WORLD

Executive privilege: blame others

PATRICIA TREBLE August 18 2008
WORLD

Executive privilege: blame others

PATRICIA TREBLE August 18 2008

Executive privilege: blame others

PATRICIA TREBLE

It was her first press

conference since taking power eight months ago, and it didn’t go well. Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, elected after her husband Néstor Kirchner was constitutionally banned from running for re-election, is facing an economy in crisis. But at a press conference last Saturday, she did little but anger her critics in a breathtaking display of arrogance.

The trouble began in March when Fernández announced she would hike agricultural

export taxes on key crops such as soy and wheat. The move was intended to increase government revenues while keeping domestic food supplies stable by making exports less profitable. But farmers, wanting to take advantage of soaring world prices, protested and blocked roads for nearly four months.

Argentines sided with the farmers and her popularity plunged to 20 per cent, but Fernández dug in her heels and sent the tax to congress, where her coalition has a majority. Even so, the bill didn’t pass. Members of her own coalition rebelled, with her vice-president, Julio Cobos, casting the tie-breaking vote to defeat the bill on July 17. The resignation of the economics minister and head of her cabinet have since added to her political woes.

Many leaders might concede that the policy was misguided, but not Fernández. At Saturday’s press conference she admitted to just one mistake: underestimating the opposition. She also took some time to reject claims that the official inflation rate, which is pegged at nine per cent, is being manipulated to hide the true state of a lagging economy. That figure is widely disputed and most analysts put the real number at more than 20 per cent.

The one thing lacking from the speech was any sign of a viable economic reform plan. When the markets opened on Monday, investors bailed out of Argentine stocks, sending the Merval index down by 3.8 per cent. Nl