Sun, Dec 11, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Argentina’s Fernandez is set to begin second term

AFP, BUENOS AIRES

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner kicks off her second four-year term, intent on bolstering the country’s economy by promoting industry and consumer spending despite the crisis in Europe.

“Nothing and no one can force us to change course,” Fernandez said on Wednesday, the last official day of her first term as president of the vast South American nation of 40 million.

The 58-year-old Fernandez was re-elected on Oct. 23 with 54 percent of the vote — the strongest mandate for an Argentine president since the end of the 1976-1983 dictatorship.

Fernandez, still mourning the death more than a year ago of her husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, was due to deliver her -inauguration speech before lawmakers and foreign dignitaries at 3pm.

The president’s re-election came in the face of a divided opposition, allowing her party to win back control of the Congress, lost over a long battle with farmers, and maintain its majority in the senate. Fernandez has since chosen a new Cabinet chief, Juan Manuel Abal Medina, and a new finance minister, Argentine Finance Secretary Hernan Lorenzino, while keeping most of her other key ministers.

Although the political winds may be blowing in her favor, Fernandez is facing a far more difficult economic context than during her first term because of the fallout from the world financial crisis, including the eurozone debt crisis.

“The global crisis is a threat here as it is everywhere else,” said Rosendo Fraga, of the Nueva -Mayoria institute.

The government has slashed costly energy and transport subsidies, while taking draconian measures to slow capital flight, which has put a dent in Argentina’s foreign reserves.

Economists estimate capital flight has neared US$68 billion over the past four years, including US$22 billion this year alone.

In her first term, Fernandez maintained popular social programs started by her husband when he took office in 2003, including for pensions and child benefits, as well as the now-slashed subsidies for transport and utilities.

That model has resulted in a 4 percent increase in household consumption per year, and an average of 8 percent annual economic growth since 2003, except for 2009, when growth stood at 0.9 percent.

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