Former Argentine president dies

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LISA MULLINS: I'm Lisa Mullins and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH in Boston. Former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner has died of a heart attack. He was 60 years old. Kirchner was the husband of the current president of Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, and a contender to succeed her next year. That alone suggests that Kirchner had solid successes in his career. Most notably, he oversaw Argentina's recovery from a severe economic crisis, but the president had his critics. They denounced his bare-knuckles style and his interventionist economic policies. Ian Mount is a reporter in Buenos Aires. Now, Ian, Nestor Kirchner leaves a complicated legacy and I wonder how he'll be remembered by Argentines?

IAN MOUNT: Nestor Kirchner will be remembered by Argentines as the person who came out of nowhere and led the country from one of its worst economic crises to relative economic prosperity. He came in in 2003 right after the economy collapsed here and helped turn around the economy.

MULLINS: He also did something that was considered politically courageous of the time in rolling back the amnesty on the country's former military rulers. Can you explain that move?

MOUNT: In the �90s, the military rulers of the dictatorship from '76 to 1983 were given amnesty. Nestor Kirchner rolled this back so that those who'd been accused of killing up to 30,000 people known as The Disappeared, and kidnapping many children of them could now go on trial. Something which is now going on, much to the happiness of those who lost relatives during the dictatorship.

MULLINS: Why was it so controversial at the time?

MOUNT: Well, for many Argentines, especially those on the right, this was considered a closed chapter. The dictatorship had happened, it had ended, and the country had moved on. And some thought this was re-opening old wounds.

MULLINS: What were his relations with the United States like?

MOUNT: Kirchner had poor relations with the US on an ideological level. He was friends with Hugo Chavez, with Cuba, and with other leftist leaders in South America and when George Bush came to Argentina to speak during Kirchner's time in office, he was roundly booed and insulted and just left a bitter taste in the Bush administration.

MULLINS: Now, Kirchner was a possible candidate for presidency in Argentina for next year. Is it likely that Mrs. Kirchner will run instead?

MOUNT: That is the expectation. Although his death does leave a bit of a power vacuum in the local political establishment because not only was he expected to run, but his candidacy was expected to keep some other people from running. They are now expected to run for president leading to a kind of free-for-all.

MULLINS: I wonder though, given the political ambitions and successes of Nestor Kirchner and also now his wife, if there are comparisons that are being made between the Kirchner's and Peron's, the powerful couple who dominated Argentine politics for decades?

MOUNT: Well, there is in the sense that Kirchner was considered the power behind the throne, the strong man. He was the one who managed the relationships with Argentina's powerful unions and with the local power barons in the suburbs of Buenos Aires, whereas Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner was considered more of the rhetorical, or philosophical, leader. And similarly under Peron, when Peron died and his wife came into office, she was stuck in the middle of a power vacuum with little of her own power base. The question now is whether Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner will have the same experience.

MULLINS: Alright. Thank you very much. Ian Mount, reporter of Buenos Aires, talking about the death of the former Argentine president Nestor Kirchner who was 60 years old at the time of his death. Thanks very much, Ian.

MOUNT: Thank you, Lisa.