SPIEGEL Interview with Argentina's President 'We Are Slowly Starting To Enjoy Greater Trust'
Argentina is the guest country at this year's Frankfurt Book Fair, which opens this week. In a SPIEGEL interview, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, 57, discusses her country's path away from the military dictatorship of the 1970s, the economic crisis of 2002 and her country's relations with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.
SPIEGEL: President Fernández de Kirchner, on Tuesday evening, you will attend the opening of the Frankfurt Book Fair. Argentina is the guest country this year. Which book are you reading at the moment?
Fernández de Kirchner: A historical book about a hero from our independence movement from the Spanish colonial bosses 200 years ago. It is so good that my Venezuelan colleague Hugo Chávez nabbed it from me. I read it in New York, where I took part in the Millennium Summit of the United Nations.
SPIEGEL: At the book fair you will be accompanied by a group of exciting young authors, but you seem to have a more strained relationship with journalists. You have just presented a controversial media law to the parliament. Do you want to keep the press on a short leash?
Fernández de Kirchner: No, absolutely not. We advised all parties in advance and extensively. We also oriented ourselves based on US legislation.
SPIEGEL: But you want to centrally regulate the distribution of paper for newspapers. In that way, the government is going to be able to put pressure onto them.
Fernández de Kirchner: La Nacion and Clarín, the two biggest newspaper companies, have a monopoly on paper production. The state only holds a minority stake. The two can access the paper at special prices while the others are forced to pay more. That is unfair competition!
SPIEGEL: Is that not just a pretext to discipline Argentina's biggest newspaper, Clarín? It has been criticising your government for years.
Fernández de Kirchner: All governments had a problem with Clarín. A former associate of the paper has admitted that they always support a president in the first few years to take advantage of them. In the last two years they punish them -- in the hope that a new president will take office and the cycle will be repeated. Now, for the first time it has come to light that Clarín has downplayed the crimes of the military dictatorship.
SPIEGEL: You and your husband have tried to encourage a process of working through the crimes committed under the military dictatorship. What experiences did you have then?
Fernández de Kirchner: My husband and I were arrested several times. We weren't allowed to work as lawyers in the civil service, but, luckily, we could work as independent attorneys. We were in a sort of internal exile, far from the capital, in Patagonia. One time a bomb was planted in my office, but it didn't explode. Another time my office was set on fire. I was never tortured. We were lucky. But we always felt an obligation to the victims of the dictatorship.
SPIEGEL: Were you a member of the left-wing guerrilla movement, the Montoneros?
Fernández de Kirchner: No. When I was a student, I belonged to the Peronist Youth, but I never fought with a weapon in my hand.
SPIEGEL: One of the biggest idols in Argentina is Che Guevara. He tried to bring the Cuban revolution to the rest of the world and was murdered in Bolivia in 1968. What does he mean to you?
Fernández de Kirchner: For those who stand up for their ideals, things often end tragically. Che is a man who fought unconditionally for his ideas and died for them. We will send an exact copy of his diaries, which has been made available to us by the Bolivian government, to the book fair in Frankfurt. The original lies in a vault in the central bank in Bolivia.
SPIEGEL: Is Evita Perón your personal role model?
Fernández de Kirchner: I probably identify much more with Evita because I am a woman and a Peronista. But you have to see it in the historical context, to understand that she caused her own revolution inside the Peronist revolution. At that time, in the 1940s, women weren't allowed to vote in Argentina, and artists like her were viewed as prostitutes. She was an illegitimate child and poor. Actually, she would have been destined to be shut out of society, but instead she remains worshipped to this day around the world.
SPIEGEL: Che and Evita are tragic heroes, and tragedy appears to be a constant in Argentine history. Until the middle of the last century, Argentina was one of the richest countries in the world. Then a descent began that has already lasted for decades.
Fernández de Kirchner: That is the lasting result of the military coup of March 24, 1976. The military destroyed our local industry with their neoliberal politics. What ruined us in the end was the coupling of our currency, the peso, with the US dollar in the 1990s.
SPIEGEL: Carlos Menem, a Peronist like you and your husband, was responsible for that.
Fernández de Kirchner: I don't have a "Peronometer," or a yardstick for how bound someone is to the ideals of Juan Domingo Perón. At any rate, he was elected president two times. In order to keep the exchange rate parity with the dollar, the state had to go further and further into debt. And, naturally, exports suffered. We weren't able to compete.
SPIEGEL: The Menem years culminated in the financial crash of 2001.
Fernández de Kirchner: When my husband, Néstor Kirchner, took over the government in 2003, debt amounted to 260 percent of gross domestic product, and there was a poverty rate of 50 percent. It was a catastrophe. Of course, we still have many disparities, but since then we have made great strides in all areas. We have record reserves in the government coffers. Since 2003, we have had six years with about 8.5 percent economic growth, the highest growth rate in the last 200 years.
- Part 1: 'We Are Slowly Starting To Enjoy Greater Trust'
- Part 2: 'I Maintain Very Good Relations with all Governments'