REPORTING FROM BUENOS AIRES and BOGOTA, COLOMBIA -- Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner was sworn in for a second term Saturday, extolling the country's remarkable economic turnaround and promising to continue extensive social programs and subsidies that critics say are increasingly too costly.
Before a full complement of Latin American leaders and legislators gathered in the national congress building, she referred several times to her predecessor and late husband, Nestor Kirchner, who died of a heart attack in October 2010.
"Argentina has made an incredible leap," she said, referring to sharp reduction in poverty and joblessness since her husband took power in 2003. She succeeded him in 2007. "We have added 5 million jobs, and 96% of our retirees are covered" by government pensions, she said.
Fernandez won reelection in a landslide in October, garnering 54% of the vote, far ahead of the top vote-getter among her six rivals, with 17%.
Voters credit her and her late husband with having guided the economy back from the abyss a decade ago, when the country was convulsed by a debt default, a currency devaluation and unemployment exceeding 25%. She has been helped by the global commodities boom and rising demand for Argentina’s leading farm exports of soy, beef and wheat, which have boosted revenue for the government.
Fernandez has gained broad public support by redirecting tax and royalty windfalls to social programs, including pensions and cash to the poor in exchange for their children’s school attendance. But her restrictive export policies have riled many companies. inflation is running at 25%, and expectations of a devaluation have led to capital flight that could exceed $20 billion this year.
"I am not the president of the corporations but of 40 million Argentinians," she said before leaders who included presidents Dilma Rousseff of Brazil and Sebastian Pinera of Chile.
Several economists have warned that expensive subsidies on fuel, electricity and other services are no longer feasible as Argentina's fiscal and trade surpluses have shrunk.
Once rich in oil and gas, the country became a net energy importer this year because restrictions on oil companies’ profits have lowered exploration and production, requiring an increase in costly imports of natural gas and diesel to meet ever-rising demand.
Kirchner also pledged to bring to justice officials responsible for the killing and disappearance of between 11,000 and 30,000 people during the military dictatorship that lasted from 1976 to 1983. A law that gave many accused impunity in the so called “dirty war” was repealed in 2005, but cases continue to be tied up in legal wrangling.
"I hope that in the four years of my term that these cases that have been delayed more than 30 years can be finalized," Fernandez said. "What I dream of … is that the next president doesn’t have to repeat the same phrase."
-- Andres D'Alessandro in Buenos Aires and Chris Kraul in Bogota
Photo: Spain's Prince Felipe greets Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner during her inauguration ceremony in Buenos Aires on Saturday. Credit: Juan Mabromata / AFP/Getty Images