December 6, 2013
Latin America has grown accustomed to its leaders suffering health problems, and historians of the future will no doubt take note of the extraordinary succession of health issues sustained by the presidents of Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela. President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner herself, who lost her husband and presidential predecessor Néstor Kirchner to a sudden a heart attack in 2010, has a long medical history. The president underwent surgery in 2012, soon after winning re-election impressively, to have her thyroid glands removed after she was diagnosed with cancer, although later tests indicated no cancer was present. Now doctors have diagnosed the president with a subdural haematoma on her brain, caused by a knock to the head in August. Fernández de Kirchner went to a clinic on Saturday complaining of an irregular heartbeat.
Alfredo Scoccimarro, the president’s spokesman, emerging to face the press at Government House on a Saturday night after a day of rumours was never going to bring good news. Doctors yesterday confirmed that the president’s haematoma will be drained via surgery today, after it was initially thought that a month’s rest would suffice. The impression is that Fernández de Kirchner is in good medical hands at the renowned Fundación Favaloro clinic. The situation, which took a new turn yesterday with the confirmation of symptoms and surgery, will test the national government’s capacity to manage institutionally what will surely be an abnormal month, just ahead of the midterm elections scheduled for October 27. Argentina’s institutions, which include the opposition political parties and the press, have been stretched and tested many times since the return of democracy in 1983 and this month without a president at the top of her form will test them once again. The way to deal with these situations is written in the Constitution. Political passions run high because this is an election year, but the idea when health problems are involved is not to personalize the issue. The haematoma, in other words, should not be politicized.
Fernández de Kirchner’s condition, because she runs a gruelling schedule and concentrates so much of her administration’s power to the point that a physical toll is now evident, prompts many legitimate questions. The public has a right to know the details of the president’s treatment without any official manipulation. Yet those questions should not be answered with speculation, but with information. Now is the time to wish the president well.