01 Sep Bestseller fuels talk of Cristina Fernández’s political comeback
Bestseller fuels talk of Cristina Fernández’s political comeback Success of former Argentine president’s book prompts speculation of run for office in October.
It has been a good few weeks for Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. The ruling coalition of the man who replaced her as Argentine president, Mauricio Macri, suffered a crushing defeat in the key province of Córdoba last weekend, which further tarnished his damaged credibility ahead of October’s presidential election. Meanwhile, her new book, Sinceramente (Sincerely), has become the publishing sensation of the year, selling more than 300,000 copies in a fortnight. Ms Fernández was given a rapturous reception at the official launch of the publication at last week’s Buenos Aires book fair. Her return to the limelight after a period of silence has rattled Mr Macri’s government. He took office promising to bring economic competence but has been forced to seek a $56bn bailout package from the IMF. It has also panicked investors, raising fresh doubts about the vital IMF programme. The timing of her book has fuelled speculation she is set to challenge Mr Macri in October’s vote. “The book forms part of her [election] campaign, without any doubt,” said Carlos Fara, a political analyst. He noted comments from Ms Fernández’s former cabinet chief, Alberto Fernández, that she was “closer to becoming a candidate every day”. “No one mounts such an operation [to raise their] profile, then doesn’t use it — whatever they say,” Mr Fara said. In office from 2007 to 2015, Ms Fernández’s penchant for nationalisation and economic controls left the Argentine economy on the verge of a balance of payments crisis, according to many economists. Now facing multiple corruption allegations, she once described herself as “a very successful lawyer” to explain how she had amassed a fortune while in power on a modest public sector salary. Sinceramente was a “retrospective reflection” that aimed to generate debate about how to fix Argentina’s problems . Ms Fernández’s desire to cast herself as the victim — mostly at the hands of what she calls “judicial terrorism” — as she defends herself against a barrage of corruption charges. The persecution against her and her family has been so “ferocious”, she writes, that she said her daughter Florencia has been diagnosed by a Cuban doctor as suffering from post-traumatic stress, an episode with which she begins and ends the book. The former president leaves no doubt about who she blames for this persecution: Argentina’s oligarchy, and in particular its ultimate representative, Mr Macri, who she describes at various points in the book as tense, mean, fumbling, timorous and even weak-bladdered. Mr Macri, still smarting from the Córdoba drubbing, has not commented on the book. But Fernando Iglesias, a ruling coalition lawmaker, said that “such descriptions say very little about Macri and a lot about her”. Markets, meanwhile, are increasingly jittery. Argentine sovereign bonds opened up to a percentage point lower on Monday following the Córdoba result. Until a currency crisis last year, most investors had believed the market-friendly Mr Macri was certain of victory in October, but the growing popularity of Ms Fernández has spooked them. Traders are concerned that Ms Fernández might pull the plug on the IMF programme and allow a default on Argentina’s swelling sovereign debt. The “hegemonic media” are singled out for particularly scathing criticism in the book — unsurprising, given the press portrayals of Ms Fernández as bipolar, a femme fatale with numerous lovers and the victim of physical abuse from her now-deceased husband and predecessor, Néstor Kirchner. She has scoffed at all these claims. Recommended Argentina How a political comeback has rattled Argentina’s assets According to Ms Fernández’s version of events, the couple presided over the longest period of economic growth since Argentina’s independence 200 years ago. But an economic consultancy run by Orlando Ferreres has noted that there have been at least seven periods of longer growth in that timeframe. Ms Fernández’s betrays a fiery, at times vengeful side — “I am sure that someone, some day, will have to answer criminally and patrimonially for so much persecution, discrimination and violation of constitutional rights” — which is likely to appeal to her hardcore supporters. She also shows a softer side in long anecdotes where she emphasises her role as a loving and faithful wife, a doting mother and grandmother — and a homemaker, expressing a particular delight for choosing paint colours, curtains and upholstery when redecorating the presidential palace. Sinceramente — a word that is repeated multiple times throughout the book, although many of its claims have been questioned — stops short of declaring fresh presidential ambitions, even though Ms Fernández drops some heavy hints. “I know I lead the hopes of millions of men and women that suffer the daily frustration of living and seeing their country adrift,” she writes. However, for the lawmaker Mr Iglesias, Ms Fernández shows “her true identity” in the book. “Which is not that of a president who returns repenting of mistakes made, as a better person, but on the contrary, that of someone who returns reloaded and determined to finish the job that she started, taking Argentina in the direction of Venezuela.”