Kirchnerism, spearheaded by Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, is a political movement that emerged from Argentine Peronism. Since 2003, it has built a cultural and political hegemony that continues to deny Argentinian citizens their political and civil liberties, writes Sergio Ricardo Quiroga
Argentina has been on a failed political course for fifty years. Argentine citizens need urgent political change, but their political representatives are not interested in transformation. As a result, there has developed in the country a model of policies and management that is about to collapse.
The current Argentine government, led by Alberto Fernández and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, took office in December 2019. It has failed to manage the Covid-19 pandemic in any effective way. The government's vaccine purchase strategy relied on the Russian Sputnik variant, plagued by repeated delays in distribution and regulatory hurdles. Argentina also kept schools closed for a full twelve months, which some see as a violation of citizens' civil rights.
Argentina's deep economic crisis exacerbated the detrimental effects of the government’s pandemic mismanagement. Argentine inflation is the highest in the world. This has led to soaring unemployment and civil unrest. Now, collective public irritation with any official discourse is growing. Citizens are also losing patience with the opposition leadership, from whom they want to see a more vigorous response to the crisis.
Between the government's failure to manage the pandemic and the deepening economic crisis, public trust in the Argentinian leadership is desperately low
The opposition leadership brings together members of the party Juntos por el Cambio (Together for Change) and representatives of the centenary Unión Cívica Radical (Radical Civil Union). But this leadership does not form an outspoken and clearcut counterpoint to Kirchnerism. Rather, its members tend to collude with those who do politics in the manner of organised criminals.
Kirchnerism has kept a stranglehold on Argentinian politics for the past twenty years. The Kirchnerists emerged from Peronism, and allied with the worst of the (mostly Peronist) syndicalist elements, made up of social movements that brought together the poor and unemployed, and human rights groups.
But, paradoxically, during periods of Kichnerist government rule, human rights organisations have tended to align with Kirchnerist coalitions. Argentine citizens fought against the military dictatorship which ruled from 1976 to 1983. It therefore runs counter to the interests of organisations such as Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo to align themselves with a single Kirchnerist party.
The current Kirchnerist government has mishandled the pandemic, and implemented contradictory public policies to tackle its fallout. It has also presided over crippling tax increases for ordinary Argentinians. This has provoked scathing criticism from observers in the media – and even from the government’s own supporters.
Kirchnerism is a politics of confrontation and dispute. In power, it produces a populist, corrupt government
Argentines must suffer this administration until its term ends in December 2023. The country is in the grip of structural Kirchnerism, which manifests itself in the multiple mafias operating in Argentine society. In this deeply ingrained web of privilege, chronic fiscal irresponsibility is fuelling widespread social resentment.
The real challenge for republican and democratic politics in Argentina is how to break this political and cultural hegemony.
Hegemony supposes one person's clear domain over another: a forced imposition of values, ideas, precepts and norms of one social group over all others. A Gramscian theory of hegemony characterises the current state of Argentine politics. In Kirchner’s Argentina, economic uncertainty, inflation, unemployment, insecurity, violence are all on the rise, and there is deep unease about the consequences of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
But Argentina also contains provincial hegemonies with almost feudal, quasi-democratic systems. Governors control local congresses and domestic justice with notable social, economic, cultural, sports and educational characteristics. Two paradigms are San Luis and Formosa.
In San Luis, Governor Alberto Rodríguez Saá decides what public workers should do, and how much they should get paid. He also controls the police and the judicial system, along with teachers' working conditions. Alberto and his brother Adolfo have been successively elected governors of the province. The Peronist Party has thus systematically weeded out internal opposition to become an election-winning machine.
Governors' power increases every year, leading to provincial hegemonies with near-feudal, quasi-democratic systems
Similarly, as a result of the reform of the Provincial Constitution, Formosa Governor Gildo Insfrán has remained in power for more than twenty years, propped up by contributions from federal government. Yet Formosa and San Luis are still plagued by high rates of poverty.
These governors’ power is increasing every year. In both provinces, the hegemonic cultural and authoritarian system, deployed across almost all aspects of social life, has severely damaged democracy. Dissatisfied citizens thus have no power or opportunity to protest.
Over the years, the Argentinian opposition has consistently failed to break the cultural and political hegemony of Kirchnerism. Not even the 2015–2019 presidency of Together for Change's Mauricio Macri could succeed. Overcoming this mental colonisation of Argentine politics requires a far greater appetite for constructive political dialogue.
Argentine citizens, brought low by multiple ills in the last two years, need structural transformation from their leaders. The government must fight corruption, crime and drug trafficking. It must improve its citizens' quality of life, and realign Argentina with the democratic and developed countries of the world.