Former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner, 60, dies of a heart attack
Former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner, the current president's husband and a contender to succeed her in next year's election, died Wednesday after a heart attack. He was 60.
Kirchner was credited by many Argentines with putting South America's No. 2 economy back on its feet after a devastating 2001-02 economic crisis, but critics reviled his combative governing style.
"It was a sudden death," Kirchner's doctor, Luis Buonomo, told Reuters after the former president died in the Patagonian tourist city of El Calafate, where he and President Cristina Fernandez have a weekend home.
The death of the center-leftist, who kept a firm hold on the reins of power even after his wife was elected to succeed him in 2007, raises uncertainty about the government's strategy for next year's election and might encourage Fernandez to seek a second term. Her approval ratings have consistently been higher than Kirchner's.
Kirchner, elected as a virtual unknown in 2003 on the ashes of the economic meltdown, started his political career in the Patagonian province of Santa Cruz, where he was governor for many years.
He was a member of the dominant Peronist party and oversaw a strong economic recovery that won him solid backing.
Critics, however, branded his tough political style and strongly worded attacks on big business, journalists and political rivals as authoritarian.
When farmers rebelled over a tax hike on soy exports in 2008, he accused them of being coup plotters and told supporters to boycott companies that hiked prices.
Kirchner focused on cementing political alliances at home to shore up his administration and that of his wife, but he also forged close links abroad with Latin American leftists such as Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, who called his death "a huge loss."
President Obama offered his "sincere condolences" and said Kirchner "played a significant role in the political life of Argentina and had embarked upon an important new chapter with UNASUR [Union of South American Nations]." Kirchner had been UNASUR secretary-general.
Kirchner was widely expected to run in the October 2011 election, but concerns over his health increased after he underwent arterial procedures in February and September.
His wife's government said Kirchner was rushed to hospital in the early hours of Wednesday after suffering an apparent heart attack. Fernandez was with him when he was taken ill.
A full obituary will follow at www.latimes.com/obits.
Photo: Argentine President Cristina Fernandez with her husband, former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner, last week. Credit: Reuters