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Madame President?

A woman on the verge of being elected to Argentina's top office could be good news for the U.S.

October 26, 2007

Don't cry for Evita, Argentina. The legacy of Eva Peron is alive and well in the form of the woman widely expected to win the presidency in national elections Sunday, a Peronist lawmaker who just happens to be the wife of current President Nestor Kirchner.

In a country that seems to have a love affair with its first ladies, leftist Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has a strong lead in the polls over her 13 rivals despite the fact that she almost never grants interviews, hasn't participated in any debates and seldom reveals her views on political issues. That doesn't make her a complete cipher -- she is a top advisor to her husband, so it's widely assumed that she'll continue the policies he's been pursuing since his election in 2003 -- but it doesn't inspire much confidence either. That's a shame for Argentina, because the country is currently on an unsustainable economic course.

Nestor Kirchner has presided over a phenomenal turnaround in Argentina's fortunes. After inheriting a country deep in recession with 18% unemployment, he restructured debts and led other reforms that have helped propel an 8% annual growth rate. But economists doubt that the good times will last. Hefty government spending aimed at meeting Kirchner's socialist goals is fueling severe inflation, and the price controls meant to keep a lid on the mess are starting to have unintended consequences. A business-as-usual president is the last thing Argentina needs now, and many analysts think that Fernandez de Kirchner will be forced to make some quick corrections.

On the plus side for the United States, her election could boost relations between the two countries -- especially if her North American counterpart, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, ends up in the White House. Fernandez de Kirchner has made it clear that she's thoroughly sick of the comparisons between herself and both Peron and Clinton, but her similarities to the Democratic presidential front-runner are undeniable: Both are lawyers and legislators who married former governors and appear to be on the cusp of following their husbands as heads of state.

At a time when Latin America is fracturing between pro- and anti-U.S. forces, sisterhood could be powerful.

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