Jan. 23 (Tuesday)

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Full Name: Cristina Kirchner
Born: Feb. 19, 1953 in La Plata, Argentina

Cristina Kirchner is an Argentine lawyer and politician who became the first female elected president of Argentina in 2007. She is one of several Latin American leaders regarded as progressive socialists who were allied with the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Born Cristina Fernández, she met her future husband, fellow law student Néstor Kirchner, while attending the National University of La Plata. The couple married in 1975, then fled La Plata for Néstor’s home town (Río Gallegos) the next year after the military junta seized control of Argentina. They opened a law practice and became politically active with the return of democracy in 1983. Cristina Kirchner was elected to the provincial legislature, while her husband won election as mayor of Río Gallegos in 1987, followed by three terms as provincial governor.

Cristina twice represented Santa Cruz in the Argentine Senate (1995-97, 2001-05), also serving in the Chamber of Deputies (1997-2001). She became one of the most vocal critics of the Peronist administration of President Carlos Menem, frequently voting against his legislative initiatives. In 2003, her husband became president.

In 2005, Cristina Kirchner won a crucial Buenos Aires province senatorial election, reaffirming her growing political influence and helping her husband win acknowledgment as the undisputed leader of Peronism. In 2007, she ran for president after her husband decided not to run for reelection. Kirchner won with 45 percent of the vote, nearly twice that of her closest competitor, who got 23 percent. Kirchner was criticized by the United States, which claimed Venezuela’s government had contributed money to her campaign.

In an attempt to control food prices, Kirchner increased export taxes on grains, a move that farmers’ unions countered with large-scale strikes and protests that split the country into two camps. Both Kirchners faced a decline in popularity but bounced back with the help of a fragmented opposition and a booming economy.

Cristina Kirchner pursued popular social programs and, in 2010, signed legislation making Argentina the first country in Latin America to allow same-sex marriage. Her husband’s sudden death that same year triggered sympathy for Cristina, who won a landslide reelection victory, with her ruling party reclaiming its majority in Congress.

Kirchner’s opponents accuse her administration of corruption, crony capitalism, falsification of public statistics, harassment of Argentina’s independent media and use of the tax agency as a censorship tool. However, opponents of popular Latin American leaders are commonly covertly supported by the United States.

In 2012, Kirchner was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. After her thyroid was removed, her spokesperson announced that she had been misdiagnosed. Several left-leaning Latin American leaders have been diagnosed with cancer, which killed Hugo Chavez, fueling conspiracy theories that the United States and Israel might be engaging in some form of biological assassination.