December 6, 2015. By Jonathan Gilbert for The New York Times.
In her last days in office, she has appointed ambassadors and signed decrees that will drain federal coffers. Her political appointees refuse to resign. She has even antagonized her successor with stinging remarks at public appearances.
After eight years as president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner clears out her office at the presidential palace on Thursday. But far from preparing the ground for Mauricio Macri, the president-elect, she is obstructing the transition in a final show of muscle, observers say.
“It is by no means a smooth transition,” said Dante Caputo, a former foreign minister. “And it’s not a transition that protects the well-being of the nation. Rather, Mrs. Kirchner seems irritated about having to hand over power, and she’s expressing it by taking decisions that jeopardize Argentina’s delicate economic situation.”
Mr. Macri, the scion of a wealthy family from outside the political establishment, upended Argentine politics last month by defeating the candidate of Mrs. Kirchner’s leftist party, which has governed for 12 years and was expected to win another four-year term. Mrs. Kirchner was barred by term limits from seeking re-election this year, but she could run again in 2019.
Her resistance is also widely viewed as a maneuver to build an image as an unyielding opposition leader, especially as she prepares for a power struggle within her political movement.
Mrs. Kirchner’s supporters have long considered Mr. Macri, 56, the center-right Buenos Aires mayor, too close to corporate interests. And as he prepares to roll back her interventionist economic policies with market-oriented changes favored by business leaders, Mrs. Kirchner is refusing to fade into the background and, analysts say, is spraying grit into the machinery of his plans.
“A country is not the same as a business,” she said in a recent speech at a hospital in Buenos Aires in which she reminded Mr. Macri of his small margin of victory, fewer than 700,000 votes in a nation of 43 million. “Nobody should be confused about that.”
Mrs. Kirchner, 62, has also sought to stymie Mr. Macri — already burdened by the largest budget deficit in three decades and critically low Central Bank reserves — by signing a decree broadening a recent court order so that certain funds controlled by the federal government will devolve to all of Argentina’s provinces, not just the few the ruling had applied to. Days later, there was news of another decree that will constrain Mr. Macri, freezing debt owed by the provinces to the federal government.
Even though these moves could eventually be overruled, they were malicious, said Federico Thomsen, an independent economist here. “She would never have done it at the start of her own four-year term,” he said. “It’s a way of showing: ‘We’re leaving in a fighting mood.’ ”
Mrs. Kirchner’s press office did not return calls and emails seeking comment. Aníbal Fernández, her cabinet chief, conceded to reporters that the decree broadening the court order would endanger the payment of state pensions, but said Mrs. Kirchner was simply adhering to her interpretation of the judges’ decision.
As Mr. Macri seeks to reposition Argentina on the world stage — appointing Susana Malcorra, a former United Nations official, as his foreign minister, and distancing the country from socialist Venezuela, Mrs. Kirchner has been making ambassadorial appointments to Cuba, the United Arab Emirates and Australia. Although Mr. Macri can replace those ambassadors, foreign policy experts have criticized her timing.
Her political appointees at public institutions like the Central Bank have also refused to step aside. Mr. Macri, who needs to control monetary policy to carry out his changes, has chosen a lawmaker from his party to lead the bank. But Alejandro Vanoli, a Kirchner appointee whose term ends in 2019, has stood firm.
“It seems clear to me that the president does not want to collaborate,” Mr. Macri told reporters last week. “It feels like she’s fueling this idea of: ‘How many new obstacles and problems can I create for the next government?’ ” There have been voices of dissent even from within Mrs. Kirchner’s political movement.
Mr. Macri could maneuver around congressional checks and balances to remove Mr. Vanoli and other political appointees by decree. But that could jeopardize one of his key campaign promises: to decentralize the government by diluting the power of the presidency.
“It’s complicated for Macri because he won with a commitment to Republican principles,” said Mariana Llanos, an Argentine research fellow at the GIGA Institute of Latin American Studies in Hamburg, Germany. “To remain credible he has to be careful.”
When Mrs. Kirchner and Mr. Macri agreed to meet at the presidential residence here soon after his Nov. 22 victory, many Argentines hoped for a tidy transition. But Mr. Macri said the meeting had been largely pointless because Mrs. Kirchner refused to discuss subjects apart from his inauguration ceremony. Mrs. Kirchner’s press office did not respond to a request for comment on the meeting.
“Cristina Kirchner’s call to Macri seemed to point to an orderly transition,” said Cintia Maldonado, an analyst at Cippec, an Argentine public policy research center. “But then it didn’t pan out as we would have liked.”
Still, Ms. Maldonado said meetings thereafter between departing and arriving cabinet ministers have suggested a thaw in the tensions. After Axel Kicillof, Mrs. Kirchner’s outspoken economy minister, met his successor, Alfonso Prat-Gay, the incoming minister posted news of the “productive” session on Twitter.
Political transitions have often been rocky in Argentina, said María E. Coutinho, a scholar who specializes in the country’s presidential system, partly because there are no established protocols for transitions, like those in the United States and neighboring Brazil. So a smooth transition depends on the good will of the parties involved. “Transitions after a long political cycle are complicated,” Ms. Coutinho said, adding that the unease between Mrs. Kirchner and Mr. Macri recalled the difficult presidential transition of 1999, after 10 years of rule by Carlos Saúl Menem.
Arguments have even broken out about the ceremony details, friction that points to Mrs. Kirchner’s ambitions beyond the end of her presidential term, according to analysts. “She’s playing to the last minute, reluctantly relinquishing power and showing signs that she doesn’t want to disappear from the political arena,” Ms. Llanos said.
Mrs. Kirchner posted a barrage of messages on her Twitter feed on Sunday evening, claiming that Mr. Macri had disrespected her in a phone call about the ceremony, and accusing him of playing politics by seeking to fuel perceptions that she was complicating the transition.
Still, supporters of Mrs. Kirchner played down the tension, with some pointing to Argentina’s turbulent recent history, in which two presidents have relinquished power earlier than scheduled because of crises.
“After eight years in office, she is handing over the presidency in due time and form,” said Cecilia de Cortázar, 29, a math professor. “She has made a lot of Argentines believe in politics again and I reckon that she actually deserves their affection and applause.”