernandez de Kirchner and their children,’’ he said.